Doctor Ben Carson: Fact Checking His Life
November 17, 2015
The media has been engaged in fact checking incidents described by Dr. Ben Carson in his autobiographical books. The incidents being vetted occurred as long as 40 years ago and in many cases involved Dr. Carson and one or two other people. Some media pundits argue that in the absence of holding previous political offices, fact checking these incidents is only way they can vet the narrative of Dr. Carson’s life, ostensibly the basis of his worthiness for running for Presidency. It is important analyze the candidate’s ability to perform, but the media should not fall into the trap that they attack remarks that are understandable or unimportant. Overreach for a trivial aspect may mute the value of serious examination.
According to Dr. Carson, as a young boy he had a terrible temper that resulted in throwing dangerous objects at people, attempting to beat his mother with a hammer, and having the belt buckle worn by a relative he tried to stab with a hunting knife save them both. To verify these incidents, the media interviewed people who knew Dr. Carson at this time and found he was quiet and studious. Apparently, the media consider the existence of individuals who can sometimes exhibit violent rages, but are usually quiet and studious an impossibility. Of course, the media view of whether individuals can exhibit these discrepant characteristics is very different if they commit mass murder and their neighbors assess them as being a “nice quiet person.”
A second question arose because as a resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Carson said he was eating in a Popeye’s when a young man pointed a gun at him, demanded money. Dr. Carson said he pointed to the cashier and said, “he’s the one that you want.” The media saw fit to investigate this incident, although it certainly did not flatter Dr. Carson. Their investigation found that no Popeye’s had been robbed and they concluded that Dr. Carson fabricated the incident. Dr. Carson did not claim that that the Popeye’s had been robbed. Perhaps, the cashier was able to dissuade the young man from robbery. Moreover, it is certainly possible that this incident occurred in another restaurant such as Kentucky Fried Chicken or a non-franchise greasy spoon.
A third question has arisen because Dr. Carson said a military official, possibly General Westmoreland, offered him a scholarship to West Point, which he declined because he wanted to pursue medicine. Some pundits doubted whether Dr. Carson had been offered an appointment to West Point because a military official could not officially make such an offer. And, in any event, because West Point covers all expenses for all appointees, no one receives a scholarship. Despite these gaps in Dr. Carson’s account of this incident, it does seem very likely that a black student from Detroit who was admitted to Yale University on a scholarship and had a superior record in his high school’s ROTC, might have had someone in a position of authority affirm that he could attend West Point.
Vetting a Presidential candidate is both reasonable and necessary, but the methodology for the investigation should not be flawed. Determining what may have occurred between two or three people 40 years earlier is tricky; if no record of the event exists, the task may be impossible. Even if one could determine what happened, the connection between those events and worthiness for the Presidency is problematic. Is it better for a President to have tried to stab someone or to have been studious? For the occurrence of the events to have any meaning, they must be linked to beliefs and then to policies.
Besides trying to infer Dr. Carson’s beliefs from the verified facts comprising his autobiography, some of Dr. Carson’s beliefs were also quite rightly weighed for their probity. For example, some pundits noted that during one interview, Dr. Carson had claimed that incarceration could lead to a homosexual orientation. During another interview Dr. Carson, said that he believed the pyramids had been built for grain storage by Joseph, of the multicolored coat. But, these beliefs, to be relevant, must be linked to policies.
Instead of linking these beliefs to policies, why not examine the policies directly. Dr. Carson has stated beliefs about taxes, social security, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, national defense, and Syria. Certainly, many of these policy beliefs could be considered quite extreme. The media does not seem interested in examining these beliefs. Perhaps, because these beliefs could not be used to disqualify Dr. Carson, without also disqualifying the rest of the Republican contenders. That may be the very point.