THE WAY WE ARE: We enjoy posing as shrinks!

THURSDAY, MAY 17, 2012

Part 3—Dr. Noah knows all: Candidate Romney sometimes engaged in bad conduct during his high school career.

It wasn’t just the bullying attack on fellow student John Lauber, in which Romney and a group of friends held Lauber down and cut his hair.

(This attack was described by the Washington Post in the world’s longest front-page report—a lengthy report which seemed to involve a bit of a journalistic scam. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/16/12.)

It wasn’t just the attack on Lauber. At Salon, Joan Walsh described more of Romney’s misconduct, then engaged in some of her own:
WALSH (5/10/12): Lauber wasn’t the only gay student bullied by Romney. Gary Hummel, who was closeted, recalled that Romney mocked his efforts to speak out in class by shouting, “Atta girl!” He pulled several pranks on a teacher with seriously compromised eyesight, once “escorting” him into a closed set of doors and “giggling hysterically” when he ran into them. Another time he propped up the back axle of the teacher’s VW bug and laughed as the man hit the gas pedal “with his wheels spinning in the air.” Hilarious!
In fact, Horowitz doesn’t link Romney to the VW incident, whether as a participant or as an observer. After Walsh’s piece appeared, an early commenter quickly noted this error in her report. Twenty-three minutes later, Walsh commented on another point from the early comments, but her mistaken claim about the VW bug remains uncorrected.

You're right! This VW mistake doesn’t hugely matter—except for what it suggests about the way our modern “journalists” enjoy playing school-boy games. And by the way, Walsh was playing the shrink this day, as so many “journalists” do. Her headline said this: “Mitt, the prep school sadist.”

Romney’s behavior was sometimes bad—but then again, he was in high school. (With regard to the “Atta girl” comment, Horowitz reports that teachers at Romney’s school sometimes said similar things.) Many people might tend to discount the conduct of people at such an age—but increasingly, America’s pseudo-journalists enjoy frisking the early deeds of pols whom they disfavor. In 1999, this tendency reached a comical peak in a profile of Candidate Gore penned by the Post’s David Maraniss, one of the corps’ brightest members.

Alas! The doctor was IN as the scribe played shrink, reviewing the candidate’s troubling conduct—troubling conduct in which he’d engaged at the age of maybe 6:
MARANISS (10/10/99): For the most part, his water balloon caprice aside, Al adapted to this staid environment by behaving as a perfect little gentleman. He was invariably courteous to his elders and seemed uncommonly earnest, sometimes overly so and prone to tattling. His only sibling, Nancy, was a decade older and in some ways his opposite, radiant, easygoing and full of mischief. Nancy attended Holton Arms, a private girls school then located on S Street near Dupont Circle. On weekends, she often stayed home to look after her little brother while their parents were on the political circuit. Barbara Howar, a friend from school, sometimes joined her and they had the run of [the Gore family’s apartment].

Although Nancy by all accounts adored her brother, at times like this she wanted nothing to do with him. He was the sort of pest who would seek attention by popping out of nowhere, reciting in singsong voice the latest television commercial he had memorized ("Got a little ant . . . Got a little fly . . . Real-Kill! Real-Kill! . . . Watch them die!") Their efforts to evade the watchful eye of Little Al met with no apparent success. "Every time we tried to do something, Al would catch us and say, 'I'm telling! I'm telling! I'm telling Dad!' " Howar recalled recently. "He was an egregious little tattletale."
At or about the age of 6, Candidate Gore was “sometimes prone to tattling,” Maraniss disclosed, at the top of a lengthy profile. And as he continued, the doctor extended his psychological analysis. Gore’s “compulsion to adhere to the expected order extended beyond the common practice of snitching on an older sibling,” the good doctor wrote, typing in a thick German accent. Helping the public grasp the essentials, the analyst gave another example of young Gore’s alleged “compulsion:”
MARANISS (continuing directly): His compulsion to adhere to the expected order extended beyond the common practice of snitching on an older sibling. One day in May 1958, Al's lower-school class at St. Albans went on a field trip to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Their bus broke down outside the base entrance, and the boys and teachers walked the rest of the way in. When the tour was over, they waited in the sweltering afternoon heat for the arrival of a replacement bus, and many of the boys took advantage of this idle time by scampering around an open field. A young science teacher named Alexander Haslam was surveying his boisterous brood when young Al approached and politely inquired: "Sir, is this the time to be rowdy?”
“Perhaps no human beings, not even candidates for the American presidency, should be judged decades later by the way they were before they reached adulthood,” the good doctor thoughtfully wrote, “but it is true nonetheless that in seeking to understand why people think and act as they do, the early days often provide the richest veins in the biographical mine.” Speaking directly of Gore once again, the doctor continued to limn his great theory:

“In many ways the child remains the father of the man,” he wrote. “Many of the behavioral patterns of the figure running for president today are best explained by the boy he once was.”

