David Zurawik

Calling Ben Carson's words 'hurtful, offensive,' Hopkins CEO brings clarity to debate

In a letter sent to the Johns Hopkins Medical community Friday afternoon, Faculty Dean and CEO Dr. Paul Rothman labeled Dr. Ben Carson's comments on gay marriage "hurtful" and "offensive."

Rothman's letter is a turning point in what has been two weeks of a fierce culture-wars debate in the media about Carson. It shows that it wasn't only liberal opponents who were offended, as Carson, Fox news and conservative commentators have consistently contended.


Carson's offensive comments were made in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News on March 26 when the partisan host asked Carson for his views on gay marriage.

"Marriage is between a man and a woman. 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," the Hopkins doctor told Hannity.

The comparison of gays to members of the North American Man/Boy Love Association and those who engage in bestiality set off a backlash of criticism in the media, online and on the Hopkins campus.


In an interview with me on March 29, Carson said his meaning was misinterpreted and taken out of context by opponents. This week, Hannity has continued to characterize criticism of his comments as an ideologically-driven attack on the neurosurgeon because he's an African-American conservative.

The letter from Rothman puts an end to the politicized nonsense stirred up by Fox News and Hannity, one of its most compromised hosts. Carson's words were not misinterpreted, and furthermore, his boss believes they were hurtful and offensive.

Let's hope Carson is being more sincere in the apology he issued Friday as opposed to the ones he issued last week in interviews with the me, MSNBC and CNN -- words that he essentially took back when he attacked "liberals" in a variety of venues this week.

You can read Carson's Friday apology here in a Sun story by Andrea Walker.

Here's the letter from Rothman:

Dear Colleagues,

Controversial social issues are debated in the media on a regular basis, and yet it is rare that leaders of an academic medical center will join that type of public debate. However, we recognize that tension now exists in our community because hurtful, offensive language was used by our colleague, Dr. Ben Carson, when conveying a personal opinion. Dr. Carson's comments are inconsistent with the culture of our institution.

Johns Hopkins Medicine embraces diversity and believes that the same civil rights should be available to all regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. For example, the Johns Hopkins University has provided benefits for same-sex domestic partners since 1999 and has long maintained a policy against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Dr. Carson is well known for his accomplishments as a neurosurgeon and for his contributions to the Baltimore community. While his recent comments are inconsistent with our core values, Dr. Carson has the right to participate in public debates and media interviews and express his personal opinions on political, social and religious issues. We strongly value freedom of expression and affirm Dr. Carson's right, as a private citizen, to state his personal views.

We have been carefully listening to the varied opinions expressed by members of our community in response to Dr. Carson's comments. It is clear that the fundamental principle of freedom of expression has been placed in conflict with our core values of diversity, inclusion and respect. We are trying to thoughtfully work through these issues, and as part of that process, we will be meeting with graduating students on Monday.

Those who work and study here, and the patients we serve, create a rich tapestry of people from all races, religions and backgrounds. Commitment to diversity, inclusion, and freedom of expression is at the heart of our standing as a world leader in medical care, research and education.


Paul B. Rothman, M.D.
Dean of the Medical Faculty
CEO, Johns Hopkins Medicine