Mitt Romney apologized today for high school pranks that may have pushed the boundaries into bullying, including an incident where he led a group of young men in pushing down a screaming fellow student who frequently was taunted about his suspected homosexuality.
“Back in high school, I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said in an interview on Fox News Radio today.
An article published today by the Washington Post detailed the incident, saying the student, John Lauber, was often teased because others presumed he was gay. It attributed accounts of the group shoving him and cutting his long blond hair to five fellow students at the all-boys private Cranbrook School in Michigan. One of the students called the attack “vicious.”
The Post reported that another student, Gary Hummel, a closeted gay at the time, said his efforts to speak in class were punctuated by shouts of “Atta Girl” from Romney.
Romney, 65, said he didn’t remember either incident.
“I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual,” he said of Lauber. “That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case.”
Romney graduated from the school in 1965.
The account comes amid a national conversation about gay rights, after President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage in an interview with ABC News yesterday. Romney opposes gay marriage and says domestic partnership rights should be determined by individual states.
The Post story is receiving attention on social networking sites including Twitter and is being spotlighted by a website called the New Civil Rights Movement that is popular with gays.
The words “Romney” and “bully” were both included in about 13 Twitter messages per minute today, according to TweetCharts.com, a website that tracks traffic.
The Post quoted fellow students and a former girlfriend who described Romney as an industrious leader in the elite school, where children from the state’s wealthiest families ate in a chandeliered dining room and studied in reading rooms decorated with frescoes and marble friezes. Romney attended the school while his father, George, headed American Motors Co. and while he served as governor of the state.
Romney said marrying his wife, Ann, whom he met while at Cranbrook, and going on a Mormon mission in France changed him into a “very different person.”
Preferring the campaign to focus on bigger issues facing the country, including the economy, energy, and Iran’s nuclear development, Romney questioned how much of a candidate’s background is fair game in an election, given that the incidents in question happened close to 50 years ago.
“There’s going to be some that want to talk about high school,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “Well, if you really think that’s important, be my guest.”