Right-Wing Media Minimize Romney's Reported Bullying As "Foolish Games"

››› ››› MIKE BURNS & CHELSEA RUDMAN

Right-wing media have responded to a Washington Post story detailing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's alleged bullying of a high school classmate by dismissing Romney's reported bullying as "foolish games" and possibly just an attempt to enforce his school's dress code. However, bullying has destructive consequences for victims, including heightened risks of depression and suicide.

Wash. Post Reports Romney Led High School Bullying Incident

Wash. Post: In High School, Romney Ambushed And Forcibly Clipped The Hair Of A Younger Student. The Washington Post reported:

Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, 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, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn't having it.

"He can't look like that. That's wrong. Just look at him!" an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann's recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber's look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school's collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber's hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors. [The Washington Post, 5/10/12]

Right-Wing Media Minimize The Alleged Bullying

CNN's Erickson Dismisses Reported Romney Bullying: "Romney Cut A Hippy's Hair." In a May 10 Red State post, CNN contributor Erick Erickson dismissed the Post's story as "Mitt Romney cut a hippy's hair at his preparatory high school":

Mitt Romney cut a hippy's hair at his preparatory high school. A day after Barack Obama caved on gay marriage, the Washington Post "coincidentally" says Mitt Romney cut the hair of a boy who "was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality."

Let's leave out the fact that the kid who got his haircut was subsequently thrown out of school for smoking one cigarette, but we're to believe that the assailants of his hair, witnessed by many, were ignored. Oh, and the guy who got is hair cut never, ever, ever mentioned it, including to family, and died in 2004 so it can't be verified. But a handful of students who now probably support Barack Obama have a crystal clear memory of events from 50 years ago. The people who were adults at the time of the incident and still alive have no memory of it, but remember Romney and said he was never a disciplinary problem. [Red State, 5/10/12]

  • Erickson: "Breaking ... Romney Went To High School." Erickson also emailed his Red State Morning Briefing list about the story with the subject line, "BREAKING NEWS: Mitt Romney Went to High School. Seriously." [Red State Morning Briefing, 5/10/12]

Limbaugh: 1965 Was "A Great Year; Bullying Was Legal." During the May 10 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh dismissed the Post's story, saying: "You had long hair in 1965, you were gonna get razzed. It didn't matter. They weren't gonna think you were in the Beatles. If you had long hair in 1965, you were gonna get made fun of." Limbaugh added: "See, 1965's a great year; bullying was legal." Limbaugh also blamed a "pro-Obama media" for making this a story. From Limbaugh's show:

LIMBAUGH: This is the campaign. This is exactly -- you've been warned. You knew. You don't need to be warned. You know this kind of stuff's coming. This is what the drive-by media does in conjunction with the Democrat in the White House. When I saw this, I just -- I started laughing.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: Now maybe I'm wrong, but I think most people are gonna laugh at this. It's so obvious now -- it is so pathetically transparent what this is. Media ganging up on Romney -- a pro-Obama media ganging up on Romney. 1965 -- probably a stretch to say it had anything to do with the kid being presumed gay. You had long hair in 1965, you were gonna get razzed. It didn't matter.

They weren't gonna think you were in the Beatles. If you had long hair in 1965, you were gonna get made fun of. See, 1965's a great year; bullying was legal. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/10/12, via Media Matters]

Fox Graphics On Alleged Romney Bullying: "Foolish Games?"; "Elementary Antics?" During a segment on the May 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends about Romney's alleged bullying, the following graphics were aired:

foolish games

elementary antics

[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/11/12]

Breitbart.com: "Was Romney Enforcing Cranbrook's Dress Code?" From a May 10 Breitbart.com post titled "Was Romney Enforcing Cranbrook's Dress Code?":

Mitt Romney's so-called "gay-bashing" incident at high school may have been no more than an officially-sanctioned attempt to enforce the school's dress code, and not any kind of bullying, according to a former Cranbrook student who spoke exclusively to Breitbart News.

Mitt Romney was something of a failed high school athlete, but he had plenty of school spirit and led his prep school in cheers and worked the sideline at football games. It is that school spirit that probably led him to cut the hair of a fellow student in a prank gone wrong -- a prank the Washington Post speculatively suggested was homosexual-bashing.

