Ben Carson’s pants on fire?


Yesterday I wrote about how Ben Carson, when questioned about his boast that he would not have let the Oregon gunman shoot people so easily, came up with anecdote from his own history, presumably to dispel criticisms that he has no idea how he would actually act in such a situation.

He said that he had been in a Popeye’s restaurant in Baltimore and a gunman had come in. The gunman had stuck his gun in Carson’s ribs. What did Carson do? Carson said that he told him that he was aiming it at the wrong guy and pointed towards the hapless cashier. The well-mannered gunman said “Oh, sorry” and then confronted the cashier who gave him money and then he left.

This story stuck me as fishy from the get go. For one thing, the polite gunman seemed a little confused in a Monty Pythonish way. If he came to rob the restaurant, why would he point the gun at Carson? Was Carson dressed as a Popeye employee? And pointing the gunman towards the hapless cashier seems cowardly on Carson’s part, not quite the heroic manner he said he would have acted in Oregon. Why did Carson do that? Because he says that he knew the gunman wanted to just rob the place and not kill people and so he helped him get the job done. The whole point of this strange story seemed to be to show how calm and collected Carson would be in a crisis so that presumably he would know how to deal with Vladimir Putin. Or something.

There has been some follow up on this story and it appears that there is no corroboration to be found. The Baltimore police have not been able to find a record of it and say they need more information. You would think that Carson would be able to provide more details as to the location of the restaurant and at least the approximate date of the event. One does not easily forget such a thing. But after throwing out that story, Carson seems to not want to talk about it anymore.

Furthermore, you would think that a man who has published three autobiographies would have mentioned such a dramatic event before in at least one of them. In fact, when questioned about this story, his ‘central advisor’ Armstrong Williams referred people to one book but people pointed out that it was not there. Carson’s co-author Greg Lewis said that Carson never mentioned the story during their extensive discussions for the books. Williams suggested that Carson’s silence about this remarkable incident was due to his modesty and not liking to boast, though boasting is what Carson does repeatedly. It is also hard to make the claim that a person who writes three autobiographies does not like to talk about himself.

Corroboration of the Popeye story should not be hard. Surely Carson would have spoken about this incident with colleagues and friends and family? The other people in the restaurant may also come forward in due course. The Popeye company should also be able to document a robbery from their records. But so far, zilch.

But fortunately The Daily Show has obtained exclusive footage from the Popeye’s restaurant security cameras that support Carson’s story.

(This clip aired on October 8, 2015. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)

It seems unlikely that Carson willfully and consciously made this story up out of whole cloth just to buttress his Oregon shooting comments. That would require a level of mendacity that would be truly unusual. It seems more likely that Carson is prone to grandiose fantasies where he plays a hero. This particular fantasy may have had its germ in an incident that occurred near where he was or that he heard about from others, and over time he has inserted himself into the story and come to think of it as real. This kind of false memory is not unusual as I have written before about Robert Krulwich. We also have the famous story Ronald Reagan told of being part of the forces that liberated one of the Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II, though he spent the duration of the war in Hollywood and only processed film of the liberation shot by others.

But let’s see where this Carson story goes. But if he is pressed on it, I expect to see his usual evasive tactics that (a) people are wrong to focus on petty details and should look at the larger point he was making; (b) the ever-popular “they are taking me out of context” and (c) his personal favorite “it is due to political correctness”. None of these makes any sense but that is pretty standard with Carson.

Comments

  1. raym says

    and over time he has inserted himself into the story and come to think of it as real

    Or perhaps he used his skills as a brain surgeon to insert the memory directly into his own head? I know it seems unlikely, but that’s just because common folk like us don’t have superpowers.

  2. Al Dente says

    The Popeyes story sounds too fantastic to be true. When the average gunman robs a store they tend to ignore everyone but the person with access to the money.

  3. Holms says

    It seems unlikely that Carson willfully and consciously made this story up out of whole cloth just to buttress his Oregon shooting comments. That would require a level of mendacity that would be truly unusual. It seems more likely that Carson is prone to grandiose fantasies where he plays a hero. This particular fantasy may have had its germ in an incident that occurred near where he was or that he heard about from others, and over time he has inserted himself into the story and come to think of it as real.

    I’m not remotely so generous. Something as singular as being threatened with a gun seems a less likely candidate for memory invention of that sort, and there is the fact coming up with an anecdote about how cool and collected he is with a gun pointed at him right when doubts were being expressed as to whether he could really know how he would act under that pressure – an anecdote that has never been mentioned despite being a braggart – is just too damn timely for me.

    Then there is the element of farce that you note: why on earth would the gunman need to be pointed to the person standing behind the cash register?

  4. Robert,+not+Bob says

    I bet one of his staffers made it up. “Hey, boss, listen to this idea!” Followed, no doubt, by some version of “glad I thought of it”.

  5. Who Cares says

    Popeyes is running with that website Trevor showed.
    That is a quick reaction seeing that this was aired on a Thursday night.

  6. StevoR says

    if he is pressed on it, I expect to see his usual evasive tactics that (a) people are wrong to focus on petty details and should look at the larger point he was making; (b) the ever-popular “they are taking me out of context” and (c) his personal favorite “it is due to political correctness”. None of these makes any sense but that is pretty standard with Carson.

    Pretty standard evasive tactics with a lot of people really – especially politicians generally with the first two and Right-wingers with the third. Carson isn’t exceptional here – although that does not, of course, make him using these tactics correct either quite the reverse.

  7. johnson catman says

    StevoR @6:
    Thanks for that link. Quite an interesting read. The examples that Jim writes about clearly illustrate the problem with American gun culture. I will be reading more of his blog.

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