As my colleague Dave Weigel pointed out when this story first began to unfold earlier this week, taking part in a softball interview on Sean Hannity's Fox News show is "supposed to help people." For Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon who has recently found fame as a conservative pundit, that wasn't the case. After Hannity asked Carson to weigh in publicly on gay marriage on Tuesday, he offered this clunker on live TV:
"Well, my thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It's a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association], be they people who believe in bestiality. It doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition. So he, it's not something that is against gays, it's against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications."
Those comments—specifically the decision to lump homosexuality in with bestiality and pedophilia—didn't go over so well, particularly with students at the Johns Hopkins medical school, where Carson has worked as a doctor for the past three-plus decades and where he had been selected as this year's commencement speaker.
Citing the recent controversy—along with Carson's controversial speech earlier this year at the traditionally non-partisan National Prayer Breakfast, where he offered a fiery critique of Obamacare in front of the president—students quickly rallied to call for the school to find a new speaker, saying he didn't represent "the values" of the student body. (It's worth pointing out that after his performance at the prayer breakfast, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial with the headline: "Ben Carson for President," which included the line: "Dr. Carson tossed over the PC police years ago.")
Today, Carson bowed to the demands of the students, suggesting to MSNBC that he won't speak at the ceremony:
Asked by Mitchell Tuesday whether he was prepared to withdraw as commencement speaker amid pressure from students and faculty, Carson replied, "Absolutely. I would say this is their day and the last thing I would want to do is rain on their parade."
Carson said he has not told the university that he will not be delivering the commencement address. "I am waiting for appropriate channels," Carson said. "I don’t think television is the appropriate channel."
(For now, let's set aside how live television works and the fact that it's a safe bet that school officials know Carson's decision by now.) His decision to bow out likely spares school officials the awkward position of having to pick a side in this fight.
Carson also went on to offer a half-apology for his comments, saying they were taken out of context:
"What I was basically saying if anyone was offended, I apologize to you. What I was basically saying is there is no group. I wasn’t equating those things, I don’t think they’re equal. If you ask me for an apple and I give you an orange you would say, that’s not an orange. And I say, that’s a banana. And that’s not an apple either. Or a peach, that’s not an apple, either. It doesn’t mean that I’m equating the banana and the orange and the peach. In the same way I’m not equating those things."
For more on Carson and the controversy, check out Weigel's post from earlier this week or his follow-up from earlier today before Carson made his announcement. You can also check out the full MSNBC interview below, which includes some more background on the doctor (who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2008):
(h/t the Atlantic Wire)
This post has been updated with additional information.