Good God! Maraniss was one of the brightest members of the Washington “press corps.” But by 1999, even someone as bright as he was willing to say that a candidate’s “early days” may help us “understand why [candidates] think and act as they do”—indeed, that these early days may provide the best way to understand a major pol. By the way: Given the 31-year lapse in time, was Maraniss sure that the “rowdy-time” incident actually happened the way he described? What except the love of novels could have made him so sure?

Given the various types of mischief which can be churned from this type of “reporting,” only a fool would endorse such work. But this thinking is now deeply lodged in the DNA of the national “press corps.” In her piece about Romney’s high school career, Walsh started with this assessment:
WALSH: Last week we learned about President Obama’s first post-college romantic relationships. This week, we’re discovering details of Mitt Romney’s prep-school sadism. While I think we should tread carefully when examining the youthful experiences and mistakes of both presidential candidates, I thought Obama’s romantic past was fair game in Vanity Fair. I think the Washington Post’s well-reported feature on Young Mr. Romney’s entitled cruelty to gay classmates and a disabled teacher is even more revealing and important.
By inference, Walsh has said that Vanity Fair’s report about Obama’s “romantic past” was “revealing and important.” Who could really believe such a thing? In his own post, Kevin Drum did a much better job of noting the problems involved in this sort of review. Though we would say that even Drum is much too squishy here:
DRUM (5/10/12): I think mining the past for clues to people's character is basically okay as long as you don't engage in endless pretzel bending to draw absurd conclusions. Barack Obama's youthful drug use and his community activism say something about him, so they're fair game. Pretending he's a whitey-hating anti-colonialist because of imagined influences from his Kenyan father isn't. In Romney's case, describing how he treated both friends and non-friends while he was growing up is fair game. It's partly a window into Romney, and partly a window into the era and culture that he grew up in. But pretending that this makes him an anti-gay bully today isn't. He's got decades of adult experiences that tell us what kind of man he's become. That should be enough.
Given the invitations to mischief which lurk in this practice, we strongly agree with Drum’s highlighted judgment: politicians should be judged on their decades of conduct as adults. That said, is the earlier conduct “fair game?” We think Drum is much too squishy when he frames the matter that way. Letting journalists muck around in such conduct is an open invitation to clowning, deception and error. The term “more prejudicial than probative” was invented for matters like this.

We’re traipsing off into la-la land when we probe the adolescent conduct of major pols. And yet, our modern “journalists” simply love this practice. Just consider Timothy Noah’s reaction to the Horowitz story—especially to the suggestion that Romney was a homophobe during his high school career.

Drum warned readers away from such judgments; Noah jumped in feet first. Like Maraniss, Noah is one of the brighter modern journalists; in our view, we all owe him a debt of thanks for his recent work on income inequality. But good God! Noah was quick to react to the Horowitz tale—and as he did, the doctor was IN, although he was now an anthropologist. For the record, the good doctor completely failed to notice the obvious problem involved in Horowitz’s pseudo-reporting:
NOAH (5/11/12): The homophobia inherent in the incident is, sad to say, the least extraordinary thing about this story. Scapegoating young males perceived to be gay was, for heterosexual young males of that era, not the exception but the rule. What was unusual was that the scapegoating would take such active form that one passive observer would recall, even at the time, experiencing shame that he’d done nothing to stop it. Romney didn’t merely mock Lauber for the way he looked. He imposed his will on Lauber and changed the way he looked through physical force. That’s the weird (and, even in the context of 1965, exceptionally cruel) part.
Noah was 7 years old in 1965—but he writes with the assurance of Margaret Mead about the folkways of the era. He can’t really know what he’s talking about—yet talk about it he does. As he continued, he was soon discussing this incident in a psychiatric way which sounded a great deal like parody:
NOAH: One thing we know from Michael Kranish and Scott Helman’s biography, The Real Romney (and from a 2007 Boston Globe profile that preceded it) is that Romney is a guy who gives more thought to hair than most other people. In November the New York Times ran a Page One story about Romney’s hair, which brought the paper some grief. But as I argued at the time, Romney’s hair merits attention, because (apart from his Mormon faith) it’s Romney’s North Star, a rare instance of consistency over many decades…

To Romney, it would seem, hair had a lot to do with manhood, and with discipline, and with identity. And no doubt it also had a lot to do, consciously or not, with sexuality (see Pope, Alexander, “The Rape Of The Lock”). It wasn’t just this stuff that you cut and it grows back. It projected who you were. And apparently seeing Lauber project, with his peek-a-boo haircut, who he was really freaked Romney out.
“I’m not sure what larger meaning Romney’s hair thing...would have for a Romney presidency,” Noah actually writes. “But these tics are weird, and, in the case of Romney’s control-freakiness, annoying and occasionally disruptive.”

