Friday's off-lead New York Times story by Mark Landler and Jeff Zeleny portrayed a triumphant Obama and his likely November opponent Mitt Romney on the defensive after Obama's announcement that he now supports gay marriage: "Obama Campaign Pushes the Issue Of Gay Marriage – Romney Avoids Subject – Biden Said to Apologize Over Comment That Hastened Action."
As the president traveled to the West Coast on Thursday, where in Seattle he said Americans should have the chance to succeed “no matter who you love,” his presumptive challenger, Mitt Romney, and Republican leaders in Congress, tried, with limited success, to steer the focus of the presidential campaign back to the nation’s sluggish economy.
While Mr. Obama only alluded to same-sex marriage in his initial appearances in Seattle, he had evidently struck a chord with some residents there. “Thank You! Mr. President for standing up for my Mommys!” read a hand-written sign held by a woman with an infant as Mr. Obama’s motorcade passed en route to a fund-raiser.
Tactically placed directly below the front-page story on Obama completing his "evolution" on gay marriage was a sour story on stories about Romney's high school days a half-century ago,from Ashley Parker and Jodi Kantor: "Bullying Story Spurs Apology From Romney."
The reporters tried mightily to tie the half-century old anecdotes, based on a 5,000-word front-page Washington Post investigation Thursday whose plot holes were being silently smoothed over by the Post, to Obama's gay marriage announcement:
The day after President Obama endorsed gay marriage, Mitt Romney found himself responding to allegations that as a teenager he harassed a prep school classmate who later came out as gay.
The account put Mr. Romney, who has struggled on the campaign trail to cast off his rivals’ image of him as privileged and insensitive, on the defensive about events nearly 50 years ago.
The episode, reported by The Washington Post, occurred at Cranbrook, a private school that Mr. Romney, the son of an automobile executive-turned-governor, attended in Michigan. Mr. Romney returned from spring break in his senior year to find that John Lauber, a quiet, offbeat type, had bleached his hair blond.
Mr. Romney, brandishing a pair of scissors, led other boys on a hunt for Mr. Lauber, teasing him and holding him down while Mr. Romney snipped off his long locks.
All day Thursday, the Cranbrook account set off a debate: Was this a sole episode of youthful poor judgment by Mr. Romney or a larger statement about his character? Presidential elections are sometimes described as high school popularity contests on a national level, and the Romney campaign clearly was worried that the episode could define Mr. Romney as a familiar yearbook character: the rich kid with a mean streak.
Some friends and associates of Mr. Romney, including several who are gay, said they had a hard time reconciling the seemingly insensitive younger man with the tolerant, considerate one they have known as an adult.
Speaking of "youthful poor judgment," the Times made nothing out of Barack Obama's admission in his first autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," that he had tried cocaine ("Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it"). The sole investigation into the issue during the 2008 presidential campaign appears to be a February 9, 2008 story that appeared under the dismissive headline: "Few From Obama’s Youth Remember His Drug Use."
In a classic case of liberal media tag-teaming, Parker and Kantor emphasized the Romney camp's "struggle" with the controversy inspired by another pro-Obama outlet, the Washington Post.
For months, the Romney campaign has been trying to turn away from questions about the candidate’s character and focus on his proposals to improve the economy. On Thursday, his aides struggled to deal with the account, first telling The Washington Post that Mr. Romney had no recollection of it. Mr. Maxwell, however, said he was skeptical that Mr. Romney did not remember something that had haunted all of the other men involved, even years later.
“I would think this would be seared in his memory,” said Mr. Maxwell, who identified himself as an independent who tends to vote Democratic. “Certainly for the other people that were involved, nobody has forgotten.”
The Times is wrong when it says the incident "had haunted all of the other men involved." At least one of the people in the Washington Post article didn't even know about the issue until the Post contacted him.
NewsBusters noted Romney classmate Stu White was quoted by the Post as having "long been bothered by the Lauber incident."
But ABCNews.com published this Thursday afternoon: "While the Post reports White as having 'long been bothered' by the haircutting incident,' he told ABC News he 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."
So has White been troubled over the prank for half a century, or did he not even know about it until the Post pestered him? Such inconsistencies didn't stop the Times from running with the tale on the front page.