Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ben Carson Tells How He Went From a Failure to an A-Student, Omits a Few Key Details (ca. 1996-97)

This blog's been dormant for close to 20 months now, but I had something I thought was worth sharing, so here we are again. Whether or not I continue on with this blog remains to be seen.

Note: The featured video clip aired on The 700 Club—without my annotated text, of course—on February 12, 1997. However, I get the distinct impression that this was not the first time The 700 Club aired this segment, which is why I source it as “circa 1996-97” in the headline, and in the video as “in or around 1996.” (It may have been rebroadcast to coincide with Black History Month.)

For the past couple of weeks, press coverage of the Republican presidential primaries have called into question several of Ben Carson's Selective Memory Stories™ where the details keep changing or conveniently can't be confirmed—the friend/relative he tried to stab in the belt buckle, the Popeye's Chicken gunman he redirected towards the cashier, the West Point “scholarship” he was supposedly offered, and the possible mischaracterization of a hoax that led him to re-take a final exam at Yale seemingly altered to—surprise!—make him look good. [Details of the Yale hoax story as it actually happened were still coming to light at the time this blog post was published.]

In the wake of these Selective Memory Stories™, I thought I'd post this video The 700 Club aired in the mid-1990s where Dr. Carson relates his story of how he went from the worst student in his class to the top student, as he told it in his autobiography, Gifted Hands. Well, sort of how he told it in Gifted Hands. In this re-telling for 700 Club viewers, certain salient details are omitted. Like how an eye examination provided by his public school in fifth grade led to the discovery that severe myopia was at the root of his poor academic performance, and how the road to his improvement began with eyeglasses—also supplied for free by his public school:

Gifted Hands

Or how the year prior to that, Carson had been enrolled in a private religious school that turned out to be inferior to the public school system:

Gifted Hands

If Carson had stayed enrolled in that private church school, would he have gotten an eye exam and had his glasses provided for, and ultimately found the same path to academic success and medical achievement that he did after re-enrolling in public school? We may never know. But I guess it doesn't matter since, as told to and dramatized by The 700 Club, all this business about public schools and free eyeglasses is glossed over—right down to an anachronistically bespectacled young Ben Carson completely washing out on his math test—in favor of the preferred narrative: the roots of Carson's success are attributable entirely to his mother's love and guidance, inspired by divine wisdom. (That wisdom? Turn off the television and make your sons do schoolwork.)

I want to be clear about something: unlike the recent news developments and media scrutiny cited at the beginning of this post, I am not poking holes in Ben Carson's Gifted Hands story. In fact, I'm relying on that published autobiography. What I am demonstrating is Carson's penchant for tailoring his personal story to suit his audience and/or that preferred narrative. Take the story about his nearly stabbing a friend (or relative), which he's retold for years as the moment he recognized the depths of his sins and when he turned his life over to Jesus. But as the Daily Beast documents, the details of this life-altering story seem to change over the course of several published accounts, aimed at different readerships in different contexts.

Or as Kevin Drum wrote for Mother Jones on Saturday after the Yale psychology-course exam hoax story first broke:
“He needs to exaggerate how violent he was when he was young. And after he finds God, he needs to exaggerate how great everything turned out. This culminates in the absurd story about his psychology class. No one who's not an evangelical Christian would believe it for a second. But evangelicals hear testimonies like this all the time. They expect testimonies like this, and the more improbable the better. So Carson gives them one. It's clumsy because he's not very good at inventing this kind of thing, but that doesn't matter much.”
And the target audience for our featured video are those same evangelical Christians—in this case, the viewership of a politically conservative Christian TV show that lives to promulgate stories of personal redemption inspired by divine intercedence—and without support from the state. Carson even goes so far in the video as to insinuate that his mother never went on welfare (“She worked very hard—two, three jobs at a time—in an attempt to stay off of the public assistance rolls”), even though Gifted Hands specifies that she did:

Gifted Hands

(As far as I can tell, Dr. Carson hasn't elaborated much on his family's dependence on public assistance beyond this account— has a good rundown on this angle—but when he says “by the time I went into ninth grade, Mother had made such strides that she received nothing except food stamps,” it's fair to infer from that wording that prior to that time, Carson's mother was receiving more than just food stamps. Most fact-checking sites, like Snopes and Politifact, overlook this implication.)

