Elections

Ben Carson: A tangled West Point tale

FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks in Lakewood, Colo. State and local elections across the country this week produced warnings signs for both Democrats and Republicans as the parties press toward the 2016 presidential contest, now just a year away.
FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks in Lakewood, Colo. State and local elections across the country this week produced warnings signs for both Democrats and Republicans as the parties press toward the 2016 presidential contest, now just a year away. AP

An inflammatory article Friday morning by Politico that accused GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson of fabricating his account of getting a West Point scholarship prompted denunciations over its accuracy by the Carson camp. By day’s end, each side essentially declared victory.

In his book “Gifted Hands” about his hardscrabble life before his success as a neurosurgeon, Carson described meeting Gen. William Westmoreland at an event in Detroit. Carson wrote that he was a 17-year old ROTC student in 1969 when he met Westmoreland, who had been the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, at a dinner with Congressional Medal of Honor winners. As a result of this meeting and support from his commanders, Carson said in his book, “Later I was offered a full scholarship to West Point.”

Politico reported Friday morning that the U.S. Military Academy had no record of Carson being admitted and said the candidate’s campaign confirmed that he had not even applied to West Point. Politico described the Carson campaign in its first story as admitting to having “fabricated” getting the prestigious appointment to West Point.

The Carson campaign said Politico’s coverage was a “purposeful twisting of the facts.”

Carson is now the front-runner for the GOP nomination in several polls, and his comments are coming in for hard scrutiny.

After a thunderous challenge from the Carson campaign, Politico issued a statement in the afternoon: “We stand by our story, which is a powerful debunking of a key aspect of Ben Carson’s personal narrative. The story online includes additional details now, as well, that bolster this account.”

However, the updated story no longer included the word “fabricated,” saying instead that Carson “conceded that he never applied nor was granted admission to West Point.”

In a press conference outside of Miami Friday night, Carson criticized the press scrutiny of not only the West Point account but also other statements he’s made about being violent as a young man until he learned to control himself.

“I think what it shows, and these kinds of things show, is there is a desperation on behalf of some to try to find a way to tarnish me,” said Carson according to the Associated Press.

Asked about his saying he had been offered a West Point scholarship, Carson said, “it was an offer to me. It was specifically made.” He said he not remember who made the offer but objected that reporters expected him to.

“I don’t remember the names of the people,” Carson said. “It’s almost 50 years ago. I bet you don’t remember all the people you talked to 50 years ago.”

“What about the West Point thing is false? What is false about it?” Asked if had made a mistake in recounting the story, he said, “I don’t think so. I think it is perfectly clear. I think there are people who want to make it into a mistake. I’m not going to say it is a mistake, so forget about it.”

I applied to Yale and thank God they accepted me. I often wonder what might have happened had they said ‘no.’

Ben Carson on only applying to one college

At issue is an episode described in two paragraphs in his book and that he sometimes repeats on the campaign trail but that is not easily confirmed more than 40 years later.

“He was introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC supervisors,” campaign manager Barry Bennett told Politico. “They told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC. He considered it but in the end did not seek admission.”

Politico’s description of the campaign having “admitted” that “a central point in his inspirational personal story was fabricated” enraged the Carson camp, which hotly denied that it had “admitted to anything.”

“The Politico story is a purposeful twisting of the facts,” Bennett told McClatchy. “He was the city executive officer of ROTC and his commanders were lobbying for him to be admitted. He never applied to West Point.”

Applicants to the nation’s military academies are usually nominated by members of Congress or the administration. Bennett said that “Ben was offered the nomination and turned it down.”

According to West Point media relations chief Theresa Brinkerhoff, before 1970, as part of a multistep application process, “the Adjutant General of the Army sent West Point candidates seeking admission an official letter of nomination.” She said that records of candidates who did not pursue an application “are only retained for three years.”

Bennett told McClatchy that Carson was offered a letter of nomination, one step in the process, and that he did not proceed because he wanted to go to medical school. Attending West Point would have meant four years of military service after graduation.

In his book, Carson said he was “overjoyed” to get what he incorrectly calls a scholarship offer – all students at the four U.S. service academies attend free of charge – but said he was focused on a career in medicine. Carson attended Yale University and received his M.D. from the University of Michigan.

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