As Dr. Ben Carson moves up in the polls, reporters across the political spectrum are zeroing in on his relationship with Mannatech, a Texas based food supplement company. But so far the discussion has generated more heat than light.
Several national outlets, ranging from the far left Politifact, that “ruled” Carson’s claim that he “didn’t have an involvement” with Mannatech was FALSE, to the establishment GOP friendly National Review, where Jim Geraghty asserted Carson’s “declarations that ‘I didn’t have an involvement with them’ and ‘absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them’ are just bald-faced lies,” have rushed to condemn Carson, relying upon factually incorrect information and a legalistic interpretation of two sentences uttered by Carson at Wednesday’s CNBC debate while ignoring the full context of his answer.
A Breitbart News investigation based on the actual facts and an analysis of Dr. Carson’s statement at the debate in context reaches a different conclusion.
First, here’s a transcript of the question and answer from the CNBC debate that has generated a number of speculative articles:
CNBC’s CARLOS QUINTANILLA: One more question. This is a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a 10-year relationship. They offered claims that they could cure autism, cancer, they paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas, and yet you’re involvement continued. Why?
CARSON: Well, that’s easy to answer. I didn’t have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda, and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda.
I did a couple of speeches for them, I do speeches for other people. They were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of a relationship with them.
Do I take the product? Yes. I think it’s a good product.
QUINTANILLA: To be fair, you were on the homepage of their website with the logo over your shoulder…
CARSON: If somebody put me on their homepage, they did it without my permission.
Dr. Carson clearly could have been more precise in his phrasing of those two particular sentences upon which National Review’s Geraghty hangs his “bald-faced lies” allegation.
A more fair-minded reading of his response suggests that when Carson said “I didn’t have an involvement with them,” what he knew to be true and believed he was expressing was “I didn’t have [a business] involvement with them.”
Similarly, when Carson said “It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of a relationship with them,” what he knew to be true and believed he was expressing was “It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of a [business] relationship with them.”
Much of the post-debate confusion arises from statements made by Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, to Jake Tapper on CNN Thursday, the day after the debate, about Dr. Carson’s trip to Phoenix, Arizona in January 2014 to film a PBS special presentation, The Missing Link: The Science of Brain Health, which was co-produced by Richard Taylor with AZPBS station KAET in Phoenix, Arizona, and distributed across the PBS network of over 300 stations in the country.
Williams qualified his remarks to Tapper with this disclaimer: “there’s an e-mail chain, and I may mess up some of the details.” And indeed, Williams did mess up the details quite a bit. He gave Tapper inaccurate information that has ricocheted around the media and internet, to the detriment of his good friend, Dr. Carson.
Here’s what Williams told Tapper that launched a false meme that has made the rounds over the past 72 hours:
WILLIAMS: What is good about this is that I actually negotiated the contract as his business manager. Dr. Carson was asked to go to Arizona — and there’s an e-mail chain, and I may mess up some of the details — to be a part of Mannatech. They wanted to tape something for PBS.
Williams’ statement to Tapper, however, was factually incorrect. Mannatech had no involvement in the production or sponsorship of the 2014 PBS special, filmed in Phoenix with Dr. Carson as the host, in January 2014.
There was no contract between Carson and Mannatech for anything, let alone this 2014 PBS program. The program was, however, sponsored by the Platinum Group, a distributor of Mannatech products.
The contract which Armstrong referred to was not a signed document, but a verbal agreement between the producer of the program, Richard Taylor, and Dr. Carson. The details of this verbal agreement were, as Williams states, negotiated by him with Taylor on Carson’s behalf.
“There was no contract between me as the producer of the PBS special presentation and Dr. Carson, the host of the program. There was, however, a gentleman’s agreement. Both committed and agreed to do it, and we kept our word,” Richard Taylor, producer of The Missing Link: The Science of Brain Health program tells Breitbart News in an exclusive interview.
The program ultimately aired in several markets, and has been very successful for PBS as a generator of pledge drive donations, estimated to already be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I did not compensate Dr. Carson for his one day appearance in January 2014 at a taping of the PBS special presentation in Phoenix, Arizona, nor did he receive any subsequent compensation for his appearance. I did personally pay for his airfare, lodging, and transportation,” Taylor adds.
Carson, who lives in Baltimore, flew in to Phoenix specifically to tape the program from a previous commitment in Florida.
“On the day of the taping, he couldn’t get in the night before because of a snow storm. He ended up arriving at 4 am and we taped that day. I know he was tired, really tired, but he just pushed through it and did an entire 14 hour taping. We had an audience of about 300. I would say that maybe about 10 out of those 300 were Mannatech distributors,” he notes.
“We connected. We shared a common goal. He trusted me, and as we talked, he saw the value of it, and he thought it was a good thing to do, because it was for PBS and it would help people understand about brain health,” Taylor says.
By late Friday, after reviewing his available records and the email chains he mentioned to Tapper, Williams provided a statement to Breitbart News that confirms Taylor’s account.
“During my appearance on Jake Tapper I qualified everything I said, out of concern for misstating facts,” Williams tells Breitbart News.
He acknowledges in that appearance, “I was confused on facts.”
Williams then lays out the facts, based on his review of his available records and emails.
“There was no contract between Dr. Carson and Mannatech,” Williams tells Breitbart News.
“There was no signed contract between Dr. Carson and Richard Taylor the producer of the special presentation for PBS. However, there was a gentleman’s understanding that Dr. Carson would appear in the program for Mr. Taylor without any compensation, the reason being Dr. Carson believed this was an important message for PBS. Mr. Taylor, the producer, from his own pocket paid for Dr. Carson’s airfare and lodging to Phoenix,” Williams adds.
Several outlets, including TPM and Business Insider, incorrectly concluded from that interview that Armstrong Williams had “admitted” Carson had a contractual relationship with Mannatech:
Dr. Ben Carson’s business manager acknowledged Thursday that the Republican presidential candidate did have a “contract” with a medical supplement company at some point.
Armstrong Williams told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he negotiated the retired neurosurgeon’s contract himself.
National Review’s Geraghty jumped to a similar conclusion on Thursday:
But it’s just about impossible to square the account from Williams [told to Jake Tapper] with Carson’s claim from last night that he had no involvement with the company and that he had no relationship with them.
Between 2004 and 2013, Dr. Carson delivered four paid speeches to events sponsored by Mannatech. According to all press reports, as well as Carson’s business manager Williams, these speeches were booked by the Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents Dr. Carson. Payments went from Mannatech to the Washington Speakers Bureau, which took out a fee, then cut a separate check to Dr. Carson.
The Washington Speakers Bureau charged Mannatech $42,000 for the last of the four speeches, which was delivered in 2013, according to multiple press reports.
While some argue that the fact he delivered these speeches constitutes a business relationship between Carson and Mannatech, that seems a bit of a stretch. Clearly, Carson is not withholding any details of these speeches from the public.
National Review’s Geraghty, for instance, argues that the four speeches do, in fact, constitute a business relationship:
Both Williams and Carson insist there was “no compensated relationship” because the money for Carson’s speeches and appearances went through a Speaker’s Bureau. This is sophistry. The Speaker’s Bureau just transfers the money from the group to the speaker;
While the difference between receiving payment for a speech directly from Mannatech rather than indirectly through the Washington Speakers Bureau may be a nuance fair-minded people may interpret differently, Geraghty then made two demonstrably false assertions about Dr. Carson: (1) That he “talked about the company’s ‘glyconutrient’ products in a PBS special as recently as last year,” and (2) “Mannatech … “happily paid Carson… to appear at their events and to appear in the company videos.”
Breitbart News has obtained a copy of The Missing Link: The Science of the Brain PBS program featuring Dr. Carson. After reviewing the 60 minute broadcast, which can be seen here, Breitbart News can confirm that Geraghty’s statement Dr. Carson “talked about the company’s ‘glyconutrient’ products in a PBS special as recently as last year” is inaccurate.
A detailed review of the content of the program makes it clear that Dr. Carson is an evangelist for brain health. During the entire presentation, he made only one reference to the term “glyconutrient,” and he did so in passing and made no specific mention of Mannatech or of any proprietary Mannatech product.
It’s worth noting that there is a difference between the term glycan, which has a very specific medical meaning, and the world “glyconutrient,” which is a word used to describe specific types of commercially available products that contain certain glycans and are sold by companies like Mannatech.
A graphic seen in the program immediately before Carson’s sole mention of the word “glyconutrient” actually highlights that distinction by placing the word in quotation marks. In contrast, another preceding graphic that describes glycans does not place the word in quotation marks.
Here’s what Dr. Carson actually said in the section of the presentation related to nutrition:
“I came to an understanding that stress and poor nutrition play a large role in all the maladies in our lives.” (59:50 to 1:00:11)
“I became particularly interested in glycoscience.” (1:01:20 to 1:01:25)
“Glyconutrients… these things are in your apples, bananas, beets, and everything, you know that’s growing, but by the time we get them, they frequently are gone.”
“There are a number of different supplements that are actually there. I advise people to look into this.”
“The important thing is to present your body with a smorgasbord of things so it has the ability to pick out what it needs, when it needs it.” (1:01:25 to 1:02:35)
“I frequently say if everybody ate three well balanced meals a day, drank six to eight glasses of water, exercised regularly, got regular sleep, and didn’t put harmful substances into their bodies, most of us in medicine would be out of business.” (1:03:00 to 1:03:30)
Geraghty also errs in claiming that “Mannatech …happily paid Carson… to appear at their events and to appear in the company videos.”
Mannatech paid the Washington Speakers Bureau to arrange for Carson to speak. The Washington Speakers Bureau, after taking its fee, paid Carson.
The specific claim that “Mannatech … happily paid Carson…to appear in the company videos,” is simply not supported by any evidence. Speaking contracts are for speaking, not for appearing in company videos.
Such a financial arrangement would require a signed contract between Mannatech and Carson that specifies payments by Mannatech and specific deliverables to be provided by Carson. No such contract exists.
Two promotional videos that have been circulated by the company that feature Carson, one in 2004 and one in 2013, contained footage of video clips from interviews by Mannatech executives of Carson conducted on the same day he delivered paid speeches.
The video clips of those interviews were, for the most part, his personal description of his uses of the product and general comments on brain health. Those comments are consistent with his own personal mission as an evangelist for brain health.
Carson himself may not have been aware that either of these promotional videos were out there.
Sources tell Breitbart News that other media outlets, including Bloomberg, are trying mightily to find evidence to prove Carson had a contractual business relationship with Mannatech.
Specifically, they are focusing on whether or not the 2014 program met the PBS standard of compliance.
All PBS contracts for independently produced programs require that there be no payments to the producer or host for product promotion within the program. The content of the program and the sponsor are completely separated. The sponsor can have no influence on the content.
When Breitbart News posed this question to Taylor, the producer, he was absolutely certain that his program had been fully vetted by the KAET legal team and was fully compliant with PBS standards.
All that remains is for fair-minded and responsible journalists, knowing these facts, to correct the record.
In particular, claims that Dr. Carson’s statements at the debate were “bald-faced lies” are clearly incorrect.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary offers this definition of a “bald-faced lie”:
easy to see and understand as being bad
showing no guilt or shame : not hiding bad behavior
Based on the facts discovered by Breitbart News, it is clear that Carson’s statements at the debate regarding his relationship with Mannatech did not meet this standard. In the full context of his additional statements at the debate, and in light of the facts uncovered by Breitbart News, it is not “easy to see and understand” that Carson’s imprecise but honest failure to include the descriptive word “business” in two sentences is morally “bad.”
A statement cannot be a “bald-faced lie” if the person making it believes it to be true and has reason to believe it to be true, whether or not that reason may be persuasive to those hearing the statement.
Further, it is also clear that Carson does not consider delivering four paid speeches as “bad behavior,” nor is he hiding it. Nor is he denying that he was interviewed by Mannatech subsequent to at least two of those speeches.
It is fair to criticize Dr. Carson’s judgment for consenting to the interviews with Mannatech executives in 2004 and 2013 that were used in promotional videos, and not explicitly prohibiting the use of those interviews in promotional videos.
He is, after all, a world famous neurosurgeon, and anything he says about any product could easily be used by companies hustling a product to try and increase sales of that product.
That’s exactly what Mannatech did.
However, when it comes to Dr. Carson’s statements, there’s a big difference between a lack of attention to detail and blatant dishonesty.
Sloppy inattention to business detail by a Presidential candidate may be a factor GOP primary voters want to consider when deciding how to cast their votes. But any voters who choose to vote against Dr. Carson based on inaccurate claims that he is dishonest will have fallen for one of the oldest smear tactics in the books.