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Ben Carson Faces Scrutiny Over West Point Story

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Ben Carson Faces Scrutiny Over West Point Story

Politics

Ben Carson Faces Scrutiny Over West Point Story

Ben Carson Faces Scrutiny Over West Point Story

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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is facing scrutiny over his biography, which states he was offered a scholarship to the U.S. military academy at West Point. It turns out, Carson never applied to the academy, his campaign said Friday.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson is facing scrutiny over details about his biography. Dr. Carson tells his life story in the book "Gifted Hands," which talks about his tough childhood in Detroit. That inspiring stories sets the foundation for his campaign. NPR's political editor, Domenico Montanaro, joins me now to talk about why a part of the story has become controversial. Hi.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hi there.

SIEGEL: Dr. Carson wrote in his book that he was offered a - his term - full scholarship to the U.S. Military Academy, a story that he recounts with pride in the book. You've learned it's not entirely true.

MONTANARO: That's right. You know, three times in three paragraphs in his book, he said he was offered this, quote, "full scholarship" to West Point, which is an interesting thing anyway because everyone who goes to West Point goes for free.

SIEGEL: For free, yeah.

MONTANARO: Right. A report in Politico today looked into his claim, and they found that he actually never applied to the elite military academy. His campaign told NPR this afternoon that this was, quote, "a matter of semantics," that it's true that he never applied, but that he never said he had applied nor had been admitted. They point out that he was a top student and considered applying but, in the end, did not. He wound up going to Yale, which he says is the only school he applied to, and then to medical school. Now, of course, when you say you're offered a scholarship, it's pretty - it's sure implying...

SIEGEL: That you've applied and you've been admitted.

MONTANARO: ...That you've applied, that you've admitted that you've got this - that you've...

SIEGEL: Accepted.

MONTANARO: ...Accepted. You know, and told the Times this afternoon that he does not remember all the specific details at the time but that he had been told informally that, with a record like his, he could easily get a scholarship to West Point.

SIEGEL: Now, a part of the story that Carson tells is that, as a young student, he met with Gen. William Westmoreland. He had been the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. It was at an event in Detroit, and the idea of a scholarship was discussed. I gather that, too, is in question.

MONTANARO: It is. And, you know, he was 17 at the time. It was 1969, and Carson wrote that he had met the general in May at a Memorial Day parade or after the Memorial Day parade. Politico also looked into that and had found that Westmoreland's schedule, actually, didn't match up with being in Detroit in May, but rather in February, where he probably met with Carson at that time.

SIEGEL: You think there'll be political consequences for Ben Carson?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, this is part of a narrative now with Carson where there have been a few other instances in recalling his violent youth, as he - as he has talked about. CNN went and looked into that and said that they couldn't find any evidence of a violent youth. It's sort of unconfirmable, so it's hard to know. You know, he's seen as - by Republican voters as the most trustworthy or one of the most trustworthy candidates on the Republican side. And this really goes to the heart of that. This rags-to-riches story - very much a part of this narrative that has drawn a lot of people in. Some of the candidates have taken differing views of it. Donald Trump and Chris Christie have hit him on this. Jeb Bush, though, said that - he took Carson's side and said, if it's between Politico and Ben Carson, put me in Ben Carson's column.

MONTANARO: Well, you know, this is part of a narrative now with Carson where there have been a few other instances in recalling his violent youth, as he - as he has talked about. CNN went and looked into that and said that they couldn't find any evidence of a violent youth. It's sort of unconfirmable, so it's hard to know. You know, he's seen as - by Republican voters as the most trustworthy or one of the most trustworthy candidates on the Republican side. And this really goes to the heart of that. This rags-to-riches story - very much a part of this narrative that has drawn a lot of people in. Some of the candidates have taken differing views of it. Donald Trump and Chris Christie have hit him on this. Jeb Bush, though, said that - he took Carson's side and said, if it's between Politico and Ben Carson, put me in Ben Carson's column.

SIEGEL: I mean, one thing that we're seeing here is that when people run for president, they experience a degree of scrutiny that hardly anybody else does. Is scrutiny of Ben Carson - is this sort of thing likely to dash his hopes for the presidency?

MONTANARO: You know, it's interesting because you've see Republicans use the media as a cudgel and as a crutch. And you hear that with Jeb Bush's comment there. And Ben Carson has a very loyal base, and I think, with his base, he'll be able to spin this to them and say, look, they got it wrong; they even changed their story a little bit. But if he wants to expand his base beyond this sort of quarter of the Republican Party to win the nomination, he's probably going to have to do some more selling on that.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Domenico.

MONTANARO: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR political - editor - excuse me - Domenico Montanaro.

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