Long life

Distorting the truth — US presidential campaign-style

Plagiarism is an unpardonable offence in America; inventing a life story isn’t

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

It is hardly uncommon for politicians to lie, especially when their careers are threatened by a sexual transgression — John Profumo about Christine Keeler, for example, and Bill Clinton on not having had ‘sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky’. But there is a particular kind of distortion of the truth that is rare over here but almost routine among American presidential candidates; and this is the way they embellish their personal histories to maximise their appeal to voters. It’s been going on for ages among candidates of both main parties, but presently most scrutiny is directed at Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and Seventh-day Adventist — denier of global warming, Darwinism and most other fashionable creeds — who has surprisingly jumped in the polls to the front of the Republican field.

Carson’s story is one of rags to riches in which a violent temper as a boy was cured by study of the Bible. But none of his school contemporaries remember this violence, especially an incident in which he says he tried to stab a young friend. They all remember him as a peaceful young chap. His life, as described in campaign speeches, is more turbulent than anyone else can recall, and his boasted achievements and triumphs in adversity have proven impossible to verify. In particular, his claim to have been offered a scholarship to the United States Military Academy at West Point has been proven unfounded.

Then there is Ted Cruz, the Hispanic senator from Texas and another Republican candidate, whose campaign speeches have been much enriched by his vivid descriptions of the exploits of his Cuban-born father — now 76 and a US citizen — during the Castro revolution in the 1950s against the dictator, Fulgencio Batista. These portray his father, Rafael Cruz, as a rebel leader, bomb-thrower, gun-runner and so on, whereas diligent research by the American media has found little evidence of this. His former Cuban comrades and friends describe him as little more than a rebellious teenager who wrote on walls and marched in the streets.

Donald Trump, whose position at the top of the polls was — to his fury — usurped by Carson, is the author of countless questionable statements, but the main one to have been challenged is the extent of the wealth of which he constantly boasts. There is no question that he is extremely rich, but he talks about being worth more than ten billion dollars whereas Bloomberg, for example, says about three billion. This might not seem to matter very much, but Trump rests his case for election on his unique skills as a deal-maker that have made him, in his view, quite exceptionally rich.

Even Hillary Clinton, the favourite for the Democratic nomination, can be economical with the truth. During her last bid for the presidency, in which she was beaten by Barack Obama, she was forced to retract a claim that in 1996, as First Lady, she had landed at an airport in Bosnia under sniper fire. ‘There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base,’ she said. A video, however, showed her ambling with her daughter Chelsea across the airport tarmac, smiling and greeting well-wishers. There had been no sniper fire. In another perplexing statement, Hillary said she had been named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand mountaineer who conquered Everest, whereas in fact she was already nearly six years old when Sir Edmund reached the summit in 1953.

You might expect presidential candidates to be more careful after what happened to Vice-President Joe Biden in 1988. He was then seeking the Democratic nomination but was forced to withdraw from the race after he made a speech about his rise from humble roots to become the first member of his family ever to attend college. But his fall from grace was not due to the fact that this statement wasn’t true, which it wasn’t, but because his remarks had been lifted almost verbatim from a campaign speech in Britain by Neil Kinnock when he was leader of the Labour party. Biden even included Kinnock’s statement that his ancestors were coal miners, which wasn’t true of Biden either, though it was of Kinnock. Plagiarism is regarded in America as an unpardonable offence; inventing a life story isn’t. The people just love fairy tales.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • freddiethegreat

    “Even Hillary Clinton, the favourite for the Democratic nomination, can be economical with the truth. ”
    That’s being utterly economical with language.

  • Pioneer


    Carson has only been polled ahead in one State. Trump is the clear front runner overall.

    Carson’s scholarship offer has not been proven unfounded.

