Politico‘s Kyle Cheney admitted that he fabricated a negative story about Ben Carson. At least, according to his own standards, he admitted the grievous journalistic sin.
In a story published early on Friday, Politico’s Kyle Cheney authored a piece headlined “Ben Carson admits fabricating West Point scholarship” with a subhed “Carson’s campaign on Friday conceded that a central point in his inspirational personal story did not occur as he previously described.”
There were at least five major problems with the story:
- The headline was completely false
- The subhed was also completely false
- The opening paragraph was false false false
- The substance of the piece was missing key exonerating information
- The article demonstrated confusion about service academy admissions and benefits
But other than that, A+++ work, Kyle Cheney and Politico.
It could take all day to parse the problems with Kyle Cheney’s now-somewhat-cleaned-up hit piece on Carson, but let’s just look at his original introductory claims:
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…When presented with this evidence, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.
Roughly none of this is true. Ben Carson’s campaign did not “admit” that a central point in his story “was fabricated.” Quite the opposite. The central point of the story is falsely described by Cheney/Politico as being that he applied and was accepted at West Point. Carson, in fact, has repeatedly claimed not to have applied. So any claim regarding the absence of West Point records of such an application would not debunk Carson’s point. And, again, Carson’s campaign never “conceded” the story was false at least in part because the story, as characterized by Politico, is not one he told. Further, Cheney is unable to substantiate his claim that Carson told this story. Nowhere in the article does he even explain, with facts, where he came up with the idea that Carson has ever made this claim.
Politico stealthily edited the inflammatory headline and lede, after the damage was done. They made changes without adding a note about what was corrected. They didn’t update the piece or add an editor’s note. The new headline is very much toned down to “Exclusive: Carson claimed West Point ‘scholarship’ but never applied.” This is a claim not exclusive to Politico and not newsworthy in the least. Carson himself broke this news 23 years ago when he said he was offered a scholarship to West Point but never applied. The cleaned-up story still says that Carson “conceded that he never applied nor was granted admission to West Point.” To concede is to admit that something is true. But, again, Carson himself made this claim more than two decades ago, so he’s not conceding the point to Kyle Cheney or Politico simply because Kyle Cheney and Politico misread him.
The Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel, who immediately expressed skepticism about the significance of the Politico hit that was taking everybody by storm, has a balanced take on the kerfuffle here. He also noted:
Also, taking “fabrication” out of that headline is like taking uranium out of an A-bomb.
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) November 6, 2015
One other quick point to make about Politico and Kyle Cheney’s piece. The original story claimed that Carson also lied by claiming he was offered a full scholarship to West Point since the service academy is entirely taxpayer funded. Or, as Politico put it: “indeed there are no ‘full scholarships,’ per se.” The only problem with this is that the academy itself describes this benefit as a “full scholarship.”
Ben Carson was a brilliant student who had already shown an interest in the military and had demonstrated leadership skills. It would be weirder if West Point hadn’t tried to recruit him than tried to recruit him. This doesn’t happen to us journalists, for obvious reasons, but exceptional students are recruited by top colleges and universities all the time.
Now, as for Kyle Cheney’s concession that he fabricated his piece on Carson. He didn’t. That’s how I’m interpreting his decision to stealthily edit his piece to remove much of the error. But Ben Carson didn’t “admit” or “concede” to fabrication and he’s been tarred by Cheney as if he had. So I’ll keep the headline.
At a time when the media need to demonstrate good faith efforts to cover Republicans and conservatives with even a modicum of fairness, Kyle Cheney and Politico have done a tremendous disservice to their brands.