When political novices fly too close to the Fox News flame, they risk getting burned. Just ask Dr. Ben Carson.
After profiting from a Fox News public relations blitz for much of the past two months, during which he logged at least twenty appearances on the network, the famous neurosurgeon, who has been toasted inside right-wing circles as a possible GOP savior, has suddenly been forced to defend his "trainwreck" interview on Fox where he likened marriage equality supporters to people advocating pedophilia and bestiality.
And just like that, Carson has gone from being Fox News' surefire rising star to a target of a widespread backlash. And just like that he's learned the Fox News embrace carries with it grave consequences and that hard-earned reputations can be tarnished in an instant.
Prior to his Fox News stint, Carson enjoyed a sterling reputation his work as a pediatric neurosurgeon. In recent days though, a colleague from John Hopkins told Media Matters that Carson's anti-gay comments made him look "nasty, petty and ill-informed," while students at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine requested that Carson be removed as this year's commencement speaker. (A guest on Hannity last night said Carson had "ruined his name" after Sean Hannity had worked so hard to elevate him.)
The surgeon's tumble from the Fox pedestal captures the cycle of futility that the cable channel has mastered in recent years in its never-ending pursuit to prop up challengers to President Obama. And its never-ending pursuit to find a lazy shortcut for launching candidates. (Think: Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Herman Cain, among others.)
But not only did Carson badly stumble with his shocking comments about marriage equality, but as we've seen from this predictable model, he's also been turned into a professional victim by the right-wing media, whose practitioners like nothing better than ignoring substantive debates in order to complain about alleged biases in the press coverage. (All the while being careful not to actually repeat or explain what Carson's scandalous remarks were, of course.)
Cue Rush Limbaugh:
- "We are in the midst of mob rule now. In this case led by the trolls at Media Matters and aided and abetted by the so-called mainstream media."
- "Amidst all this talk of equality, Ben Carson is not allowed to voice his opinion."
Obviously, if Carson aspires to be a serious national leader and wants to groom himself for a possible presidential run he shouldn't have spent the last two months making nearly 20 appearances on Fox News. And he certainly shouldn't have teamed up with comically unserious Fox if one of his crusades is to help educate voters whom Carson thinks are being poorly informed by the press.
"You know, intelligent people tend to talk about the facts," Carson recently said, condemning those who reduce political disagreements to the kind you find on a "third grade playground." He urged partisans to "find some accommodation" and to "tone down the rhetoric a little bit."
He said these things while appearing on Fox News, the cable bastion of name-calling and blind partisanship.
So yes, it's difficult to take Carson's pontificating seriously when he treats Fox News, of all places, as a serious meeting place of ideas. Did Carson not think it was odd that people on Fox were constantly saying things like, "I would vote for you in a heartbeat." "This guy's a star." "Hallelujah. Amen. I don't think that anybody could have said it better." Is that what he considers to be normal political give and take, or did he knowingly sign up for hero worship duty?
The famous surgeon's unlikely rise began in February when he captured conservatives' imagination by giving an oddly partisan address during the National Prayer Breakfast and pointedly criticizing Obama who was sitting a few feet away.
Following that speech, Carson became a fixture on Fox and on Hannity in particular. That free Fox exposure transformed Carson into a "conservative rockstar" by the time he delivered a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 16. That weekend he won four percent of the CPAC straw poll, outperforming Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, as well as Sarah Palin.
And yes, Fox's sudden embrace of Carson comes at the same time that Republican leaders, sifting through the electoral damage of 2012, are insisting the party become more tolerant and become more inclusive of minorities if members want to remain competitive in future elections.
But then asked last week by Sean Hannity about gay marriage, Carson seemed to embrace the same tired, extremist trope we've heard from intolerant preachers for years.
When critics pounced, Carson, who had spent weeks appearing on Fox News urging that people take responsibility for their actions, insisted his startling comments had been "taken completely out of context." Though he apologized "if anybody was offended" by what he had said, he also scolded people for "misconstruing" his words and having "misinterpreted" him.
This was his anti-gay missive:
It's a well-established fundamental pillar of society. And no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality -- it doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition.
Writing in the Baltimore Sun in February, television critic David Zurawik expressed shock at the level of propaganda Fox News so quickly producing on behalf of Carson and how willing the surgeon was to wallow in it. "I hope Dr. Carson doesn't let political users like Fox compromise the greatness he and [John] Hopkins have achieved together," Zurawik wrote.
It might be too late for that now.
Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters blog.