Leading Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson rejected “unfair” media scrutiny of his personal history in a contentious press conference in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on Friday night.
As the Associated Press reported, Carson defended his claim that he’d been offered a “full scholarship” to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, though the school doesn’t offer scholarships and has no record of him applying.
“It was an offer to me. It was specifically made,” Carson told reporters, hours after telling The New York Times that he received an “informal” recommendation to apply to the elite military academy.
Carson insisted that the story, as recounted in his 1996 autobiography “Gifted Hands,” was accurate.
“What about the West Point thing is false? What is false about it?” he asked, according to the AP. “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.”
The GOP frontrunner pointed to the passage of time to explain why he couldn’t recall who had offered him the scholarship.
“It’s almost 50 years ago. I bet you don’t remember all the people you talked to 50 years ago,” the AP quoted him as saying.
Known for his calm demeanor, Carson appeared unusually agitated during the press conference, accusing the press of engaging in a “witch hunt” to tarnish his reputation.
“There is a desperation on behalf of some to try to find a way to tarnish me,” Carson said. “They have been looking through everything. They have been talking to everyone I have ever known and everybody I have ever seen. There has got to be a scandal.”
Now that Carson is neck-and-neck with real estate mogul Donald Trump in both national polls and in several key primary states, details of his personal history have come under the spotlight. The retired pediatric neurosurgeon, who has never held elected office, has leaned heavily on his inspiring life story during the 2016 campaign, but even he concedes that some details are “fictitious.”
This week, he admitted to CNN that he had changed some facts in an often-told story about his attempt to stab a friend at age 14 after the network was unable to corroborate the incident.
As Time reported, Carson attempted to flip the script on the journalists present during Friday’s news conference, saying it was his job “to call you out when you’re unfair.” He argued that the media did not devote equivalent attention to Barack Obama’s life story when he was running for president.
Carson also predicted the press would find other ways to humiliate him, saying, as quoted by Time, “Next week, there will be a teacher who said I peed in my pants.”
Watch a clip of the press conference below, courtesy of the Washington Examiner.