Some choose to ask: Does any of this matter? Dr. Carson has already begun bitching to the media that this scrutiny of his biographical accounts is a “distraction” from the issues. But Carson's entire candidacy is built around his character and his personal story. As he put it in a recent fundraising email:
“I believe that traditional ‘political experience’ is much less important than faith, honesty, courage, and an unshakable belief in the principles that made America the greatest nation in the world.”
If character is more important than political experience, then it's completely fair for the media to investigate aspects of his foundational life story that he has used to define and illustrate his character. When Carson complains that that scrutiny “distracts from the issues,” it's clear he wants to have it both ways: Voters—judge me by my character, my faith, my up-from-poverty-through-sheer-will story! Media—stop looking into my accounts of my life, and focus on the issues voters care about!

Well, Dr. Carson, you can't have it both ways. And shading the truth to fit your personal story for a tailored moral message isn't honesty.


As I explained in my introductory post way back when, this blog was originally built to showcase outrageous, insightful, and/or damaging 700 Club video clips that I collected in the mid-1990s for a project I eventually aborted. When I mothballed the blog in March 2014, I had only reviewed about a third of my videotapes from that time. Dr. Carson's been a frequent guest on The 700 Club over the years, and it's entirely possible that I have other appearances of his on my tapes. So I just might revisit those tapes in the coming months to see if I have any other Ben Carson clips (or anything else of current relevance) worth sharing.

Those of you interested in any possible updates can follow this blog's Twitter account, @robertsonsvault, or my personal Twitter account, @astutepanther.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Going On Indefinite Hiatus

Due to lack of reader interest, Pat Robertson's Vault is going on indefinite hiatus.

My thanks to everyone who's been reading, and especially to everyone who's used social media to apprise others of my work.

I will be glancing over at my Twitter notifications (@robertsonsvault) periodically, but for now it would be better to direct any further inquiries to my personal Twitter account, @astutepanther.

Friday, March 14, 2014

"The Princeton Review Says My Bible Law School Faculty Is In the Nation's Top Ten!" Mostly False.

Pat Robertson may have gone all ADD on Wednesday's broadcast of The 700 Club, but he was able to keep it together long enough to give us this whopper:

“I want to give a plug to Regent University. According to The Princeton Review, we have the top 10 law faculty in the nation.“ 
“Wow!“ – co-host Wendy Griffith
Just one little quibbling detail though:

Student questionnaires. Not academic credentials or peer reputation or legal-community assessment or any other metric used by legitimate law school rankings. Regent University School of Law came in 10th in the "Students Like Our Professors Best!" competition. Which might not be too surprising when you consider we're talking about 300 evangelical Christian students in an evangelical Christian school with evangelical Christian professors. Everyone's already drunk the Kool-Aid.

The best thing about all this? The 2015 U.S. News Best Law Schools list—a REAL ranking—also came out this week, and guess where Regent finished? Come on, guess. Actually, you can't: U.S. News stopped ranking the schools after the top 147 (out of 194) and Regent didn't make that cut. Then they just listed the rest alphabetically, as if to say, "These remaining 47 suck so hard it's not worth our time or yours to differentiate between them."

But my favorite part has to be the peer reputation rankings, as posted by TaxProfBlog:

That's the bottom of the list. Regent is tied for next-to-last. Liberty University School of Law? That's the late Jerry Falwell's outfit. You just know it chapped Pat Robertson's ass that no one thinks his law school is any better than Falwell's.

So no wonder Pat talked up the bullshi Princeton Review list. He's got to buck up his troops, who just got kicked in the teeth in a nationwide ranking.

