I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some may have gone too far. And for that I apologize —Mitt Romney
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Mitt Romney forcibly cut the hair of a gay prep school classmate in 1965, and the story sparked a firestorm of online reaction from every major media outlet under the sun.
The Post interviewed five fellow students who, the newspaper reported, independently recalled Romney and several schoolmates held down classmate John Lauber and cut off his bleached blond hair after seeking him out in his dorm room at their boarding school in the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. The Post said Lauber was "perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality" and that he screamed for help as Romney held him down.
"I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some may have gone too far. And for that I apologize," Romney told Fox News' Brian Kilmeade during a radio interview Thursday. Romney said he didn't remember the Lauber incident from long ago, but didn't dispute that it happened.
He also said, "I don't recall the incident but I am seeing the reports and I will not argue with that. And, obviously if I hurt anyone by virtue of that I would be very sorry and apologize for it."
A big catalyst in the story going viral so quickly was the fact that John Lauber was gay, and the implication that Romney may have engaged in anti-gay bullying as a teenager. In the radio interview with Fox News, Romney emphasized that he didn't know Lauber was gay. But on the day after President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, media pundits couldn't resist the chance to juxtapose Obama's newfound "compassion" with the behavior of an 18-year-old Mitt Romney.
A sampling of reactions to the Washington Post's story:
The New Yorker's Amy Davidson: "This story is resonant because one can, all too easily, see Romney walking away even now, or simply failing to connect, to grasp hurt. How he talks about this incident will be impossible to divorce from how he talks about same-sex marriage in the wake of President Obama’s announcement (Wednesday), and about questions of basic dignity for gay and lesbian Americans."
New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait: "(Politicker's) Hunter Walker notices a previously reported story that casts Mitt Romney's bullying history in a different light — he also forcibly cut a dude's hair in college: 'At Stanford, (Romney) lured rival University of California students into a trap in which his buddies 'shaved their heads and painted them red' This story could be exculpatory. Maybe Romney didn't hate gays — maybe he just hated hair. Or, other peoples' hair, anyway."
The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan: "Romney says he has no memory of this incident, although five others have not just memories but vivid, guilt-ridden recollections. As for the victim, he did not forget. How could he? Years and years later, one of the bullies Romney rounded up bumped into his victim at an airport and felt the need to apologize."
CNN's Gabriella Schwarz: "Ann Romney often says her husband was a prankster in high school, when the two began dating. And in Thursday's interview the former Massachusetts governor partially credited his wife of 42 years with his growth since high school, a point almost made in the Post article: 'I became a very different person as I met Ann and then as I went off and served as a missionary for my church,' Romney said. 'I mean there are elements in life that change you, and I'm a very different person than I was in high school of course.'"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.