Should Romney Issue Bigger Apology for 'Harrowing' Prep School Incident, Asks Soledad O'Brien

Contrary to the media's lack of coverage of President Obama's high school escapades, CNN's Soledad O'Brien promptly jumped on a Washington Post story featuring accusations of Mitt Romney being a high school bully – even though the story may already have a hole. O'Brien discussed the "harrowing" story on Friday's Starting Point.

O'Brien wondered if Romney "actually owes a bigger apology" for an incident that allegedly happened almost 50 years ago. "Do you think Governor Romney actually owes a bigger apology or needs to say something more about this or is 'I don't remember and if I did something bad, I'm sorry' enough?" O'Brien pressed Romney campaign adviser Kerry Healy.

Conservative columnist Will Cain hammered the media's reaction to a story that happened 48 years ago. "I'm quite confused as to why he [Romney] would say anything on this topic," he held.

"I don't understand what we're supposed to do here," he ranted. "We're supposed to look back into history at various candidates' high school years and draw a larger lesson about what kind of people these guys are? This seems like a dangerous slippery slope and I'm quite confused why you guys are even talking about it, why you're entertaining this issue?"

Soledad gave the accusations much more credibility than Mitt Romney claiming not to recall the events. She snidely corrected Romney's adviser that "the governor, of course, is not an 86-year-old grandmother who is, you know, recalling the '60s and the '70s."

"People might wonder that Governor Romney now says he does not even recall the event today, when others seem to remember it so clearly. How is that possible?" Soledad asked. Meanwhile, she remarked of the "great detail" from the sources, who showed "what sounds like a tremendous sense of guilt about that attack on this kid."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 11 on Starting Point at 7:34 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

[7:34]

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney is now responding after his former high school classmates accused him of bullying a vulnerable student, as it was first reported in The Washington Post. Romney's former classmates say he was part of a group of students who targeted a boy who many thought was gay. They then accused Romney of cutting clumps of the boy's hair off. One of those classmates, his name is Phillip Maxwell, told ABC News this.

"It is a haunting memory. I think it was for everyone that spoke up about it, because when you see someone who is simply different taken down that way and is terrified, and you see that look in their eyes, you never forget it."

Mitt Romney was asked about the account on Fox News yesterday and he said this.

(Video Clip)

MITT ROMNEY, Republican presidential candidate: First of all, I had no idea what that individual's sexual orientation might be. Going back to the 1960s, that wasn't something that we all discussed or considered.

(End Video Clip)

O'BRIEN: The Romney campaign put forward two classmates who countered those accounts. John French wrote a statement, "Mitt never had a malicious bone in his body, trying to imply or characterize him as a bully is absurd." Kerry Healey is a Romney campaign adviser. She's his a former lieutenant governor as well. Nice to see you, Kerry. Thanks for talking with us.

KERRY HEALEY, adviser, Mitt Romney campaign: Yes. Good to see you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question. In the Washington Post, they talked to several people who recall with great detail and what sounds like a tremendous sense of guilt about that attack on this kid. "It's a hack job, it was vicious. You see the look in the eye. You never forget it." That's Phillip Maxwell. "To this day it troubles me." That's a guy named Thomas Beauford.

"He was just easy pickins" says Matthew Friedman. People might wonder that Governor Romney now says he does not even recall the event today, when others seem to remember it so clearly. How is that possible?

HEALEY: Well, I think we have to take Governor Romney at his word about this. Obviously, our memories of the past are very different. I just spent a week sitting in the hospital with my 86- year-old mother talking a lot about the 1960s and 1970s. And we remembered very different things and even the same things differently, so I think we have to just take him at his word. But what everyone wants to know, the real question here is, is Mitt Romney a bully and the answer is no.

Mitt Romney is absolutely, as his other friend from high school said, he does not have a vicious bone in his body. And if the American people want any evidence of this, all they have to do is go back and think about the 20 different debates that they got to watch him in during the course of this primary season, where he was being attacked from every side, and his response was always professional, calm, civil.

In fact he even intervened on behalf to try to help Governor Perry when he was stumbling. So I think that his impulses are very kind impulses, and there should be no debate about whether or not Governor Romney is a bully.

O'BRIEN: So one area where I'll correct you is the governor, of course, is not an 86-year-old grandmother who is, you know, recalling the '60s and the '70s. The newspaper goes on to tell a pretty harrowing story. Later one of the attackers runs into the victim, whose name is John Lauder, I believe, and sees him in a bar.

He says, Lauber paused and then responded "It was horrible." This is after an apology. He says he went on to explain how frightened he was during the incident, acknowledged "It was something that I've thought about a lot since then."

Do you think Governor Romney actually owes a bigger apology or needs to say something more about this or is "I don't remember" and "if I did something bad I'm sorry" enough?

HEALEY: I think he's gone beyond that already. I think he said that he has done a lot of dumb things. I think he's said he's done some stupid things in high school. I believe we all have.

And I think that anyone watching this today would feel a little bit uncomfortable about having their high school years completely dissected and taken apart in this manner. It was 48 years ago, so the question of how much one remembers I think is very valid.

So the main question for the American people is, is this a character trait that they should have any concern about? I've known Governor Romney for the last 10 years and I can tell you that he is unfailingly kind.

He's deeply concerned about what goes on in other people's lives. He's been terribly moved by the stories that he's hearing out on the trail about the economic impact of the downturn across America, the unemployment.

And so I have to say that what people really want to hear about is, does he care, and I can tell you that he cares deeply. He's a deeply compassionate person and that bullying is not something that he has ever knowingly engaged in.

WILL CAIN, CNN contributor: Hi, Kerry. This is Will Cain. You know, Soledad just asked you – you just asked – if the governor should say more on this topic. I'm quite confused as to why he would say anything on this topic. You know, again, Kerry, you said the real question is, is Governor Romney a bully? I don't know, is that the question? Is that the news value of this story, of something that happened as you said 48 years ago?

I don't understand what we're supposed to do here. We're supposed to look back into history at various candidates' high school years and draw a larger lesson about what kind of people these guys are? This seems like a dangerous slippery slope and I'm quite confused why you guys are even talking about it, why you're entertaining this issue?


 

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