"Everyone else says we suck, but our students like us more than most everyone else's students like them! Yay!"

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pat Robertson Spent the Entire Show Acting Like a Distracted Child (March 12, 2014)

Just yesterday morning I wrote how Pat Robertson forgot that he himself performed the exorcism he said he had "heard about" someone else performing. Then I dismissed the possibility of Alzheimer's Disease because you'd imagine that sort of occasional mind-wipe would be obvious on live-to-tape television.*

But after yesterday's broadcast, I'm not so sure. Okay, it might not be Alzheimer's, but clearly there's something not right with Pat's brain—I mean beyond the usual things not right with his brain (like his worldview and his ideology and his extremism)—because Pat was losing focus more often than a non-union film projectionist.

Here's the rundown:
  • Did Someone Use a Satellite to Take Control of the Missing Malaysian Airliner Like a Bond Villain? Eh, Let's Talk About Something Else.
  • The Republicans Won a Special-Election That Was a Referendum on Obamacare! Oh Wait, No It Wasn't.
  • And Now for No Immediate Reason, Here's Some Chocolate
  • Yea, Christian Movies! Awww, I Miss Mel Gibson, Can't We Get Him Back?
  • People Just Don't Want to Believe Because Evolution and the Scientific Method

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pat Robertson Was the Exorcist on That Demon-Possessed Girl He Mentioned Yesterday

Once again, a viewer question to Pat Robertson yesterday gave the world another opportunity to point and laugh at him and/or shake our heads in disgust at him. This time, a woman asked Pat if the horror movie she saw one night caused demons to crash her car the next day at church. And of course Pat said that could be the case because don't you know demons are real?

The beginning of Pat's reply isn't the meat of his answer, but I need to highlight it for my purposes here:
“A few years ago, I heard about a teenage girl who was demon-possessed. And people began to deal with the demon and try to cast it out. And you know what the demon said?  ‘I had permission.‘ And the permission was granted when this child had gone to some XX-rated movie, or whatever it was, and had allowed this thing to come into her.”
A few years ago, I HEARD ABOUT a teenage girl.

I think Pat's being modest, because here he is in 1997 (a few years ago?) telling pretty much the same story, except HE WAS THE EXORCIST on that poor demon-possessed girl:

“I personally have been involved in casting those things out of people. One young girl in particular. And I had the thing talk to me and say, ‘You can't have her, she's mine.’ And I said, ‘Oh no, you don't understand—Jesus is going to have her and you're going to let her go!’ But the little girl—tiny little girl; I mean, she was 17 but just tiny—said, ‘You can't have her, she's mine.’ Well, that's Satan talking.” 
Okay, so the 1997 version doesn't have the dirty-movie part, and You can't have her, she's mine isn't quite the same as I had permission. But I can pretty much guarantee you that Pat Robertson has told versions of this exorcism story many, many times over the years, and people often tend to embellish certain details in repeating their stories. And I had permission definitely sounds more badass, which is what you want for something coming from, y'know, SATAN. Besides, why would anyone swap out their very own bona fide exorcism story with one they "heard" someone else did?

Maybe he legitimately forgot that that was his own story and instead remembers it as happening to someone else. I know that sounds a little like Alzheimer's, but I know that's not the case with Pat—when he's hosting a TV show for an hour, that level of dementia would be patently obvious, especially if he's answering viewer questions completely off the cuff, oftentimes supplying the same answer that he has for years and years. But the man is 83, and he's definitely not as sharp as he once was.

The only conclusion that makes any sense is that the exorcism story is all one big invention. I don't believe for one second that some girl was actually possessed by Satan and went all Regan MacNeil on anyone, and I'm guessing if you're reading this, neither do you. Pat Robertson lied in 1997 about actually performing a real-live exorcism on someone, and he forgot about that part when he re-told the story yesterday—because when you lie, you sometimes forget the lies you told when you came up with the lie. Remember where I wrote two paragraphs back that people tend to add embellishments to their stories the more they tell them? That's especially the case when the story isn't true to begin with. Any police detective will tell you that criminals under interrogation get caught in their lies when they contradict themselves on the details, because you can never keep track of the elaborations of the lie you're concocting better than remember the truth that really happened.

