POLITICS
01/06/2015 11:58 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2015

Ben Carson's Camp Disputes Union-Leader's "Hefty Fee" Story [UPDATED]

UPDATE, 1/7/2015: Carson's camp, as well as the New Hampshire Union-Leader's original source for the story, now dispute the Union-Leader's original account. The Granite State newspaper carries this development in a staff report, following on the previous article. From that report:

Dr. Ben Carson was unable to speak at a New Hampshire dinner later this month due to a previously scheduled event, and it had nothing to do with any speaker’s fee, according to his business manager.

Armstrong Williams said Carson, a possible Republican presidential hopeful, was in the process of being booked for a live town hall event at Howard University on Jan. 19 and was unavailable to speak at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dinner celebration in Manchester on that day.

All of which would have made perfect sense at the outset. In reporter Dan Tuohy's original, the MLK event's organizer, Wayne D. Jennings, explained that the "barrier" to Carson's participation was a "hefty" speaking fee. The Union Leader's follow-up addresses that like so:

Williams shared an email exchange between the speakers’ bureau and Carson’s office, which refers to the Jennings’ inquiry for a speaking engagement as a “pro-bono request.”

Jennings, in a follow-up interview Tuesday, said he recalled being told there was a fee. In any event, Jennings said, he has great respect for Carson. He said he has watched a biographical movie of the famous, retired neurosurgeon several times and he looks forward to hearing him speak at some point in New Hampshire.

The most charitable read of all of this is that some sort of breakdown in communication occurred, either between Carson's handlers and Jennings, between Jennings and the Union-Leader, or both. This doesn't fully explain how this became a story in the typically reliable Union-Leader. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Carson cannot be in two places at once, which renders any discussion of speaking fees moot. It also effectively voids the premise of my original post, below.

Should this all require any additional rounds of sorting out, this post shall be updated.

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The New Hampshire Union Leader's Dan Tuohy reports that would-be presidential candidate Ben Carson is maybe not the savviest person to ever run for president:

Dr. Ben Carson was briefly considered as a speaker for a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration this month in New Hampshire, but the organizer says a "hefty" speaker’s fee proved a barrier.

Wayne D. Jennings, the organizer of the 13th annual "Keeping the Dream Alive" Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner Celebration on Jan. 19 in Manchester, said he initially reached out to try to line up Carson -- the retired neurosurgeon, author and former Fox News contributor who is mulling a bid for the Republican nomination for president.

Let's enumerate the cock-ups here, folks. First and foremost, GOP opposition researchers spent a goodly part of 2014 trolling perennially-presumed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her exorbitant speaking fees. Clinton's allies could point to a number of plausible mitigating factors -- those fees went to the Clinton Global Initiative, and in some cases her appearances raised money for the events' organizers -- but it wasn't hard to understand the motivation of critics, using Clinton's six-figure speaker fee to paint her as an elite one-percenter at a time where economic populism is a cresting wave.

Now, the GOP has one of its own telling a nonprofit organization that they can't afford him. This blunts those criticisms.

Secondly, you have to show a little bit of character and recognize when you're dealing with an organization for which you should really waive your fee. As Tuohy reports, this is one such case:

Jennings declined to say how much the speaker’s fee was. He described it as "hefty" in the sense that the National Cultural Diversity Awareness Council he founded in 2000 is a non-profit organization that relies on volunteers and corporate and community sponsors.

Yeah, so this organization isn't really in the business of paying anyone, so even bringing up a speaking fee is pretty crass. If you don't want to do an unpaid public appearance in this instance, just say you're busy that day and wish them the best. But look, here's the good news: There are no hard feelings here. Jennings told Tuohy that he's "got nothing but respect for" Carson. Jennings' event is going to be fine.

But that still brings us to the last and most important part of all of this: We're talking about New Hampshire in 2015. If you're running for President, you're itching for these opportunities to get in front of influential primary voters and show them what you're all about. This would have been a great earned media opportunity for Carson. Fox News would have covered it. Carson's remarks would have filtered out over social media. New Hampshire's media would have treated it like a campaign stop. It would have garnered the attention of influential state party elites. And Carson would have earned a few good quotes from locals talking about his presidential timber.

Instead, we have this story in the Union Leader about how Carson's speaking fee was "hefty" and a "barrier." Maybe Carson is just new at this? Maybe you should just not take him seriously as a presidential candidate -- almost as though he's staging a quixotic presidential run to give his speaking fees a nice boost, or something.

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