It’s hard to believe that anyone would write something that foolish—but Noah is one of our brightest journalists! By the way: Did you hear that Candidate Gore was “sometimes prone to tattling” when he was six years old?

Readers, do you have eyes to see? If so, you can learn a great deal about The Way We Are from the press corps’ reactions to the bullying story. One thing that was revealed is this: The truth is, we just aren’t very bright. Beyond that, we love to play the shrink. And we love to pen novelized stories.

We’re too dumb to notice the kind of scam which Horowitz seemed to play in his report. And one more thing about The Way We Are:

We don’t seem to give a flying fig about people who get their pensions looted by adult figures like Romney. How weird! At times, we don’t seem to care about the conduct in which pols engage as adults!

Tomorrow: The Way We Are in comments


  1. Because Noah was 7 in 1965 he doesn't understand the significance of long hair, for those wearing it and those choosing not to. Here are the lyrics to the musical Hair, which appeared off-Broadway in 1967, capturing a youth movement that preceded it and was extant in 1965:

    "Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair
    Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
    Give me down to there, hair, shoulder length or longer
    Here baby, there, momma, everywhere, daddy, daddy

    Hair, flow it, show it
    Long as God can grow, my hair"

    Wikipedia says: " A product of the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, several of its songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. The musical's profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy."

    So, clearly the length of a fellow student's hair meant more to our culture than Noah suggestion that it exemplified a long-standing Romney fetish. It was symbolic for a whole generation and had nothing to do with being gay.

    1. In 1965 hair length was indeed symbolic, for both sides of the just-starting culture war. The incident may show merely that young Mitt (much like old Mitt) was on the side of the "squares" in 1965. Which, duh!

  2. Here's a thought for you, Bob.

    Perhaps Gore didn't reach the White House not because David Marannis and a whole bunch of others said mean, awful things about him.

    Maybe, just maybe, it was because Gore simply wasn't quite skilled enough as a politician to counter the "War on Gore."

    You know, the way Bill Clinton handled the Gennifer Flowers and draft dodging charges at key moments early in the 1992 campaign, then managed to be a rather strong field in the primary, and win election rather easily against a sitting president who enjoyed approval ratings in the stratosphere just 18 months earlier.

    1. You are missing the point. It was still atrocious journalism whether it was the main cause of the loss or wasn't. It wasn't just a matter of "mean, awful things" -- your cheap-shot way of describing what happened -- but outright and provable lies by the entire mainstream press. What Clinton had to face was far less monolithic. Never before or since has the pack mentality been even remotely as overwhelming as in the 2000 election.

      You perhaps have forgotten that (1) Gore did win the popular vote, and (2) Gore was perceived by poll respondents as having killed Bush in the first debate until the DC press started going on and on about Gore's sighing and other manufactured flaws. The Howler's documentation of that tragic sequence in American history has been near flawless, and your snarky conclusion with zero support does not change that.

    2. Yeah, right. The "War on Gore" was completely unprecedented in U.S. presidential campaign history.

      Let me tell you the big difference between Clinton and Gore as politicians: Clinton's "War Room" never let the sun set on any attempt by the opposition to define him.

      He dealt with the Gennifer Flowers story, the draft dodger story, the "secret trip as an Oxford student to Russia" story, and everything else thrown at him directly, decisively and expertly and they quickly became non-stories.

      Obama did the same thing when the Rev. Wright story surfaced, as well as the Bill Ayers story.

      Gore, and Kerry after him, expected others to do the clean-up when Karl Rove threw mud. And thus, the stuff like "invented the Internet" and the swift-boating took on lives of their own.

      But of course, they were following the Marquis de Somerby rules, in which you are never expected to fight fire with fire, lest you offend the sensibilities of those who might believe you are a serial liar, or a highly decorated coward who never really earned his medals.

    3. Does it make media malfeasance OK if the candidate is less effective at addressing it? Journalism is a profession, which means it is supposed to be governed by ethics. This stuff is wrong because it violates ethics, not because the candidate deserves it (or doesn't) or can or cannot deal with it effectively. Somerby wants journalists to go back to being professionals. This is important because the general public trusts what it reads -- and it should be able to do so. The bad actors here are the journalists, not Gore or Kerry.

    4. Go back to being professionals? My dear boy, how old are you?

      Remind me of the time journalism ever met the lofty standards of Bob Somerby.

  3. Hey Anonymous 1:01!

    Glad you could find time for your daily dig at Bob Somerby (sans content, as usual).

    Here's a question for you: What are you thoughts on journalists' responsibility for accurate sourcing and backing up their claims with actual evidence? That's what this post is about, as are many of the posts here at the Daily Howler. Do you approve of the journalistic behavior cited above?

