|Once you give up your integrity, the rest is a piece of cake. ~ J.R. EWING|
Dr. Ben Carson is killing the truth, but there is one thing he's keeping on life support -- the myth of "liberal media bias."
The fetid air surrounding the Republican presidential campaign has become further befouled by charges that the liberal media is picking on the poor, defenseless Republican candidates. This is a sure sign that things aren't going well for them, and we're talking the good doctor in particular, who is at the head of this particular class when it comes to padding resumés, substituting lies for substance, and acting all deeply aggrieved when called out.
Candidates seem to have an especially difficult time keeping their stories straight when it comes to their forebears.
Hillary Clinton has claimed all of her grandparents were immigrants. (One was born in Pennsylvania.) Ted Cruz has gotten major mileage by saying his father was a freedom fighter against Fidel Castro. (His father's friends say he was just a punk kid who wrote anti-Castro graffiti on walls.) Clinton once claimed that she braved sniper fire in a 1996 visit to Bosnia. (She didn't.) And my all-time favorite fib: Ronald Reagan's claim that he had worked as a photographer in an Army unit that filmed Nazi death camps. (He didn't go to Europe during the war.)
But the truth, as maleable as it can be, has really caught up to Carson.
Carson's claim that he was offered a full scholarship to the U.S. Military Academy has been debunked. He never applied for nor was granted admission, nor does West point offer full scholarships. Everyone gets free room, board and tuition.
Carson's claim that he dined as the guest of General William Westmoreland on Memorial Day 1969 in Detroit has been debunked. The commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam was 400 miles away in Washington, D.C. playing tennis.
Carson's claim that he was the lone Yale student honest enough to take a revised final exam while all of his other classmates walked out, and was featured in the Yale student newspaper for his honesty, has been debunked. No record of any of this exists in the university's archives, and Carson may have been "pranked" into taking a fake exam.
Carson's denial that he shilled for Mannatech, a shady nutritional supplement company that sells fart pills to cancer patients, has been debunked. It is contradicted by the many paid speeches and promotional infomercials he has done, while the firm has helped fund his endowed chair at Johns Hopkins University.
Carson's tough-guy claim that he attempted to kill a childhood friend named "Bob" who was saved from his knife by his belt buckle has been all but debunked. He has refused to identify the victim, although he now says "Bob" actually was a close relative.
Caught out time and again, Carson has reflexively done what politicians usually do: Try to shoot the messenger.
"Don’t lie," Carson admonished a room full of reporters during a news conference when the West Point fib came up. "It's total propaganda," he said of his Mannatech ties, while he called any suggestion that he didn't try to murder someone with a knife a "smear." The good doctor tried to duck the truthiness issue during the debate last night, while the conservative media has rushed to Carson's aid, suggesting that the scrutiny he has undergone since becoming the frontrunner is a result of racism. Easy peasy.
Carson's troubled relationship with the truth is, of course, part of a larger and wackier whole.
PolitiFact found that of 19 Carson claims it investigated, all but one were untrue. He repeatedly invokes Nazi analogies and uses comparisons to slavery to attack policies he doesn't like. He has a Bible-based tax plan, declares that a Muslim should not be president, and the Biblical prophet Joseph built the Great Pyramids, which were used for grain storage, or perhaps it was space aliens. And his knowledge of American history is abysmal.
"Lying, I believe, is a grave sin and there's just no way that I would be sitting here lying about something like this," Carson told Fox News, which leads me to believe he has jumped the dissociative shark and doesn't even know he's lying.
A thought: If Carson so blithely and routinely diddles the truth, isn't it possible that his medical career, to this point so widely praised, also warrants scrutiny?
'A CLOSED FRATERNITY OF PRIVILEGED MEN'
It is Donald Trump, who Carson has supplanted as the Republican frontrunner, who set the bar so low for truthiness-cum-blaming the media this campaign season, but politicians have been shooting the messenger since the news was delivered on stone tablets in ancient Athens.
Conservatives have long believed that media "objectivity" is a mask concealing entrenched liberal biases.
What is different in today's hyper-charged political climate -- a time when "our public discourse has become indistinguishable from our entertainment," as Matt Bai well puts it -- is that lies and distortions have an outsized power as weapons against the inconvenient truths printed and broadcast by the media. Just ask Roger Ailes, the man behind the curtain at Fox News. While Democrats certainly are capable of lying, those inconvenient truths pertain to Republicans in particular because they have so little to offer to counter the Democratic populist message. And have taken the art of victimization to new levels.
The modern masters of the form are Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, while Trump, Carson and the execrable Ted Cruz are mere novices. But unlike the unbearable lightness of Trump and Carson, Cruz doesn't merely think he's smart. He is smart, and has a chance of winning the Republican nomination. And hypothetically the presidency.
In 1962, two years after losing to JFK, Nixon was defeated by Pat Brown for California governor, a defeat widely believed to be the end of his political career. In an impromptu concession speech, Nixon blamed the liberal media for favoring Brown, saying, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."
It was not, of course, and in 1969, now President Nixon was widely panned after a nationally televised address, provoking Vice President Agnew to declare that TV news was "a closed fraternity of privileged men."
"[Nixon's] words and policies were subjected to instant analysis and querulous criticism. . . by a small band of network commentators and self-appointed analysts," Agnew said. "It was obvious that their minds were made up in advance."
The myth took an enormous leap forward after the 1968 election when Edith Efron, a hack writer for TV Guide, published The News Twisters, which concluded network news followed "the elitist-liberal-left line in all controversies."
Efron's methodology was deeply skewed toward Nixon, and he was quick to realize the book's importance, ordering future Watergate defendant Charles Colson to get it on The New York Times bestsellers list stat, which he did by buying up virtually every copy. For years, Nixon staffers stumbled upon boxes crammed full of The News Twisters.
And so having been watered by Nixon and Agnew -- the only president to resign to avoid impeachment and only vice president to resign because of extortion and bribery charges -- the myth of liberal media bias blossomed and grew.
ABOUT THAT DEBATE . . .
I went into the fourth Republican presidential debate Tuesday night with a few things in mind: Eight different Republicans have led national polls since last year. We're debating whether or not a candidate for president can prove that he tried to stab a friend with a knife. And whether Jeb Bush would try to stab Marco Rubio with a knife.
Well, compared to the first three, the Fox Biznews debate actually had a semblance of substantiveness although the moderators, on their best behavior after the CNBC moderators were chastened for pressing the candidates when they were evasive, pretty much let the candidates say anything. Ben Carson said afterwards that he was "very happy" with the moderators, which tells you all you need to know.
There was no clear winner. Ted Cruz did get to thump his chest, Marco Rubio got off easy on immigration reform, and it was nice to see Rand Paul still had a pulse. The economic points of view espoused were reliably out of step with Americans who don't pay gas-guzzler taxes on their automobiles and vacation in Palm Springs, and none of the candidates could answer the key question of the night: Why Democratic presidents have been demonstrably better at jobs creation than Republicans. So in that respect perhaps there was a winner -- Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, nobody got stabbed. Jeb Bush was somewhat stronger but is still toast, and seems to have replaced "stuff happens" with "uh, anyway" as his go-to non-answer. Donald Trump's shtick has become so beyond tiresome, while Carson was his typically incoherent self as he tried to turn his problems with the truth on . . . Hillary Clinton.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click HERE for an index of previous Politix Updates.
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