As Dr. Ben Carson’s stock rises in the present primary season, so does media scrutiny surrounding various aspects of his personal life. On Thursday, CNN published a series of articles scrutinizing Carson’s own accounts of his upbringing, constituting the most significant critique of his character since the acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon entered the presidential race earlier this year.
At issue is Carson’s tale of “spiritual redemption,” which has become something of a recurring theme on the campaign trail. Carson has famously commented that his present persona as a cool-headed and relatively passive individual is a far cry from some of his exploits as a child including incidents of serious assault and attempted murder. In a lengthy online article entitled “A Tale of Two Carsons,” CNN revisited an anecdote shared by Carson in which he claims to have bloodied the face of a classmate by striking him with a metal lock, as well as an incident in which he says he attempted to stab another child in the stomach. Carson also claims he once attacked his own mother with a hammer during an argument about clothes.
While the above-noted accounts have become staples in Ben Carson’s hitherto inspiring story of his evolution from a troubled youth to a respected leader in his profession, a number of the candidate’s former classmates and acquaintances tell CNN that stories of Carson’s violent past are unfamiliar to them. The network recently spoke with nine “friends, classmates, and [former] neighbors” of Carson who expressed shock and surprise at some of the details shared by Carson. At least one of the people contacted by CNN suggested that stories like the ones Carson has shared would have been difficult to keep quiet in the halls of their common alma mater, Southwestern High School in Detroit.
“I don’t know nothing about that,” said Carson’s former classmate Gerald Ware. “It would have been all over the whole school.”
In fact, CNN says their reporters were unable to “independently verify” any of the assaults described by Ben Carson, who was a juvenile at the time of the described incidents.
For his part, Ben Carson maintains that his descriptions of his history as a “pathologically violent” person are true, but he told CNN in a follow up interview that he will not divulge the true identities of anyone he has victimized.
“I don’t like to generally bring them in, the names I used for instance are fictitious names because I don’t want to bring people into something like this because I know what you guys do to their lives.”
CNN noted that Carson did not indicate that he used fictitious names of any sorts in the stories offered in his 1990 autobiography, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.
Ben Carson also told CNN that the episodes of violence he has described are “private incidents,” the details of which are only known to the victims.
Carson’s memory of the childhood incident in which he attempted to stab someone in the stomach – an attack which proved unsuccessful when the knife blade broke on the alleged victim’s belt buckle – was reenacted for a film based on the doctor’s life. In the scene, a number of witnesses are present at the time of the incident. Salon.com posted a video excerpt from that film which includes comments from Carson’s former acquaintances in which they refute the general tone of the memories he has shared.
At the moment, the controversy over Ben Carson’s reminiscences does not seem to be affecting his standing with many GOP voters, as recent polls show him in a statistical dead heat with the party’s resilient frontrunner, Donald Trump. Indeed, at this point in the campaign, any controversy – whether new or old – can affect Ben Carson’s momentum and stall his attempts at overtaking Trump in the polls.