Ben Carson’s lack of candor about his involvement with Mannatech

Ben Carson’s “West Point flap,” as John calls it, made me curious about the veracity of another set of biographical statements by the doctor — his discussion of his relationship, if any, with a company called Mannatech. I had been aware of the controversy over this, but hadn’t looked into it.

Mannatech is a supplier of medical supplements. In 2007, then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed suit against Mannatech for false advertising, in effect. In 2009, the company agreed to a $7 million settlement with Texas.

According to this report, Carson delivered speeches at four Mannatech events. The events occurred in 2004, 2011, and 2013. Based on these facts, one of the moderators at the most recent Republican debate asked Carson this 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 your involvement continued. Why?

Carson responded:

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.

Carson’s first claim — that he didn’t have an involvement with” Mannatech — is obviously false. Giving speeches at Mannatech events is involvement with Mannatech.

However, Carson went on to say that he did a couple of paid speeches for Mannatech. If this was his only involvement with the company, then the statement cures his initial denial of involvement. However, Carson’s response leaves unanswered the question of why he continued to give speeches to Mannatech after it settled a suit for deceptive marketing. It is a dodge.

Carson then said that it’s “absurd” to say he “had any kind of a relationship with” Mannatech. Plainly, he views his paid speeches as no kind of a relationship. Again, if Carson’s relationship consisted only of paid speeches, then he is not being untruthful — just highly idiosyncratic in his view of what constitutes a relationship.

But Carson’s involvement with Mannatech apparently was not limited to paid speeches and using the product. The day after the debate, he acknowledged that he made videos for the company, for which he wasn’t paid.

In one of the videos, produced last year, Carson said:

The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel. And that fuel was the right kind of healthy food. You know we live in a society that is very sophisticated, and sometimes we’re not able to achieve the original diet. And we have to alter our diet to fit our lifestyle. Many of the natural things are not included in our diet. Basically what the company is doing is trying to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health.

In another, Carson talked about health and nutrition with Mannatech’s co-chief executive and chief science officer. He discussed the benefits of glyconutrients (a core ingredient of Mannatech’s products) and his decision to take nutritional supplements, but did not endorse a particular product.

By now, Carson’s denial of any kind of a relationship with Mannatech seems untenable. He spoke at four of the company’s corporate events (being paid for one and having Mannatech donate to his Carson Scholars Fund for the other three). He made unpaid promotional videos for the company, including one in which he discussed health and nutrition with the company’s co-chief executive.

Carson has spoken positively about the company, its philosophy, and the main ingredient in its products, glyconutrients. And, in a Newsmax interview, Carson said he has heard the Mannatech’s founder “repeatedly” instruct sales representatives not to call the product medicine or say that it heals anything.

Clearly, he had a relationship with Mannatech.

In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported that during a speech at a Mannatech event in 2011, Carson claimed that the company paid a portion of the $2.5 million endowed chair in his name at Johns Hopkins University. (According to the Washington Post, the video of the 2011 speech was taken down after the Journal published this article).

The Post says that Mannatech told its fact-checkers that there is “simply no record of Mannatech Inc., providing a donation to Johns Hopkins or Dr. Carson’s endowed chair at Johns Hopkins; if Dr. Carson said that Mannatech had provided a donation to his endowed chair at Johns Hopkins, he was mistaken.”

If, as Carson apparently said, Mannatech paid money for an endowed chair in his name at Johns Hopkins, then Carson’s claim that he had no relationship with the company is absurd. If, as Mannatech says, Carson falsely claimed that it paid this money, then this is another Carson “misstatement.”

Finally, “relationships” aside, Carson has been anything but forthcoming about the straightforward factual question of what services he has performed for Mannatech. In the Newsmax interview, Carson was asked, “What about your connection to Mannatech.” He responded:

I welcome that question, because, you know, ten plus years ago, you know, they asked me to give a speech. I give lots of speeches. At that time, I was giving at least one speech a week to some group. It’s a paid speech, you know, I work with a speakers bureau.

Carson did not mention his other, more recent speeches — the ones he gave after Mannatech was sued by Texas. His answer was nothing like the whole truth. It was deceitful.

In the recent debate, Carson was more forthcoming. He said “I did a couple of speeches for” Mannatech. However, he did not mention the unpaid videos. Finally, the next day, he mentioned them.

I’m confident that if we substituted the name Hillary Clinton for Ben Carson in this post, it would be plain to everyone reading it that this is a less than honest record on the subject of Mannatech. It is plain to me that Carson has been less than honest about the subject.