Mitt Romney apologized Thursday after a newspaper story described his bullying a fellow student when he was an 18-year-old senior at a prep school in Michigan.
The Washington Post detailed a 1965 incident at Cranbrook School in which Romney apparently was incensed by the dyed blond hair of a junior known for his “nonconformity and presumed homosexuality.”
He led a “posse” of students in a charge against the boy, the Post reported. “He can’t look like that,” Romney reportedly told a close friend at the time. “That’s wrong. Just look at him!”
Romney “tackled him and pinned him to the ground,” the Post reported, then hacked off his hair with scissors as the crying boy screamed for help.
The Post said it interviewed five witnesses, four of whom spoke on the record and recalled the incident in vivid detail. One man said he had wondered whether Romney would get in trouble at the school, known for its discipline, but that no one was punished.
The story immediately became fodder in the daily war among political partisans. Romney refused the Post’s request for an interview.
Romney said on Fox News Radio that he did not remember the incident, but said it could not have been motivated by the boy’s sexual orientation.
“The thought that that fellow was homosexual was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case,” Romney said. “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.”
He acknowledged that some of his pranks “might have gone too far.”
After an afternoon rally in Omaha, Neb., he apologized again during a TV interview on Fox News. “I’ve seen the reports, not going to argue about that; I did some stupid things in high school,” he said. “If I hurt anyone I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it.”
The Post also described incidents in which Romney said, “Atta girl,” in class to a closeted gay student, and deliberately held a door closed while a vision-impaired teacher walked into it.
But it is the story involving John Lauber, described as “a soft-spoken new student … walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye,” that has caused a stir. Lauber, the Post reported, died in 2004.
Phillip Maxwell, a childhood friend of Romney’s who was named in the Post story, told ABC News that he witnessed the incident, which he called “assault and battery” and “bullying supreme.” Maxwell, a lawyer, said he was “haunted” by the attack.
The Republican presidential candidate had begun the day by treading softly on President Barack Obama’s historic embrace of same-sex marriage, which seems likely to fire up liberal and conservative activists alike. He quietly restated his opposition to legalizing such marriages, but his campaign turned its full attention to energy, the economy and other issues.
Then the boarding school story was posted online and Romney moved quickly to counter any suggestion he had targeted students because they were gay.