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. But 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 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,” and a defiant and clearly agitated candidates forcefully defended himself at Friday night news conference in Miami. He challenged the idea that his description of the offer is incorrect.
“What about the West Point thing is false? What is false about it?” he asked.
The retired neurosurgeon who has risen to the top of preference polls for the GOP nomination says the issue isn’t relevant to voters, calling it “desperation on the part of some to find a way to tarnish me.”
After getting backlash 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 an interview Friday with The New York Times, Carson said, “I don’t remember all the specific details. Because I had done so extraordinarily well, you know, I was told that someone like me — they could get a scholarship to West Point. But I made it clear I was going to pursue a career in medicine.”
“It was, you know, an informal ‘with a record like yours we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point.’ ”
At issue is an episode that are 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.”
‘Twisting the facts’
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 the Star-Telegram. “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.”
This report includes material from The Associated Press and The New York Times.