Dr. Ben Carson makes too much sense for the media.
First there was Dr. Carson’s speech at the National Prayer breakfast that put him in the spotlight for speaking truth to power. The six weeks since that time has been filled with regular appearances on Fox News offering his opinions on the current administration as well as the state of the nation as a whole. Now we have the Ben Carson apology tour for remarks he made on Sean Hannity’s show last week.
It was the last question of the interview and the answer took all of 40 seconds, but, that at least for now, is driving the news cycle. I actually didn’t know about the issue at all until I first saw him on CNN yesterday trying to set the record straight. It was through this apology tour that I came away more impressed with Dr. Carson, and a little less impressed with the media as a whole.
First off, I wish Sean Hannity would have pressed Doctor Carson a bit more on his answer. I think given a chance to clarify at the time may have made this whole thing a moot point. But, television works on some serious time constraints and I’m sure Sean knew there wasn’t any time for that left in his show. I think Sean thought it was a softball question that would illicit either a simple or at worst “canned” response. Instead he got a guy that tried to cram his complex views into a tiny soundbite and ended up with an awkward answer and no time to make it better.
The remarks were quick to be picked up by the other networks raising questions about his potentially offensive views. It’s almost as if they were hoping to find him a homophobic religious zealot. I saw the apology tour interviews on CNN as well as MSNBC and it looked like both networks were at least prepared for something other than honesty and sincerity. In both cased Dr. Carson stated that (a) it was a poor choice of words, that (b) he wasn’t comparing homosexuals to pedophiles, that (c) he understood how it could be perceived as such and that (d) it was not intention to draw that comparison. He then categorically apologized. In an age where most guests try to spin their way out of trouble, Dr. Carson owned up to it. Bravo, sir. That is how you defeat an embarrassing situation.
In interviews both Andrea Mitchell and Wolf Blitzer followed up Dr. Carson’s initial explanation with questions essentially reframing the original question, as if they weren’t expecting to get a real answer on the first try. Mitchell, in particular, seemed flustered by the fact that she was likely not interviewing the scary homophobe she anticipated, and was now stuck with a set of questions that he had answered in the first thirty seconds. Both interviewers came back around to the fact that it used to be illegal for different races to marry later on in their interviews despite the fact the question had lost mush of its relevance based Carson’s previous answers. It was obvious they were not used to an honest guest and were not prepared for the interview to go a direction they had not anticipated. If you haven’t already done so, i encourage you to check out the links to each interview. Blitzer’s was far better than Mitchell’s, but both could have been better
It turns out Dr. Carson seems more intent on protecting the English language than supporting any specific conservative social cause. He keeps going back to the fact that no one gets to change the meaning of a word. When he talks about specifics though, he believes that all people, (including gays) have the right to form legal unions in order to facilitate the transfer of property and establish visitation rights. He went so far as to voice support for their ability to adopt children in the Blitzer interview.
It was telling that Carson admitted he needed to learn the art of handling the media. This is why everyone in the media missed this opportunity. Instead of making sure they got to all of their prepared questions, they should have reacted to his statements with more followup questions. No one asked the question “How would feel about granting same sex couples 100% of the legal rights as married couples if we used/made up a new word to describe it (civil union, perhaps?).” It looked to me like that was what he was trying to say, but his brain got tied up talking about compring oranges and bananas. Instead of trying to really understand Dr. Carson, both hosts instead moved on. I guess they had to make sure they found a way to go back to their questions about marriage laws of the early 20th century prohibiting multi-racial unions.
One thing I was pleasantly surprised with was the exchange when Blitzer asked if the fact that other people in the media had made the slippery slope argument about homosexuals, bestiality and pedophilia, if that may have influenced Carson’s choice of words when answering the question on The Sean Hannity Show. When Dr. Carson said that it may have been a “subconscious reason he choose those words”, that was some refreshing honesty, not typically seen in a news interview.
Dr. Carson is a smart, well read, man with a large vocabulary. He is the kind of person who understands subtle nuances, and his point is that we shouldn’t expand the definition of a word just because we expand the scope of legal rights for a group of people. When we invented the light bulb we didn’t expand the definition of the word candle, even though they both produce light and heat. I think he just wants a different name.
So does this put him on the right or the left of the issue? I have yet to see his explanation tour hit Fox News, if he does (or already has) I will be interested to see how they handle it, because, on this issue, he does not fit the conservative mold, at least not completely. I also wonder if Dr. Carson isn’t going to go from darling of the right, to darling of the left.
Ben Carson is coming across as a libertarian, which is really going to screw up our media industry. There are reports that he may go to work for Fox News after his retirement, although Dr. Carson was quoted as saying that there has been “more than one network” that has approached him about the idea. I am curious to see how any network takes on someone with such diverse opinions.
In the end, I think he has genuine views and it is good to have him as part of the discussion. I just hope the media machine doesn’t put him into a corner where only one side wants to listen to him, or worse yet, drives him away from the conversation completely.
***Update**** I saw a story on the Fox News website about Dr. Carson’s apology. It focused much more on the fact that some students at Hopkins did not want him to deliver the commencement address this year. It also mentioned that he said he was sorry for the comparison. Interestingly, though, it did not say anything at all about his stated support for same sex couples to have legal standing under the law for things like property transfer and adoption, etc.
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