Ben Carson told reporters a story on Friday that he has written about several times: as a high school senior, he could only afford to apply to one college, and he decided he would apply to the school that won a face off in the General Electric College Bowl, a quiz-show competition.
"I decided to apply to the college that won the grand championship in College Bowl, and that year, the grand championship was between Harvard and Yale," Carson told reporters in a combative press conference to address questions about his claims that he was offered a full scholarship to West Point. "You can go back and find the records and see that in fact it was between Harvard and Yale, and that Yale demolished Harvard."
Yale did indeed defeat Harvard in November of 1968, the fall of Carson's senior year in high school (This date has varied in Carson's tellings: in Gifted Hands the gameshow took place in "late spring," inTake the Risk it was in "the summer before my senior year in high school," and in The Big Picture it took place "during the spring of my senior year in high school"). There similarly was no such thing as "grand championship," as team's could only play five times before being forced off the show. In Yale and Harvard's case, it was a one-time showdown.
As it turns out, popular conservative radio host Michael Medved, then a stand out student at Yale, led the school's team to victory. Medved regularly interviews Republican presidential candidates, including Carson.
"I still recall that College Bowl experience of nearly 47 years ago as one of the most enjoyable and triumphant moments of my life. The fact that Ben Carson remembers that televised trivia duel as a life-changing event for him, that set him on the path to Yale and glory, only serves to burnish the memory further," Medved told BuzzFeed News in an email.
Medved added he "just spoke with Dr. Carson about it a few weeks ago! I was thrilled to find out that he was influenced by my ability to recall snippets of history and literature, or to identify Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony after less than a bar (yes, that was the music identification they used on the NBC broadcast)."
Medved, much like Carson, had grown up a huge fan of the program, but as he notes in his memoir, Right Turns, Yale and Harvard had refused to participate until 1968 and even then, did so only once (an assertion backed up by records from the two school's newspapers).
"Since the launch of GE College Bowl in 1959, Yale and Harvard had refused to participate in the show, with these two prestigious powerhouses believing they had everything to lose and nothing to gain by sending teams to a TV studio to compete with less celebrated institutions," wrote the radio host. "But NBC producers finally devised a way to overcome the schools' reluctance: rather than featuring teams that officially represented the two mighty universities, the show would invite special squads made up of staff members from their student newspapers, the Yale Daily News and the Harvard Crimson, in a one-time-only face-off to be aired the weekend of the famous Yale-Harvard football game."
Medved wrote that Yale actually fudged who was on the paper and who was not, allowing him, a stand out student, to participate because he had written letters to the editor. The day before the competition, Yale ended up tying football game to Harvard in a major upset.
"Our Yale College Bowl team took away some of the sting: we crushed the Harvard Johnnies 230 to 80. It wasn't quite as lopsided as Dr. Carson remembered, but it felt that way: we did beat them nearly 3 to 1," Medved wrote to BuzzFeed News.
"Actually, modesty should forbid but honesty counts more: I did answer more than half of the questions and was described, afterward in the Yale Daily News as 'the Brian Dowling of the Yale College Bowl team' — with reference to our star quarterback on the gridiron."
Here's an ad for the competition from the Nov. 22, 1968 edition of the Yale Daily News:
Andrew Kaczynski is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Andrew Kaczynski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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