  • Curnonsky

    None of the attacks on Carson, a man of real distinction and accomplishment (as a top pediatric neurosurgeon), have been shown to have any validity. Which is no surprise since they emanated from the left-wing internet gutter press. It is especially laughable to write that “even” Hillary Clinton has been economical with the truth…”Even”?? One of the most infamous serial liars in American politics (and there is some pretty serious competition)? If you asked her the time of day she’d probably lie just on principle.

    The Spectator has a sorry record of allowing a lot of sloppy, gin-sodden, lazy journalism about American affairs that they’d never tolerate about British politics and this piece is Exhibit A.

    • CraigStrachan

      Carson needs to tell us more about his personal, private sources of intelligence that apparently substantiate his claims of Chinese involvement in Syria. Because if they’re on the level it seems to me that – once he’s got everybody tithing and government revenues have tanked – one of the agencies he could close could be the CIA. Maybe the NSA and all. Then he could just take care of intelligence matters personally.

      • bobbyalpy

        Wow…marxist scumsucker?

        • CraigStrachan

          No, I understand he’s a Seventh Day Adventist.

          • bobbyalpy

            Lol…right.You’re the marxist scumsucker.To be clear…after Your messiah obanga…most Americans would vote for an actual chimp to replace the current chimp so long as it wasn’t a democrat.

          • CraigStrachan

            Well, I don’t think there’s an available chimp on the GOP side, but I understand Trump is part-orangutan?

          • bobbyalpy

            I’m all for orangutan.After 8 years of the magic negro,I’d vote for a turd in a suit so long as it wasn’t a democrat.

          • CraigStrachan

            Well, you’ve got plenty of turds in suits to choose from in the GOP field, so you should be happier than you seem to be.

          • bobbyalpy

            Again…I would vote for Absolutely anyone who is not a democrat at this point…anyone.My parent’s were old security democrats until nearly 4 years ago when for the first time for republicans.That should tell you how things are going to go.

          • CraigStrachan

            I know how things are going to go – I remember when Gov Pete Wilson went after immigrants here in California, albeit with much less theatrical flair than your fave orangutan, and he only succeeded in killing the Republican Party stone dead in Reagan’s home state.

          • bobbyalpy

            If you say so.Let’s pick this back up next year and see who is right.

      • MichtyMe

        My favourite is his belief that the Egyptian pyramids were built by Joseph to store the grain harvests of the seven preceding the seven fallow.

        • CraigStrachan

          Yes, how silly. Everybody knows the pyramids were built by space aliens for use as pencil sharpeners.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    the headlines “Distorting the Truth – US Presidential Campaign style would take on dimension equal to that of the Himalayas if it focused on the liberal Democratic candidates especially Hillary Clinton who has gone on to exemplify what distortion of any kind of truth can be done.

  • pipedream

    I assume that Alexander Chancellor might have had an experience 50 years ago that was between him and one or two other people, perhaps something he wanted to keep hidden. If we could not verify it by interviewing random classmates and people who say they lived in his neighborhood around the time he did (because after all a very famous person lived there and now a reporter is asking)….then we could safely say he fabricated it. Right?

  • ChiGal

    Alex, you forgot to include the current occupant of the Oval Office – from his impoverished childhood with his heroic single mum who got him up at 4:00 a.m. every morning to teach him his lessons to his very convenient “conversion” to Christianity at a church where he never seemed to be in attendance when the Good Pastor Wright was giving one of his brotherly sermons.

  • CraigStrachan

    Ted Cruz may be the senator from Texas, but he was born in Canada, leading one to suspect that he may be a sleeper agent for the Great White North, nothing less than a Trojan Moose.

  • Dominic Stockford

    Poor journalism – especially about Ben Carson.

    And as for this line: “Even Hillary Clinton… can be economical with the truth.”

    You have to be joking, surely – the track record for Clinton’s telling truth is extremely thin gruel indeed.

  • bobbyalpy

    That you are a communist progressive(as if there is anything progressive about Marxism) is clear.You have accused Dr.Carson of inventing his life story,but you provide not a single verifiable fact to back up your claims.This is what journalism becomes when you leave it to marxist fifth columnists.