Romney charges fuel debate on bullying

Bullying became an issue in the 2012 presidential election this week, with allegations that Mitt Romney bullied high school classmates in the 1960s.

The Washington Post was first with the story, reporting allegations that Romney bullied other students. The Post led with an incident in which Romney led a group of students to hunt down John Lauber, a student rumored to be gay, and who had bleached his long hair over spring break. Led by Romney, who brandished scissors, the pack teased Lauber and then held hom down while Romney snipped off chunks of hair.

The Post also described Romney calling out, “Atta girl,” to a closeted gay student when he tried to speak in English class.

Romney attended Cranbrook, an exclusive school in his home state of Michigan.

Romney quickly went on Fox News Radio, saying he did not remember either incident and that, “Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that. … I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far, and for that I apologize.”

Several supporters said that the Romney portrayed in The Post article does not square with the person they know today. In the Fox interview, Romney also said he is “quite a different guy” now than he was in high school.

Other media chased the story. The New York Times reported, “the Cranbrook story was … a measure of how much social attitudes have shifted since Mr. Romney’s youth. Even at his otherwise-strict school, pranks were tolerated with boys-will-be-boys indulgence, and the term ‘bullying’ was decades away from being a subject for assemblies and school psychologists.”

ABC News interviewed Romney friend Phillip Maxwell, who said, “When I saw the look on his (Lauber’s) face, it was a look I’ll never forget. When you see a victim, the sense of trust betrayed in this boy who was perfectly innocent for being different.

“This was bullying supreme,” he said.

The key issue on this website and its companion book, “The New Bullying: How Social Media, Social Exclusion Lwaws and Suicide Have Changed Our Definition of Bullying — and What to Do About it” is how this issue has changed in the past 15 years.

Slate asked whether Romney’s actions were true bullying. Emily Bazelon wrote, “Technically speaking, the Post account doesn’t make Romney a bully. The academic definition of bullying is verbal or physical abuse that involves a power imbalance and that’s also repeated. We don’t have evidence that Romney went after Lauber more than once. But given the nature of the incident, it may be splitting hairs to absolve him of bullying. ”

— Joe Grimm

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