Cranbrook had a strict code of conduct, including a dress code. Boys at Cranbrook until the 1980s were required to wear a coat and tie. "School spirit meant supreme teamwork," writes Kathryn Bishop Eckert in Cranbrook. "In observation of the dress code and the code of conduct students dressed and behaved as young gentlemen." Even today, Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School maintains a strict dress code relative to other prep schools: jeans are forbidden. On Mondays (so-called Formal Dress Day) boys still wear a dress shirt with a tie and girls have to wear dresses or dressy tops with skirts. This is not uncommon. Many prep schools across the country ban dyed hair, even today.

Clay Matthews, today Cranbrook's director of public relations and communications, noted that it was likely that dyed hair was prohibited from Cranbrook in 1965 under the school's code of contact.

Romney clearly conformed to the dress code, and to the code of conduct. Lauber clearly did not. Unlike Romney, Lauber was known as a nonconformist who walked around campus with bleached-blond hair in what Romney probably correctly saw as a violation of the school's dress code. That Romney did it within the sight of Matthew Friedemann, the school's prefect to whom he complained about Lauber, indicates that Romney thought of himself as merely enforcing the rules (at prep schools in those days, prefects maintained order and discipline, often in exchange for discounted room and board).

The fact that Romney was not disciplined by the administration in the aftermath of the incident is further evidence that Romney was enforcing the dress code overzealously, rather than targeting Lauber for any perceived homosexuality. [Breitbart.com, 5/10/12]

In Fact, Bullying Has Destructive Consequences For Victims

StopBullying.Gov: Kids Who Are Bullied Are More Likely To Experience Depression, Anxiety, And Other Health Problems. From the website StopBullying.gov:

Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues. Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience:

  • Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood.
  • Health complaints
  • Decreased academic achievement -- GPA and standardized test scores -- and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.

A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied. [StopBullying.gov, accessed 5/11/12]

UCLA Psychologist: Regularly Bullied Students Do Significantly Worse In School. In a 2010 study titled "Bullying Experiences and Compromised Academic Performance Across Middle School Grades," Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA professor of psychology, and then-UCLA psychology graduate students Yueyan Wang and Guadalupe Espinoza, found that "high level of bullying by school mates is consistently related to academic disengagement and poor grades across the 3 years of middle school." From the study:

The current study findings demonstrate robust direct associations between peer victimization and compromised academic performance over time. Our main findings are consistent regardless of whether victimization relied on self-assessments or peer nominations and whether we predicted GPA or teacher-rated academic engagement. In spite of school, gender, and ethnic differences in the academic performance indicators, the results also replicated across 11 large urban middle schools and across both five and six time points. As far as we know, this study is the first one examining the links between bullying experiences and academic performance across this many data points over one entire phase of schooling with a sample of mainly ethnic minority youth in urban settings. We were also able to show that the link between peer maltreatment and compromised academic performance is largely due to individual differences in bullying experiences. This finding suggests that high level of bullying by school mates is consistently related to academic disengagement and poor grades across the 3 years of middle school.

The magnitude or practical significance of the findings is substantial, inasmuch as one point higher mean on self-perceived victimization score on the 4-point scale across the 6 time points predicted .3 reduction in GPA. Projecting this effect on just one of the academic subjects included in the GPA, this means that peer victimization can account for up to an average of 1.5 letter grade decrease in one academic subject (e.g., math) across the 3 years of middle school. Although our correlational findings do not allow us to draw casual conclusions, we believe this finding may be one of the strongest demonstrations of the how social stressors and academic performance indicators are linked in middle school.

