CNN Tries to Get Inside Romney's Head: 'The Bullies Never Recall What They Did'

Even though CNN's Suzanne Malveaux admitted she had no clue what Mitt Romney actually did in high school, she and a guest psychologist tried to speculate away on Friday afternoon's Newsroom. The conclusion: Romney may not recall the incident he has been accused of, but his apology for it reveals the probability of guilt for a "very violent" act of forcibly cutting someone's hair.

"I have no idea what Romney did or didn't do," Malveaux admitted ignorance, before intoning that Romney was probably still in the wrong. "[T]he bullies never recall what they did. I mean it's absolutely astonishing the kids who tormented and taunted others seem to have no idea as adults how their behavior actually impacted others," she noted.

In contrast, Malveaux gave Michelle Obama the benefit of the doubt during the 2008 campaign, where she asked softballs about the Obama's affiliation with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and changed the subject when Obama showed her obvious discomfort with the topic. CNN later hailed a "steely-tough" Michelle Obama.

On Friday, both Malveaux and psychologist Jeff Gardere insinuated that Romney, although he cannot recall the action, may have repressed it to the point that his narrative was inconsistent.

"But I have to tell you and I have to be very honest about this, even as a psychologist, I don't see something that was so vicious if it happened, how you would forget that and how you would apologize for it if you state that you couldn't even remember it," said Gardere. "But to admit to apologizing it tells me that there is something brewing in there in the head of Governor Romney."

Malveaux even brought up an assertion from Romney's classmate Phillip Maxwell, that the action constituted an assault and it was "unfortunate" that Romney had not yet admitted to it. As Breitbart.com pointed out, the Washington Post story left out what Automobile Magazine of all sources reported – Maxwell is a Democrat who said Romney would make a "pretty good president."

At the end, Gardere ramped up the stakes, calling the action "no laughing matter."

"And in these days, if something like that happened, that person would be prosecuted perhaps for a hate crime, and god forbid, the victim of that would become suicidal, depressed, and that person would be held to task for that," he insisted. "And certainly it may have had an effect on the victim of that particular event back then, all the way up until the time that he actually passed away."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 11 on Newsroom at 12:17 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

SUZANNE MALVEAUX:  Mitt Romney trying to shift the focus back to the economy during a stop in North Carolina next hour. But Romney's also facing some questions about something he's accused of doing years ago when he was in high school. Classmates described another incident where they say Romney and other students pinned down a boy and cut off chunks of his hair. The boy had bleached-blonde hair, looked different than the other students. And those involved say it went beyond bullying. Here's how Romney responded.

(Video Clip)

MITT ROMNEY, Republican presidential candidate: I don't recall the incident myself, but I've seen the reports and I'm 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.

(End Video Clip)

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in our clinical psychologist Jeff Gardere to talk about this. Jeff, quite frankly and honestly, I have no idea what Romney did or didn't do. But the one thing that I find and many people I've talked to today is you go to your high school reunion, and the bullies never recall what they did. I mean it's absolutely astonishing the kids who tormented and taunted others seem to have no idea as adults how their behavior actually impacted others. Is that actually typical?

JEFF GARDERE, clinical psychologist: Yeah it could be typical, because it's a situation of where as they mature in life, they become very embarrassed by those sorts of actions, and if they end up becoming better persons, it's easy to repress some of those horrible things that they did when they were younger so that they can have a more stabilized and normal view of themselves as being productive citizens.

MALVEAUX: Well this guy, Phillip Maxwell, he was a classmate of Romney's at the school back in 1965. And he says he participated in this event. And he brings up two points. First of all, he says it's hard for him to believe that Romney doesn't remember the event. He says "It's unfortunate that Mitt simply hasn't owned up to his behavior." Is it possible that he really doesn't recall what happened here in this incident?

GARDERE: Yeah it's possible that he may not recall some of the incidents, but the fact that he apologizes for it anyway tells me from a clinical point of view that there was something that he may have some memories of, but again, may not want to even admit it to himself. And when we look at this, as far as a psychological mechanism, this is what we call repressing. Repressing to the point of where we push it to our unconscious.

MALVEAUX: Is it admit it to himself, or admit it to us?

GARDERE: Well I think he doesn't want to admit it to himself, if in fact it did happen, because that does not fit the view that he has of himself as being a person who provides public service. As a matter of fact, we do hear that when he was in that school, his life changed where he did a lot of community service. So there was some sort of transformation from being this bully, if this in fact happened, to someone who is much more useful at his school.

MALVEAUX: Let's talk about that transformation, because you're absolutely right. There are other classmates who have come to his defense and they say look, that was a time too when he met Ann, who would later become his wife, and that he matured, and that it is possible to go from someone who was perhaps doing those kinds of things to someone who is very caring and very loving and very service-oriented. Is that typical? Can you really change?

GARDERE: Yeah, you absolutely can change. This is something that happened 50 years ago. We don't see that kind of a person now, though we know he certainly does not have the most progressive ideas as to same-sex marriages. But I have to tell you and I have to be very honest about this, even as a psychologist, I don't see something that was so vicious if it happened, how you would forget that and how you would apologize for it if you state that you couldn't even remember it. You would just simply say I don't remember it, I didn't do it. But to admit to apologizing it tells me that there is something brewing in there in the head of Governor Romney. And I he's embarrassed about it as he should be. And that is appropriate.

MALVEAUX: So you see something that's inconsistent in his story there, trying to square those two things. I also want to bring up the fact that his classmate Maxwell says, and I'm quoting here, he says "I'm not a lawyer. I know what assault is. This kid," the alleged victim, "was scared. He was terrified. That's an assault." We've heard a lot about Mitt Romney loving to prank, carry out these pranks. What is the difference between a prank and bullying?

GARDERE: Well we heard about some of the pranks, once where there was a teacher that – who was visually impaired that walked into a door and laughed uncontrollably, giggled about it. That's a prank. But to hold another student down along with a bunch of students and cut that student's hair because you feel that he may be effeminate or may be gay, that is not a prank. That is a deliberate action, that is something that is very violent. And in these days, if something like that happened, that person would be prosecuted perhaps for a hate crime, and god forbid, the victim of that would become suicidal, depressed, and that person would be held to task for that. So we can laugh about that, perhaps he could laugh about it, others could laugh about it, but this is something that is no laughing matter, especially if it happened today. And certainly it may have had an effect on the victim of that particular event back then, all the way up until the time that he actually passed away.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014