So maybe Pat wasn't any kind of exorcist on any demon-possessed girl. But you'll still have to pry that "Pat Robertson Was the Exorcist" headline of mine from my cold, dead hand.


By the way, that video I posted of "Pat Robertson, Exorcist" has so much more after the portion I focused on: an earlier iteration of "miracles don't happen in America because we're too sophisticated," a brief disquisition on heavy metal lyrics, the demon Abaddon the Destroyer (who is, remember, totally real and not something out of Ghostbusters)—even a Bob Dylan quote! (Granted, from one of the Christian albums.) All leading up to his prayer with the audience to cast Satan out, a piece of work that tracks like it's a version in miniature of his supposed exorcism. Enjoy. Or facepalm or headdesk or vomit, your choice.

Friday, February 28, 2014

If Your Grandparent Was a Fortune-Teller, You're Probably Cursed (And Other Pat Robertson Tales)

Pat Robertson has said something noteworthily extremist every day of his four-day workweek—I was right to want Hugo Ch├ívez assassinated! It's un-American to force a business to serve gay people if they don't want to! Impeach Eric Holder!—but the more influential Robertson monitors, Right Wing Watch and The Raw Story, must have gotten tired of covering his shenanigans because they left all of Thursday's ridiculousness on the table.  So allow me to fill in for them.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 Doesn't Exist, Apparently

Thursday's top story was Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's veto of Senate Bill 1062, which would have allowed business owners to deny services to whomever their religion tells them they shouldn't have to serve.  But really we're just talking about gays and lesbians and gay/lesbian marriages, because that's still "acceptable" discrimination in some quarters.  So here's how Pat Robertson kicked off the show:
“If you're in New York and you're a homosexual and you're a bartender, you can refuse service to a Republican or a born-again Christian, or somebody you don't like, with impunity!  No problem.  If you happen to live in California, and you run a bakery, and you happen to be a born-again Christian, and you say, 'I don't want to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding,' you can go to jail.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.  You know, the law that says,
All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services…and accommodations of any place of public accommodation…without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
So, no, that gay bartender in gay New York can not refuse service to a born-again Christian with impunity.  (Republicans? They're fair game, I guess.)  Also, no one goes to jail for discrimination.  It's a civil violation.  That's Pat Robertson, Yale Law School graduate, everybody!

This tale also includes the Fall of America:

“Well…what's happening in America is we have changed the fundamental way we view morality.  We've gone away from a Biblically based standard to a standard based on what Hollywood has to say or Madison Avenue or whoever.  And it looks like there was overwhelming opposition to gay marriage, and that has now shifted, so probably a majority of Americans say, ‘It's okay if gays want to get married, that's their business.’ ”

If Your Grandparent Was a Witch or Fortune-Teller, You're Probably Cursed

A viewer asks Pat if he believes in generational curses, like how families have histories of cancer and diabetes.  Well, Pat responds, cancer and diabetes, that's probably more genetic than spiritual. (Probably.)  But spiritual generational curses are real:
“I do believe that there are such things as generational curses.  If some grandparent was a witch or a fortune-teller, or engaged in the black arts, the chances are that curse will come down the family.  And it needs to be broken by specific prayer.”

God Can Grow Back a Limb—A Preacher I Knew Said It Happened!

