Conservative Media Fail In Their Attempt To Dismiss Report About Romney Bullying Incident


Right-wing media have rushed to dismiss the Washington Post's report that Mitt Romney held down a high school classmate and cut his hair, claiming that "the source" for the story "wasn't actually there." In fact, the Post story relied on accounts from five separate sources, four of whom were named, and as the Post's ombudsman noted, their "accounts remain unchallenged." Romney himself said that he's "seen the reports" about the incident and that he's "not going to argue with that."

Wash. Post Article Describes Romney Forcibly Cutting High School Classmate's Hair

Wash. Post: "Mitt Romney's Prep School Classmates Recall Pranks, But Also Troubling Incidents." From a May 10 article in The Washington Post:

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 Dismiss Article By Claiming "The Source" For The Story "Wasn't Actually There"

Daily Caller: "Cracks In The Washington Post Story On Romney's 'Pranks' Emerge." From a May 10 post on the conservative site The Daily Caller:

A question emerges in reading the Washington Post piece on Mitt Romney today: How can Romney's old pal Stu White tell the Washington Post that he has "long been bothered by the Lauber incident" -- and then later admit to ABC News that he was "not present for the prank" and "was not aware of it until this year when he was contacted by the Washington Post"?

This is curious.

The Washington Post story reports: "I always enjoyed his pranks," said Stu White, a popular friend of Romney's who went on to a career as a public school teacher and has long been bothered by the Lauber incident."

But ABC News, says: "White was not present for the prank, in which Romney is said to have forcefully cut a student's long hair and was not aware of it until this year when he was contacted by the Washington Post." [The Daily Caller, 5/10/12]

Doocy Claimed That "The Source For The Story, Stu White ... Wasn't Actually There." On the May 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy summarized the Washington Post article and then claimed that there are "cracks in the story." He referred to one person named in the story, Stu White, as "The Washington Post's source" for the article and said White "wasn't actually there" for the incident:

DOOCY: Another story that flashed across your computer screen and across your television as well was this 5,000-word story in The Washington Post yesterday where it's alleged that when he was in high school, Mitt Romney was involved in a prank where he and some other guys bullied a kid with long hair, got him down, and cut his hair. Some are now wondering whether or not it was a hit job because there's some cracks in the story. For instance, apparently, The Washington Post's source for the story, Stu White, who said -- is quoted as saying, "I was always bothered by the Lauber incident" -- he wasn't actually there. And he wasn't present for the prank, and he only heard about it this year when he was contacted by The Washington Post.

Co-host Gretchen Carlson then read a statement from Lauber's family saying that the "portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/11/12]

Doocy: "The Facts Are Falling Apart, And Falling Apart Fast. So Is It Just Another Media Hit Job?" Later in the broadcast, Doocy said: "Meanwhile, chances are, you saw the report -- a mainstream newspaper calling Mitt Romney a big, bad high school bully. Problem? Well, the facts are falling apart, and falling apart fast. So is it just another media hit job?" [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/11/12]

Megyn Kelly: "The Key Guy On Whose Testimony This Is Based Now Admits He Wasn't There." On the May 11 broadcast of Fox News' America Live, host Megyn Kelly said:

KELLY: And yet, Chris, many in the media today -- I'm talking mainstream media reporting today -- still is not mentioning the fact that the key guy on whose testimony this is based now admits he wasn't there, and the sisters of the alleged victim have come out and said, "Not to our knowledge, and our brother would not want this being reported in this way." And so there are at least some questions about the accuracy that are not also being added by other outlets reporting the Post's front-page story today. [Fox News, America Live, 5/11/12]

Hannity Claimed "A Lot Of These Accounts Have Fallen By The Wayside" And Added, "That Person Has Rescinded The Story -- His Story." On the May 11 broadcast of his talk radio show, host Sean Hannity discussed the Post story with University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler. Hannity claimed that "a lot of these accounts have fallen by the wayside" and claimed that "that person has rescinded the story -- his story." From the show:

BUTLER: I think, though, that's what important about this is something very, very specific. And you know, bullying is wrong on every count, but what the difference is, is that Mitt Romney says, "I don't remember," and you've got all of these accounts. And so if the people [unintelligible] --

HANNITY: No, no, no. A lot of these accounts have fallen by the wayside.

