ABC Breathlessly Hypes Romney's 'Troubling' 'Teenage Bullying'; Did He Go 'Too Far?'

ABC on Thursday and Friday breathlessly hyped the "troubling" details of Mitt Romney's "teenage bullying," events that ocurred 47 years ago. On Friday's Good Morning America, co-anchor George Stephanopoulos, a former Democratic operative, introduced, "It's your voice, your vote and new questions today about whether Mitt Romney's teenage pranks went too far." On Thursday, World News was the only evening newscast to actually lead with the story.

Reporter David Muir, who covered the story on GMA and World News, managed to use the world troubling twice in one sentence, insisting that the bully victim's family is "reacting to that troubling account from those five grown men, all former classmates of Mitt Romney, among them a lawyer, a dentist, a school principal all who described a troubling scene." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]

On Thursday, Diane Sawyer hyperbolically proclaimed, "Five of Romney's former classmates have come forward to tell the same story, accusations creating a firestorm and Romney is forced to respond."

The story first appeared on the Washington Post's website, Thursday. On Friday's GMA, Muir made no mention of the fact that, as reported in the Post, the witnesses to this alleged bullying "mostly lean Democratic."

On World News, Muir touted the incident as "supreme bullying." He asked one of the witnesses, Phillip Maxwell, "...Is he a Democrat, is he a Republican?" Maxwell insisted he has "voted for both" parties. 

In comparison, back on May 2, 2012, Sawyer glowingly read love letters Barack Obama read to a young girlfriend: "Oh, we were all so romantic when we were young."

As for the Post, which devoted 5000 words to Romney's teenage mischief, the paper in 2008 had no interest in Barack Obama's cocaine use when he was a young man.

[Thanks to MRC intern Jeffrey Meyer for the video.]

A transcript of the May 11 GMA segment can be found below:


7:01

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of news on the presidential campaign trail yesterday. Mitt Romney is now accused of being a bully back in high school. A new report came out yesterday. Accusations that he helped pin down a classmate and chop his hair off. The bully's family [sic] is speaking out right now. The question is how much does it matter? How much will it matter? We're going to get into that.

7:07

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to get to the race for president now. It's your voice, your vote and new questions today about whether Mitt Romney's teenage pranks went too far. The candidate apologized yesterday after one report that he bullied a classmate by pinning him down and chopping off his hair. ABC's David Muir covers the Romney campaign. And,  Dave, I know you've been talking to people who were there. And overnight, the bullied boy's family spoke out as well.

DAVID MUIR: Yeah, the family is speaking out, George, reacting to that troubling account from those five grown men all former classmates of Mitt Romney, among them a lawyer, a dentist, a school principal all who described a troubling scene. The group, they say, including Mitt Romney pinning down a fellow student and cutting off his hair because he was different. Mitt Romney's apology comes after five of his former high school classmates described the same incident to the Washington Post: the targeting of another boy because most of them thought he was gay, holding him down and cutting off his long hair he dyed blond. One of those former classmates Phillip Maxwell now a lawyer telling ABC News, "It's something you don't forget. When I saw the look on his 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." Maxwell said he and Romney were among the boys who held the boy down and that Romney was holding the scissors. "I saw it with my own eyes. It was a hack job, clumps of hair taken off." When Romney was asked if he remembered the incident, if he knew the boy was gay-

MITT ROMNEY: You know, I don't remember that incident and I'll tell you, I certainly don't believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from my minds back in the 1960s.

MUIR: Romney is now apologizing.

ROMNEY: There is 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.

MUIR: For months now, Romney's pranks have been considered a selling point for the campaign. His wife Ann-

ANN ROMNEY: He's always playing jokes. I still look at him as the boy that I met in high school when he was playing all the jokes and really just being crazy, pretty crazy.

MUIR: Meantime, another former classmate now defending Romney, saying what happened in high school was likely a joke too.

GREGG DEARTH (Cranbrook class of '65): My suspicion is that they jokingly said, "Hey, let's go cut his hair" and went down the hall and, you know, you hold the scissors close to his ear and you make a lot of snipping sounds and you may traumatize the guy a little or scare the guy a little, but no harm, no foul.

MUIR: Overnight when ABC News met up with one of the sisters of the alleged victim, showing her the Washington Post account, her eyes welded up with tears saying even if it did happen her brother probably wouldn't have said anything. Later, the family issuing a statement, saying "the portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda." John Lauber, the student who these men say was targeted, died of cancer in 2004. And, George, one of the men in this account said he ran into Lauber in the airport years later. Saw him, went up to him and apologized. And he said Lauber said to him, "this is something I carried with me my entire life."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org