In response to another viewer born without a right hand, Pat says That's okay, you're already spiritually whole, and people can live fulfilling lives with disabilities like yours.  But if you want a new hand, God can give you one:
“Can God grow you a hand?  That's a creative miracle, and it happens.  I remember T. L. Osborn was talking about a meeting he had in Ghana.  A man at the edge of the meeting didn't have a whole leg, the leg was cut off at the knee: whole leg grew out, foot grew out, toes grew out, toenails grew, the whole thing.  Right there, while he was preaching about Jesus.”
(Why do these "miracles" only happen in faraway places like Ghana and not here in the good ol' U.S. of A.?  Because only simple people are open to miracles.  Westerners are too educated and sophisticated to accept them.)

The Antichrist Might Be a Jew—But He Could Be a Muslim!  Or Even European!

Dear Pat, I've been looking into End Times prophecy and it seems to me that the antichrist is going to be a Jew… Do you think that makes sense?
“I think it may make some sense… I think there are antichrist figures, there's an antichrist spirit, and it's a spirit of rebellion against God, and who knows.  I certainly think the modern-day Islamic people, the people from Islam of the early days at least, had an antichrist spirit—they speak against Christ!  And there are others who do the same thing.  So: is he Jewish, is he Arab, is he North African, is he from Europe?  Where is he?  I don't think we know.  But what you said can make plenty of sense.  But I wouldn't spend a lot of time meditating on it.”
Yeah, it's probably a Jew that will bring about the End Times.  But don't worry about it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Maybe the Bible Is Why People Still Think the Sun Revolves Around the Earth, Pat Robertson? Naahhh, Can't Be.

On Tuesday, I posted a blow-by-blow account of all the wingnut asshattery in that day's 700 Club.  Turns out I probably could have done the same with Monday's broadcast had I not slept in—hey, it was a holiday!—because there was a load of stuff being shoveled that day, too.  You probably heard about a couple of the juicier items:
  • Because this winter has been a little harsh (climate change means severer weather at all of the extremes), Pat Robertson went on a semi-focused rant about global warming that touched on "Obama's third term" (???), John Kerry, SUVs on Mars (not Jupiter this time)—ultimately landing on a kinda comprehensible although still lunatic argument that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by socialists who are making up "climate change" so they can take control of the energy industry (just like Obama wants to take over the healthcare industry!).  If you're keeping score, "socialist hoax" is now at least Pat's fourth attempt at discrediting global warming, after "it's actually global cooling," "it's a scam by money-hungry scientists," and "it's a myth by occultist environmentalists who worship the Earth."  (Curiously, he's completely forgotten the time when he filmed a commercial for Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection in 2008.)
  • During the "Bring It On" segment (i.e., "Ask Pat"), Robertson said in response to a viewer email that a Wiccan parent was the equivalent of a mother who makes her child deal drugs, or who sells her into prostitution, and the viewer was free to ignore the Fifth Commandment and not honor her mother.
  • Also during the "Bring It On" segment (this part of the program is so frequently a source of our ire/entertainment, because it catches Pat at his unscripted best), a viewer asked if he should tell his wife about an old girlfriend who revealed to him that she was a transsexual, and Pat's initial response was "Keep your mouth shut."  Actually, if you look at the full transcript of Pat's reply, it seems like he's only saying, "There's no reason to complicate your marriage by talking about whatever potentially awkward relationships you had before you met your wife," which perhaps isn't such an unreasonable outlook.  However, the rest of the Internet wants to believe he said it like, "Don't ever, ever talk about your shameful, sinful deed," so I'll play along.
But let me not bury my lede any further.  In the middle of his latest global-warming conniption, and lost in the shuffle of all the coverage given it, Pat brought up this seemingly irrelevant news story—the National Science Foundation conducted a survey finding that a quarter of Americans didn't know the Earth revolves around the Sun.
“One-third of the American people do not realize that the Earth revolves around the Sun.  They think the Sun revolves around the Earth, 'cause they see the Sun come up in the morning and go down at night… It's kind of like the Middle Ages.  You got excommunicated if you suggested that the Earth was round, and you suggested that the Earth revolves around the Sun.  That was heresy.”  [Pat later corrected the part where it was actually one-quarter of respondents.]