The empirical findings documented are especially impressive in light of the high consistency of the academic indicators across the 3 years of middle school. Although there was a general decline in GPA and academic engagement from the first fall to the last spring of middle school, the rank order of the close to 2,000 students remained rather consistent across the 3 years. To be able to show that any social stressor is consistently related to such stable academic indicators suggests that the association is indeed a very robust one. Our findings reveal that students who were generally more bullied were likely to fall into the low range of the rank order, receiving lower grades and engaging less in academic tasks than did other students. [The Journal Of Early Adolescence, "Bullying Experiences and Compromised Academic Performance Across Middle School Grades," September 2010]

Education Development Center Study: Poor "School Performance" Seemed "To Be Correlated With Bullying." In November 2011,The Boston Globe highlighted a study by the Education Development Center that found that poor "school performance" seemed "to be correlated with bullying." From the Boston Globe article:

School performance also appeared to be correlated with bullying: 7.4 percent of students who said they received mostly A's in school experienced bullying in school and online, while 16.1 percent of students who received mostly D's and F's reported both [cyberbullying and school bullying]. [The Boston Globe, 11/17/11]

Campus Pride Survey Author: Bullied Students "Face Increased Risk For Depression, PTSD, And Suicidal Attempts And Ideation." From an October 2010 New York Times article titled "Bullying, Suicide, Punishment":

A survey of more than 5,000 college students, faculty members and staff members who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender published last month by the advocacy group Campus Pride found that nearly one in four reported harassment, almost all related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Warren J. Blumenfeld, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Iowa State University and an author of the Campus Pride study, also conducted a smaller survey of 350 nonheterosexual students between the ages of 11 and 22 and found that about half of the respondents reported being cyberbullied in the 30 days before the survey, and that more than a quarter had suicidal thoughts.

"Those students who are face-to-face bullied, and/or cyberbullied, face increased risk for depression, PTSD, and suicidal attempts and ideation," Professor Blumenfeld said. [The New York Times, 10/2/10]

Medical Journal Study: "Being A Victim" Of Bullying "Appears To Heighten The Risk For Depression, Suicidal Ideation, And Suicide Attempts." From a 2007 study titled "Bullying, Depression, and Suicidality in Adolescents" and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry:

This study found an association between bullying behavior and depression, SSI [serious suicidal ideation], and suicide attempts among high school students. Approximately 9% of the sample reported being frequently victimized, and 13% reported bullying others frequently. These rates are similar to previous reports (Kaltiala-Heino et al., 1999; Nansel et al., 2001).

[...]

Depression, SSI, and suicide attempts were significantly associated with victimization and with bullying others both in and away from school. Higher exposures to being victimized or bullying others generally were related to higher risk of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts, yet infrequent involvement in bullying behavior also was related to increased risk of depression and suicidality, particularly among girls.

[...]

Our findings suggest that bullying behavior in and away from high school is a prevalent problem among adolescents. Being a victim or a perpetrator appears to heighten the risk for depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Our results emphasize that bullying may be a marker of suicidal behavior and that routine prevention of bullying should be considered part of any suicide prevention strategy. Both bullying behavior away from school and in-school bullying should be scrutinized. Mental health practitioners evaluating suicidal tendencies should consider bullying one of the potential risk factors. Conversely, in evaluations of students involved in bullying behavior, it is important to assess depression and suicidality. [Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, "Bullying, Depression, and Suicidality in Adolescents," January 2007]

Decades Later, The Victim Of Romney's Alleged Bullying Said He Had "Thought About [The Incident] A Lot Since Then." From the Washington Post article:

After the incident, Lauber seemed to disappear. He returned days later with his shortened hair back to its natural brown. He finished the year but ultimately left the school before graduation -- thrown out for smoking a cigarette.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, David Seed noticed a familiar face at the end of a bar at Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

"Hey, you're John Lauber," Seed recalled saying at the start of a brief conversation. Seed, also among those who witnessed the Romney-led incident, had gone on to a career as a teacher and principal. Now he had something to get off his chest.

"I'm sorry that I didn't do more to help in the situation," he said.

Lauber paused, then responded, "It was horrible." He went on to explain how frightened he was during the incident, and acknowledged to Seed, "It's something I have thought about a lot since then." [The Washington Post, 5/10/12]

StopBullying.gov: Dismissing Bullying As "Kids Being Kids" Leads To "Higher Levels Of Bullying." Citing a study on bullying in schools, a StopBullying.gov document states: "When adults in the school system ignore bullying or feel that bullying is just 'kids being kids,' then higher levels of bullying will exist." [StopBullying.gov, accessed 5/11/12]

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