The Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney, apologized on Thursday for incidents described in a story published in The Washington Post that as an 18-year-old at the elite Cranbrook School in Michigan, he engaged in bullying behaviour.
The Washington Post reported an incident in 1965 at Cranbrook School in which Romney, upset at the sight of the dyed blond locks of a junior with a reputation for "nonconformity and presumed homosexuality" led other students in an attack on the boy.
The incident, as recalled by Romney's former classmates, was reported by The Washington Post: "...he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality... was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it."
According to one of his friends Matthew Friedman, Romney kept complaining about Lauber, saying: “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!”
Romney, leading a "prep school posse," sought Lauber out, pinned him to the ground and cut off his hair with scissors while the boy screamed for help.
The Washington Post reported it interviewed five witnesses. Four of the witnesses recalled the incident in detail, and one of them said he had wondered whether Romney would get into trouble with school authorities, but no one was punished for the incident.
The New York Times reports that Phillip Maxwell, a Michigan lawyer and Romney's childhood friend was one of the witnesses. He said: “It started out as ribbing, sort of a pointed ribbing about his hair, but it very quickly became an assault, and he was taken down to the ground, pinned. It all happened very quickly — it was like a pack of dogs.”
According to Maxwell, the incident was "assault and battery" and "bullying supreme." Maxwell claimed he was haunted by the incident.
Romney refused an interview with The Washington Post about the incident, but responded to the article. According to Los Angeles Times, he told Fox News Radio's Brian Koileade that the attack was not because of the boy's sexual orientation. He said: "I'll tell you, the thought that that fellow was homosexual was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case. But as to pranks that were played back then, I don't remember them all, but again, high school days, I did stupid things... And if anyone was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that."
Romney acknowledged that some of the pranks he played in his school days "might have gone too far." He said: “I’m a very different person than I was in high school, of course, but I’m glad that I learned as much as I did during those high school years. I’m quite a different guy. I’m married, have five sons, five daughters-in-law, and now 18 grandchildren.”
According to Los Angeles Times, he repeated his apology during a TV interview with Neil Cavuto of Fox News after a rally for supporters at the Missouri River in Omaha. He said: "I've seen the reports, not going to argue about that; I did some stupid things in high school. If I hurt anyone I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it."
The Washington Post described other Romney pranks that definitely went "too far." Romney, whose father George Romney, was governor of Michigan, said "Atta girl" to a gay student and he deliberately held a door closed while a sight-impaired teacher walked in.
Los Angeles Times reports that Human Rights Campaign, a pro-gay rights group, posted a statement by Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, gay man murdered in 1998. She said: "While this may seem like an innocent prank to some, it was an act of torment against a child for being different. This incident calls into question whether Mitt Romney can be an advocate for the nation's most vulnerable children."
According to Los Angeles Times, Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist said the story was "ludicrous" and said it would not affect Romney's political fortunes in any way. He said: "It totally explains why there is such a collapse in trust in all these institutions — political candidates, parties, the election process, the media. The country is facing tremendously difficult challenges, and this is the dialogue that's going on? It's repelling to people in the electorate."
The Washington Post's conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, also commented on the timing of the Washington Post story, saying that the coincidence with Obama's declaration of support for gay marriage was unfair. Rubin wrote: "What is the point here? Frankly, this seems that an incident was plucked out of a long story on Romney's teen years to make an inference, without factual support, that Romney harbored anti-gay animus."
The New York Times sums up a major issue the story raises: "...the Cranbrook account set off a debate: Was this a sole episode of youthful poor judgment by Mr. Romney or a larger statement about his character? Presidential elections are sometimes described as high school popularity contests on a national level, and the Romney campaign clearly was worried that the episode could define Mr. Romney as a familiar yearbook character: the rich kid with a mean streak....Some friends and associates of Mr. Romney, including several who are gay, said they had a hard time reconciling the seemingly insensitive younger man with the tolerant, considerate one they have known as an adult."