Sometime Thursday, my Twitter feed started lighting up about an embarrassing phrase uttered by Ben Carson, Donald Trump’s nominee to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development. It was “Freudian,” “telling,” “cringe-worthy,” or merely “unfortunate,” among other things. Google the phrase “Ben Carson gaffe” and you get a number of results informing you he goofed. It may have even been “the greatest gaffe in political history.”
I wondered what he could have possibly said to provoke those reactions. Reportedly, it was the he would not “do anything that would benefit any American.” Uh … oops? How could he have possibly said something so dense, even unintentionally?
Well, the answer is: He didn’t.
Not only did he not say that, he didn’t really come close to saying it. To assert that he did requires one not only to ignore the entire context of what he was saying, but to ignore part of what he actually said.
If you’re interested in what Carson really said, I have it for you right here. It came toward the end of this part of his exchange with Sen. Elizabeth Warren:
Get that? Right between “anything to benefit any” and “any American” (yes, he repeated “any”) there’s an audible “p” sound — like the beginning of the word “particular.” How do I know it was “particular”? Because he goes on to say the whole word at the end of the sentence. Accurately transcribed, his entire phrase is:
“It will not be my intention to do anything to benefit any part- — any American, (in) particular.”
How do I further know that’s what he said? Let me count the ways:
1. He had previously said, as part of his initial answer to this line of questioning, “I will absolutely not play favorites for anyone.” That clearly indicated the point he was trying to make.
2. He immediately followed up the phrase in question by saying, “It’s for all Americans, anything that we do.” That clarified the point he was trying to make.
3. The immediate response from Warren to the phrase in question was, “I understand that.” And after he said that second sentence, she immediately continued with her questioning. She knew exactly what he had said, and the point he was trying to make.
If they’re being honest, I suspect, so do the people trying to claim Carson inadvertently revealed his intention to screw the American people, or something. This is the lamest version of click-bait, fake news, whatever you want to call it. Actually, it’s worse than that: It’s a willful misrepresentation of the truth, in order to get a few clicks — and, just maybe, to bring someone they don’t particularly like down a peg or two.
Why does this matter? Because it’s exactly the kind of crap that people in 2016 grew sick of. It’s the kind of crap that makes people not only forgive Trump for his attacks on the media but actually gravitate toward him. It’s also the kind of crap that gives Trump and his team an example to repeatedly drag back out when they want to claim the media are biased against them, even regarding stories that are critical but actually fair and true. See also: The deeply irresponsible publishing by Buzzfeed this week of the alleged “dossier” against Trump which they admitted was unverified.
Just stop it already.