BUTLER: I don't think so.

HANNITY: Oh, yes they have.

BUTLER: I meant, there's a couple of people from the story who have said, you know, "This was really terrible."

HANNITY: OK. And there's also other --

BUTLER: "I thought about it for years afterward" --

HANNITY: And -- but wait a minute. But that person -- wait a minute.

BUTLER: And they [unintelligible]

HANNITY: That person has rescinded the story -- his story. And he said, I didn't know about this, they put my name in this piece, until they had contacted me. And the family is saying, the sister of this kid, by the way who died in 2004, she described her brother as a very unusual man. He didn't care about running with a peer group. And they say that what they're saying, this portrayal is factually incorrect, and they don't like this being used to further a political agenda. [Premiere Radio Networks, Hannity, 5/11/12]

But Five Sources Gave The Post Accounts Of The Incident -- And Stu White Wasn't One Of Them

Wash. Post Article Listed Five Sources For Lauber Story. The Washington Post article cited five students who "gave their accounts independently of one another," four of whom spoke on the record and one of whom asked to remain anonymous:

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 incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another. Four of them -- Friedemann, now a dentist; Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer; Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor; and David Seed, a retired principal -- spoke on the record. Another former student who witnessed the incident asked not to be identified. The men have differing political affiliations, although they mostly lean Democratic. Buford volunteered for Barack Obama's campaign in 2008. Seed, a registered independent, has served as a Republican county chairman in Michigan. All of them said that politics in no way colored their recollections. [The Washington Post, 5/10/12]

Stu White Was Not One Of The Five Sources Who Gave Accounts Of The Lauber Incident To The Post. While the Post did issue a clarification stating that White "has been disturbed by the incident since he learned of it several weeks ago from a former classmate," White was not one of the five sources the Post interviewed who described Romney holding down Lauber and cutting his hair. [The Washington Post, 5/10/12]

Wash. Post Ombudsman: Accounts From The Five Sources "Remain Unchallenged." From a May 11 post by Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton on his blog:

The Post changed the story after talking to White again and discovering that White only learned of the prank in recent weeks after being told of it by a Cranbrook classmate.

Kevin Merida, national editor of The Post, said on Friday that "We should have updated it with a note." I agree with Merida. I would have used strike-through text online to make it clear to readers that that part of the online story was changed. I think that's just the better part of candor. There is now an editor's note at the very bottom of the story. The Post is not calling it a correction. I think it is a correction, but not germane to the central theme of the story.

This part of Horowitz's story is tangential at best. It is only about how one person, who was not an eyewitness, felt about the incident.

Four of the five witnesses to the forcible haircut cited by the Post are on the record, by name, and remember it well. Their accounts remain unchallenged. I also think it's important to point out that Romney quickly apologized after the story was published, and although not a detailed apology, I think his demeanor in the apology seemed genuine. [, Omblog, 5/11/12]

And Romney Himself Said He's "Not Going To Argue" With "Reports" About The Incident

Romney: "I've Seen The Reports -- Not Going To Argue With That." On the May 10 edition of his Fox News show, host Neil Cavuto asked Romney about the Post story. Romney said that he didn't "recall the incident" but that he was "not going to argue with" the "reports." From the show:

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I had no idea what that individual's sexual orientation might be. Going back to the 1960s, that wasn't something that we all discussed or considered. So, that's simply just not accurate. I don't recall the incident myself, but I've seen the reports, and not going to argue with that. There's no question but that I did some stupid things when I was in high school. And obviously, if I hurt anyone by virtue of that, I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 5/10/12]

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