Ben Carson rose to fame as an acclaimed neurosurgeon with an remarkable backstory. Now defending backstory has become the focus of his presidential campaign, as outlets scrutinize his tales of being a violent youth who rose from poverty to achieve an impressive resume that included a West Point scholarship offer before he attended Yale.
In addition to spinning the questions raised by reporters to attack what he says his media bias, Team Carson has also used his public Facebook page to offer up three pieces of “evidence” to back up the stories now under scrutiny.
Last week, CNN published an extended report in which a number of Carson’s friends and acquaintances during his youth said they did not remember Carson having a violent streak, as he often recounts in his memoirs and in interviews.
Early Monday, Carson’s team posted an excerpt of a 1997 Parade magazine interview (initially surfaced by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski) in which Carson’s mother apparently vouched for one of the better-known stories from his life: an incident during Carson’s youth when he claims to have tried to stab a friend but was blocked by the friend’s belt buckle.
In retelling the stabbing story, Carson has usually described his near-victim as his friend named “Bob.” In recent days, he has said the friend was actually a relative and that some of the names and details were fictionalized for the book. He has refused to reveal the identity of the friend/relative.
While Carson’s mother often came up in other tales of his alleged violence — particularly in his account of attacking her with a hammer — she has not been mentioned as a witness to the stabbing incident. These days, she is said to be suffering from Alzheimer’s and therefore is likely unavailable to answer follow-up questions.
Politico published a bombshell report last week showing that Carson falsely said he had turned down a “full scholarship” to the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point despite the fact that he’d never applied or been accepted there. One of the main things Carson’s critics noted was that West Point is free to attend and therefore scholarships would make no sense.
But on Sunday, Carson posted an advertisement he said was geared to potential African-American recruits and used the phrase “full government scholarship.”
“I won’t hold my breathe for an apology,” Carson wrote with the Facebook post.
The Wall Street Journal over the weekend questioned Carson’s story about being rewarded for his honestly while attending Yale University. The retired neurosurgeon has said a psychology professor set up a test to see who in class was honest. Carson said he was the only one who passed the test, and was rewarded with $10 and had his photo snapped for the student newspaper.
The Journal noted several discrepancies with the story, including being unable to find a course name “Perceptions 301” when Carson was enrolled in Yale in the early 1970s. But Carson’s camp dug up an excerpt from a Yale student newspaper article at the time about a prank that involved a psychology class in 1970. The campaign also included a link to a 2002 syllabus to a course titled “Perceptions.”
Still, a number of elements of Carson’s retelling remain unsubstantiated: that his picture appeared in a student paper for taking the exam, that 150 students showed up for the exam and that the professor was in on the hoax.
The campaign has since said that some details are indeed “fuzzy” and Carson himself has blamed his co-biographer for adding details “just to give it more meat.”