Dr. Ben Carson’s camp is still playing defense a week after the candidate asserted during a Republican presidential debate that he “didn’t have any involvement” with a supplement company.
Carson dismissed a CNBC debate moderator’s question last week about his connection to Mannatech Inc., which claims its products cure autism and cancer and settled a false advertising lawsuit in Texas for $7 million, as “propaganda.” But National Review’s Jim Geraghty, who earlier this year reported on Carson’s ties to the firm, called the retired neurosurgeon’s defense a bunch of “bald-faced lies.”
Here’s how Carson and his allies have tried to move past the Mannatech issue and knock down the “bald-faced lies” charge in recent days.
The conservative website Breitbart joined the fray Sunday with an article laying out the “actual facts” about the retired neurosurgeon’s connection to Mannatech. While conceding that Carson could have phrased his debate response better, the news site asserted that a “fair-minded” reading of Carson’s answer would have assumed the retired neurosurgeon disavowed any “business” relationship with Mannatech.
To prove that Carson had no business relationship with Mannatech, Breitbart spoke with Richard Taylor, who produced a 2014 PBS special in which Carson touted the benefits of “glyconutrients” for brain health. The special, titled “The Missing Link: The Science of Brain Health,” was sponsored by The Platinum Group, an organization of Mannatech distributors.
Taylor told Breitbart that there was “a gentleman’s agreement,” not a contract, between him and Carson, who hosted the special. He added that he covered Carson’s expenses out of his own pocket.
“I did not compensate Dr. Carson for his one day appearance in January 2014 at a taping of the PBS special presentation in Phoenix, Arizona, nor did he receive any subsequent compensation for his appearance,” Taylor told Breitbart. “I did personally pay for his airfare, lodging, and transportation.”
Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, seconded Taylor’s account in an interview with Breitbart.
The executive director of the PBS station that distributed the special, Arizona’s KAET, told TPM on Tuesday that the station did not find any “real or perceived editorial conflict” between the sponsor and the content of the special.
Here’s the full emailed statement from executive director Kevin McCullough, via a spokesperson:
We acquired Dr. Ben Carson: The Missing Link: The Science of Brain Health from Taylor Media Group and aired the program beginning in March 2014. Taylor Media Group holds the copyright for the program. We also independently distributed the program to a few public television stations. Stations were notified not to air the program after Carson announced his candidacy and to the best of our knowledge, no stations are currently airing the program. The program was sponsored by an organization named The Platinum Group. Per our funding guidelines, we researched the sponsor and determined there was no real or perceived editorial conflict with the material covered.
In its quest to gather the “actual facts” about Carson’s connection to the supplement firm, Breitbart also let his business manager, Armstrong Williams, take a do-over of a previous interview in which Williams discussed a “contract” between Carson and Mannatech.
Williams told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday that he, not Carson, handled the details of the retired neurosurgeon’s speeches for Mannatech.
“What is good about this is that I actually negotiated the contract as his business manager,” Williams said.
Breitbart said news outlets, including TPM, had “incorrectly concluded” that Armstrong admitted there was a contract between Carson and Mannatech. And after reviewing records pertaining to Carson’s appearance in the 2014 PBS special, Williams told Breitbart that he “was confused on facts” during that interview with Tapper.
“There was no contract between Dr. Carson and Mannatech,” Williams said, adding that there was “no signed contract” between Carson and Taylor, the producer of the PBS special, either. Williams did say that Taylor and Carson had a “gentleman’s understanding,” however.
Since the debate, Carson has avoided addressing the particulars of his connection to Mannatech; that task has largely fallen to Williams. But the retired neurosurgeon has been hard at work spinning the whole debacle as a plant by one of his presidential rivals.
Appearing Tuesday on the friendly territory of Sirius XM’s “Breitbart News Daily,” Carson was asked by host Steve Bannon whether he thought writers like Geraghty were being unfairly hard on him. Carson responded by suggesting one of his opponents fed information on him and Mannatech to Geraghty.
“That obviously comes from someone on that debate stage,” he said. “That’s a submarine that’s sent by them. They’re very concerned about me, and they’re using National Review as their political tool. That’s pretty obvious.”
Geraghty torpedoed that theory on Twitter:
No, @RealBenCarson, no other campaign contacted me about your connection to Mannatech.
— jimgeraghty (@jimgeraghty) November 3, 2015
National Review editor Rich Lowry later told Politico, where he is also a columnist, that Carson was “completely wrong” to accuse Geraghty of running with oppo from one of his GOP rivals.
“I admire Ben Carson, but he’s completely wrong about this. Our writer, Jim Geraghty, heard about his connection to Mannatech independently late last year (when, by the way, other campaigns weren’t paying much attention to Carson, let alone dropping oppo on him)” Lowry wrote Politico in an email.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at email@example.com.