Ben Carson, the plausible, and the true

imageI have a certain sympathy for Ben Carson’s habit of telling stories about his past that are, shall we say, not quite true. Who hasn’t changed a detail or two to make a better story, perhaps embellish just a bit to make a more forceful point?

The interesting thing about Dr. Carson is that his personal narrative is quite remarkable all on its own, without adding events that are demonstrably made up. Or maybe that’s the point. When people respond with legitimate admiration and awe to a public figure’s origin story, what harm is there in throwing in a few events that didn’t actually happen but are more or less consistent with what could have happen? In politics, far too frequently, interesting or fascinating things that “could have happened” to a given candidate are interchangeable with reality. And, I realize, it’s not just politicians.

The problem is that some things are incapable of being verified, and others are not. It’s one thing for, let’s say, an investigative journalist to report that it was not possible to find anyone to corroborate a given story. It is something different for a key element of one’s publicly reported past to be contradicted by available records.

When that happens, we get a headline like the one that appeared in Politico today: “Ben Carson admits fabricating West Point Scholarship.

The academy has occupied a central place in Carson’s tale for years. According to a story told in Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands,” the then-17 year old was introduced in 1969 to Gen. William Westmoreland, who had just ended his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and the two dined together. That meeting, according to Carson’s telling, was followed by a “full scholarship” to the military academy. . . West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended a scholarship.

To make matters worse, it appears Gen. Westmoreland wasn’t even in Detroit when Carson said he was.

What is true is that Dr. Carson was a stand-out ROTC student and might well have been a prime candidate for an appointment to West Point. So, in that sense, his story is plausible, though untrue, a distinction which doesn’t appear to concern him all that much.

Will it concern voters? Maybe. I’d like to think anyone running for president would appreciate the difference.

Ben Carson probably wishes the media would go back to his bizarre story about the Pyramids.

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