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CNN raises serious questions about Ben Carson's story of his early years in Detroit.
CNN raises serious questions about Ben Carson's story of his early years in Detroit. (CNN screengrab)

CNN and Politico threw a couple of hard punches at Dr. Ben Carson's credibility Friday, but the GOP frontrunner's campaign hit back, calling their reports about his past "lies."

What looked like gamechanging coverage was quickly mired in the confusion and muck of partisan warfare and charges of bias.

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The hardest punch was thrown by Politico, which reported that the Carson campaign admitted the candidate had lied in saying that he received a "full scholarship" to West Point but didn't take it.

Read the Politico story here.

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But The Daily Caller came back with a report quoting Carson campaign officials insisting they never admitted any such thing. They called the Politico story a "lie." Read The Daily Caller story here.

There is no doubt Carson has said he was offered a "full scholarship" to West Point.

In his autobiography, he writes: "I was offered a full scholarship to West Point."

The confusion his campaign injected into the conversation is what constitutes an offer of a full scholarship.

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My brother went to West Point during the era Carson would have attended, so I know the process of admission in the 1960s very well. You applied through a formal process for an appointment from your congressperson or senator. If you're admitted, the government pays all expenses.

My brother was an "A" student and all-state quarterback coveted by both West Point and Annapolis. Nevertheless, he had to go through a formal application process and get a nomination from one of our congresspersons or senators. He got two: one to the Naval Academy and one to West Point.

It's pretty clear to me Carson at least exaggerated his connection to West Point in his book. It sounds like someone in Detroit told him he could get help him get a scholarship, and that became an actual offer of one in the candidate's telling.

But it also looks like Politico erred in hanging its report on the claim that Carson's campaign admitted he lied. Did Politico not consider that campaign officials might later obfuscate or outright deny once they saw the words "Carson" and "lied" rocketing through cyberspace in the same headlines?

By the end of the day, Carson's campaign "clarified" the candidate's claim on a scholarship to say he was never offered one.

The question you might ask at this point: Isn't that what Politico originally said? Didn't Politico say Carson claimed in his book to have been offered a scholarship, but that wasn't true?

Yes, but Politico also said the campaign confirmed the candidate's claim was a lie, which the campaign said never happened.

Welcome to the world of political obfuscation, spin and counterspin. Carson's campaign walked back the candidate's claim in his book, even as it called Politico a liar for saying it was not true. Nifty piece of footwork, no?

CNN, meanwhile, sent two correspondents to Detroit to factcheck Carson's account of having stabbed a fellow teen and attacking others with bricks, baseball bats and bottles.

The short version of what they found: No one who could corroborate any part of that stabbing story, which was told in his autobiography and dramatically rendered in the Showtime film based on his life story, "Gifted Hands."

Going back to the neighborhood in which Carson lived at the time and contacting classmates from his high school, Scott Glover and Meave Reston could not find anyone who could remember ever seeing Carson display any anti-social or violent tendencies as a child. (Read that and see video here.)

CNN played its report on the lack of corroboration Friday and then had Carson on the phone for an interview with "New Day" co-host Alisyn Camerota.

Camerota started out very soft in her interview, but maybe that was because she knew what was coming. As he pushed back by calling the report from Glover and Reston "a pack of lies," she got tough without being abusive.

"This is a bunch of lies attempting to say I'm lying about my history. I think it's pathetic, and basically what the media does is they try to get you distracted," Carson insisted.

When she held her ground about CNN merely reporting what the people in his old neighborhood and school had said about him, he upped the attack ante by playing the bias card.

"The vetting that you all did with President Obama doesn't even come close, doesn't even come close to what you guys are trying to do in my case, and you're just going to keep going back," he said. "It is just garbage. ... Give me a break."

When you run for president, you don't get a break. That's the way it works in a democracy.

Despite the pushback and the ideological warfare now going on over the reports about Carson's version of his past, I hope the media will keep deploying resources like CNN did to vet his story.

It needs to be done for all candidates. Covering an election is more than cashing big checks for staging or debate or opening your phone lines so that candidates can call in any time of the day or night and have their say.

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