November 9, 2015

Ben Carson’s books: Fiction? Nonfiction? Does it matter?



Image courtesy of Zondervan.

We at MobyLives love to write about books written by presidential candidates. We’ve written about how they’re mandatory, how they have great titles, and how they contain fabricated quotations from the founding fathers.

But back when we covered Dr. Ben Carson’s plagiarism, he was not the second-most popular GOP presidential candidate. Now he is. And with this change in status comes more news about Carson’s books. Specifically, confirmation that he lied in them.

Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports:

Ben Carson’s campaign on Friday admitted, in a response to an inquiry from Politico, that a central point in his inspirational personal story was fabricated: his application and acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

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 admission.

But Carson’s campaign manager Barry Bennett argues that because Carson was probably introduced to West Point administrators, who possibly said they could try to get him an interview, or an appointment, or an interview, which could potentially have possibly led to admission to the academy. But, all hedging aside, West Point doesn’t offer full scholarships. As Cheney goes on to explain:

An application to West Point begins with a nomination by a member of Congress or another prominent government or military official. After that, a rigorous vetting process begins. If offered admission, all costs are covered for all students; indeed there are no “full scholarships,” per se.

The statement from Carson’s campaign manager on Friday went on to say: “There are ‘Service Connected’ nominations for stellar High School ROTC appointments. Again he was the top ROTC student in Detroit. I would argue strongly that an Appointment is indeed an amazing full scholarship. Having ran several Congressional Offices I am very familiar with the Nomination process.”

But here’s the thing: Right now, it doesn’t matter that this story is a lie. It doesn’t matter that Carson was claiming it was true as recently as August. Nor does it matter that another, oft-repeated story in Carson’s biography—the part when he claims to have stabbed his best friend—is being called into question. Because Ben Carson is no longer just a brain surgeon—now, he’s a politician!

More specifically, Carson is a politician trying to upstage Donald Trump. Which means that whatever he says, regardless of its factual status, is valid as long as it stokes the base and has as much or more bombast as Bill Pullman’s Independence Day speech.

While presidential politics can lead even the straightest shooter into the void of non-truths, Carson’s no greenhorn as far as that’s concerned. The Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada, who previously—rather heroically—binge-read 11 books by the GOP frontrunner, recently turned his capacious attentions to five of Carson’s books. What he found was a clear pattern of autobiographical tautology and narcissism encouraged by the divine:

…in a particularly unnerving intercession, Carson asks God for help in dismissing his incompetent, alcoholic secretary without hurting her feelings. (“I’m softhearted,” the doctor assures, “and it is especially hard for me to fire somebody.”) Two weeks later, the secretary doesn’t show up for work. “We never did find out what happened to her,” Carson writes. “She simply disappeared.” He regrets not being able to help her, but nevertheless, he is “thankful that this problem was resolved without any unpleasantness on my part.” Prayers answered and unpleasantness avoided, at least for the softhearted surgeon.

It is exhausting to consider the sheer banality of books written as marketing tools for presidential candidates, and getting into the weeds of memory and biography is a fast route to burnout. It’s still 2015. There’s plenty more awaiting our scrutiny. In the meantime, let’s just assume that the only true statements made by anyone associated with a presidential candidate are the ones captured with a hidden GoPro.



Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.