    And for extra credit: Do you think it is possible to have a functioning public sphere and a healthy democracy without some basic agreement on what constitutes a fact, or what it means to effectively marshal evidence in support of a claim?

    1. Well, since you are apparently in need of education and so curious, here is my answer.

      Horowitz's story was extremely well-sourced. Go read it and count them yourself. It was so well-source that not even Romney could deny it.

      The point really is, Somerby parsed the whole thing for what he considered to be its weakest point, ignored the rest of the story and, more significantly, it's aftermath of Romney's non-denial and non-apology, and used that one minor point to discount the whole story as garbage, and yet another springboard into his longstanding rant that the press was so mean and nasty to poor, defenseless Al Gore, and now they are treating poor, defenseless Mitt Romney the same way.

    2. "Somerby parsed the whole thing for what he considered to be its weakest point"

      His modus operandus. I got tired of him years ago ... wandering in here today, I see that he's still ragging on Rachel Maddow and hacking at trees while ignoring the forest. DH was once relevant, but no longer. Too bad because Bob does have talent.

    3. Nice head fake, Anonymous. This post is about Walsh and Noah, not Horowitz. And in the Horowitz post from yesterday Somerby was not disputing the sourcing of the bullying incident, but rather the contention that it was the result of homophobia.

  4. Romney’s behavior was sometimes bad—but then again, he was in high school.

    Not everyone who goes to high school behaves the way Romney did. In fact, most don't.

    (With regard to the “Atta girl” comment, Horowitz reports that teachers at Romney’s school sometimes said similar things.)

    That makes it worse, not better. Apparently teachers gave a green light to bullies at this school, and they got the message.

    There is no such thing as racism or homophobia, because no one can ever pass judgment on someone else's behavior based on the known facts and circumstances. Only if Romney presented his victim with a notarized affidavit stating that he was now going to be assaulted due to his gayness would we be able to conclude that the fact that the victim was gay had anything to do with the incident. Surely it was just random chance that Romney and his friends didn't pick on, say, an aggressively straight jock with a crewcut instead. Surely it's meaningless to set this behavior against a societal backdrop of persistent bullying against young gay people and the higher suicide rates among that population. Only if Zimmerman had yelled the n-word could we conclude that he started following Martin with a gun because he was a young black man. Surely Zimmerman would have followed a middle-aged white woman just as zealously. Surely this killing of an unarmed black man has nothing to do with a societal history of license toward the killing of unarmed black men. We're beyond all that now. At least, as long as people don't use the wrong words.

  5. Well, you forget one small detail. Horowitz would need to have in his possession the actual signed and notorized affidavit from Romney, not a copy, stating his clear motive before Somerby will consider that sufficient evidence to support the claim that Romney & Gang assaulted a gay kid with bleach blond hair because he was gay.

  6. I think Anom does a good job generally in countering TDH, and does so here. Here's the way I see it:

    The story is solid on Mitt's bulling, so it is not
    comparable to stuff they just made up on Gore: Love
    Story, Love Cannel, hiring Namoi Woolf so he could
    look like a man, growing up in a posh hotel, etc.

    While Mitt's behavior makes you think of every
    spoiled brat weasal you ever knew growing up, it's
    probably not fair at this stage in Romney's life to
    hold his High School behavior against him, nor would
    it be fair to anyone. And "Gay" has such a diferent
    conetation than it did then (in the early seventies,
    both major political parites were still using
    homosexual rumors as part of their dirty tricks
    agendas)that it's hard to automatical assume Mitt
    was trying to humiliate his fellow student for his
    percived sexuality. Nor has this really been proved
    or even suggested by the stories.

    And yes, there ARE more important things we good
    be giving our attention to. Have you heard about this
    new bestseller, Bob? It's called "Drift"....

    1. Remember how Bob used to rail repeatedly that the "media" had thrown Gene Lyons' "Fools for Scandal" down the memory hole because it didn't fit the script?

      Rachel Maddow's "Drift" doesn't fit the Somerby narrative.

    2. By the way, you want to know one aspect that should truly caught the attention of a person who claims to be working so hard to improve "american discourse?"

      Maddow has gotten high praise for "Drift" from BOTH "conservatives" and "liberals."

      Now how is that possible that such an unabashed, open "liberal" is able to bridge the ideological gap on such an important subject?

      Will Somerby explore that subject for the handful of people who need his help to think?

    3. "the handful of people who need his help to think"

      Which is to say, me, Anonymous.

      What about Drift doesn't fit "the narrative?"

      Who cares? -- It's just my stick to beat Somerby.

      No, stop laughing at me and pay attention!!

      You say I'm to stupid to figure out what's *wrong* with "Drift?" You say I'm too stupid to think without the help of Maddow?

      Yeah, you're probably right.

  7. "I think Anom does a good job generally in countering TDH"

    When we finish laughing, we'll read the rest of your comment, Greg.

    So, probably never.

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