Ben Carson’s West Point Claim Is Latest Controversy To Rattle His Campaign [UPDATED]

Carson says he was offered a full scholarship to the military academy -- but there's no such thing.

Ben Carson has been having a rough time since he ascended to front-runner status in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. As the brighter lights of scrutiny that accompany a candidate's rise to prominence have shone on the retired neurosurgeon, long shadows have been cast over his personal story and his past statements. Now, a key moment of Carson's acclaimed memoir, Gifted Hands, has come under fire.

At issue is Carson's narration of a 1969 meeting with Gen. William Westmoreland, who was then chief of staff of the U.S. Army. As Gifted Hands relates, Carson was introduced to Westmoreland following a Memorial Day parade, subsequently invited to dinner, and at some undetermined point after that dinner, "offered a full scholarship to West Point."

A key point worth noting: One does not obtain a "full scholarship" to West Point -- all U.S. Military Academy cadets have their tuition funded in full by the Army, and in exchange, those cadets are obligated to serve in active duty upon graduation.

Politico's Kyle Cheney looked into the matter and discovered that West Point had "no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission." According to an academy spokeswoman, "West Point has no records that indicate Carson even began the application process."

When presented with this evidence, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.


“Dr. Carson was the top ROTC student in the City of Detroit,” campaign manager Barry Bennett wrote in an email to POLITICO. “In that role he was invited to meet General Westmoreland. He believes it was at a banquet. He can’t remember with specificity their brief conversation but it centered around Dr. Carson’s performance as ROTC City Executive Officer.”


“He was introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC Supervisors,” Bennett went on. “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.”

Cheney's article leaves the impression that Carson's campaign meekly admitted to the fabrication. Elsewhere, however, the campaign is loudly protesting the piece. In a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation, campaign spokesman Doug Watts says the campaign "never admitted to anything" and that Cheney's article was "an outright lie."

Carson's central counter-claim is that he was given encouragement to attend West Point, but opted to not do so. And if the words "offered a full scholarship" didn't appear in his memoir, there wouldn't be a story at all. It's the repetition of a "scholarship" that was "offered" that muddies the waters for him.

On this point, Carson does have defenders in the media: 

The story breaks after a week in which other odd statements and fabrications from Carson have dominated the news. During the most recent GOP primary debate, Carson responded to an inquiry about his involvement with Mannatech -- a shady purveyor of quack nutritional supplements -- by saying, "I didn't have any involvement ... that's total propaganda." Subsequent reporting revealed that Carson was actually a heavily involved endorser of Mannatech's wares, appearing in several promotional videos.

In the days since, Carson has been dogged by several controversies of his own creation. In an interview with the Miami Herald on Wednesday, Carson appeared to be unfamiliar with essential aspects of the policy that allows Cubans to come to the United States. A day later, BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott surfaced an old video in which Carson claims that the Egyptian pyramids were built for the purpose of storing grain -- a contention that's at odds with fact. Carson's veracity has also been questioned over claims that he tried to stab a high school classmate, making this the first time in recent memory that a presidential candidate has fought to retain credit for having a violent past.

Throughout it all, Carson has not been behaving like a traditional candidate. Rather than actively campaigning, the neurosurgeon has been roaming far afield, promoting his new book, A More Perfect Union.

It is possible that fostering book sales, not winning primary delegates, is -- and has been -- Carson's priority.

UPDATE, 6:09pm: And the result of today's back and forth between the Carson campaign and Politico has resulted in...Politico stealthily editing the original story to a more watered-down version that basically absolves Carson of the original "fabrication" charge.

So in the matter of Carson v. Politico, points go to the candidate.

Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post, and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast, "So That Happened." Listen to the latest episode below: