On Friday, the Wall Street Journal cast doubt on a story candidate Ben Carson was told about himself in his 1990 autobiography involving a fake psychology test. Now, BuzzFeed News reports, it would seem that Carson was indeed the victim of a hoax—just not the hoax that he thought.
To recap this part of the Republican presidential candidate’s hero’s journey: A Yale psychology professor who told his students that their final exam paper had caught fire and that they needed to take a new exam. Carson claimed that he was the only one who showed up to retake the test, and he was met at the exam room by a photographer for the Yale Daily News and the professor. “A hoax,” the professor said. “We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.”
A former staff member of the satirical Yale Record, Curtis Bakal, told BuzzFeed that this all sounded awfully familiar. “When I read about the story in the Wall Street Journal, I immediately said, to my wife and friend, ‘That was the prank we played at the Record! And Ben Carson was in the class,’” said Bakal, who also said he helped write the fake test.
“We did a mock parody of the Yale Daily News during the exam period in January 1970, and in this parody we had a box that said: ‘So-and-so section of the exam has been lost in a fire. Professor so-and-so is going to give a makeup exam.’”
Bakal is “99% certain the way Carson remembers it is correct,” BuzzFeed reports. “We got a room to do the test in and one of us from the Record impersonated a proctor to give the test,” he said, although because he wasn’t present during the administration of the fake test he couldn’t confirm whether Carson was the only student in the class to take it.
Bakal did confirm Carson’s claim that the professor gave him cash for being the most honest student. “At the end what few students remained—it may have just been one or two, I wasn’t there—received a small cash prize,” he told BuzzFeed.
A Yale librarian told the Wall Street Journal that no courses called “Perceptions 301” were taught at Yale during Carson’s time there. At the time, the Yale Daily News noted that the psychology class was called Psychology 10 and that the prank occurred during Carson’s freshman year. BuzzFeed News confirmed on Monday that there was a course called Psychology 10 taught during that semester of Carson’s Yale career.
Anyway. What’s still unclear is what this anecdote was supposed to demonstrate about Carson’s personality in the first place. That he is a scab who breaks ranks with his comrades when called upon for solidarity in the face of authority? That he is a gullible brown-noser who got pranked real bad? That he is a delusional sociopath who understands the most effective lies are those most nearly adjacent to the truth? All of the above?