THE WAY WE ARE: We’re horrible journalists!


Part 2—Was Lauber presumed to be gay: Over the past fifteen years, Chris Matthews has played a large, noxious role in The Way We Have Been as a nation.

On Sunday, the loud stupid fellow was sounding off on the program of upper-class memorization known as Meet the Press. Alas! One part of The Way We Are is that we aren’t very smart:
GREGORY (5/13/12): Does the bullying story for Romney tie into this in any way? Does anybody think that?

MATTHEWS: I think so. I think the idea of a, of a young kid leading a brigade of kids to go look for the kid they thought was gay, putting him down on the ground, cutting his hair off, humiliating the kid—

GREGORY: Romney says that was in no way the motivation.

MATTHEWS: That's what he said, but the fact is he's not denying the incident at all.
A large part of The Way We Are is that we aren’t very smart. Matthews asserted that Romney and a group of his friends bullied a student in 1965 because “they thought [he] was gay.” When David Gregory noted that Romney has denied that claim about motivation, Matthews didn’t defend his claim. He simply said that Romney hasn’t denied that the bullying incident happened.

By objective standards, that was a very stupid response. But it’s par for the course on a program like this, where the culture’s most overpaid hacks gather to recite the claims which comprise the “public discourse.”

At one time, society sent its swells onto programs like What’s My Line. They engaged in silly badinage—but that banter was harmless.

Now, we send our swells onto programs like Meet the Press, where they recite Preferred Standard Claims about very significant topics. This is an unfortunate part of The Way We Have Become.

Question: Did Romney and his friends bully John Lauber because “they thought [he] was gay?” Matthews stated this claim as a fact, although he can’t really know if it’s true. But in fairness, Matthews had an excuse—he may have been reading the Washington Post, one of our leading newspapers.

On Friday morning, the Post had published a 5400-word novella built around this bullying incident. In an accompanying news report, Nia-Malika Henderson provided this capsule account:
HENDERSON (5/11/12): Mitt Romney responded Thursday to a news article describing him as a prep-school prankster who bullied a classmate by apologizing for past incidents that may have been harmful, adding that he has grown into a different person since his school days.

In 1965, a teenage Romney led a group that forcibly cut the hair of a student who wore his dyed-blond tresses long and was presumed to be gay, according to five of Romney's classmates at the elite Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who were interviewed by The Washington Post.

Romney, the presumed GOP presidential nominee, denied any anti-gay animus.
According to Henderson, five of Romney’s classmates said that Lauber “was presumed to be gay.” That could be true, of course. But uh-oh! There is no evidence of any such statement by any such classmates at any point in the novella Henderson claimed to describe!

Did Romney’s classmates say that Lauber was presumed to be gay? At no point in the Post’s sprawling novella is anyone quoted making any such statement. The report was written by Jason Horowitz; he had so much space at his disposal that he even included three paragraphs about the way Kuwaiti students were treated at Cranbrook during this era.

On balance, they were treated well, Horowitz wrote in his sprawling report. But at no point did Horowitz quote any of Romney’s classmates saying that Lauber was believed to be gay, or that he had been teased or attacked for that reason.

Did Romney’s brigade bully Lauber because they thought he was gay? Horowitz did quote five witnesses to the attack, including at least one of the attackers. Four of these witnesses spoke on the record.

Beyond that, Horowitz had spoken to other students about life at Cranbrook during this time—and about Lauber. But despite Henderson’s statement, at no point did Horowitz quote any of the five eyewitnesses, or anyone else, saying that Lauber was presumed or believed to be gay. In the fullness of 5400 words, this was the closest Horowitz came to any such statement:
HOROWITZ (5/11/12): When Lauber's younger sister, Betsy, visited the campus, she said she found him happy and sporting a preppy look. He took her to an off-campus party at a fellow student's house where they danced to Motown records and laughed.

But he was always a bit different from the rest. During breaks from school, he worked as a mortician's assistant. He spent more time devouring books than making friends in clubs.

"He was very quiet, not a jock," said Steph Lady. "Very soft-spoken. I know nothing, probably gay, but who knows. We were so stupid and naive. I know there was homosexuality there, but we didn't even have a word for it. And there was homophobia then, too."
As it turned out, Lauber was gay. At some later unspecified point, he came out to his sisters. But was he presumed to be gay while at Cranbrook? That statement by Lady is jumbled, unclear. But incredibly, it represents the only time Horowitz quotes or cites any student speaking to this question.

As far as anyone can tell, Steph Lady was not a witness to the attack. But in all his 5400 words, this is the only point where Horowitz quotes or paraphrases anyone discussing what students thought about Lauber’s sexual orientation. And even here, you will note the lack of clarity in Horowitz’s writing—a lack of clarity which is quite routine in “journalism” of this type.

“I know nothing, probably gay, but who knows,” Lady is quoted saying. Did Horowitz directly ask Lady if students thought Lauber was gay? If he did, he withheld Lady’s direct response to that rather obvious question. And in those 5400 words, there is no sign that Horowitz ever asked anyone else if students thought Lauber was gay!

Did Horowitz ask witnesses Maxwell, Seed or Friedemann if students thoughts Lauber was gay? Did he ask Buford, who took part in the attack? Almost surely, he must have asked. If he didn’t, he ought to be fired. And uh-oh:

When Horowitz fails to record what these students said about this obvious point, sensible people will start to wonder if they perhaps told him no—that Lauber wasn’t believed or presumed to be gay. At any rate, this is part of The Unfortunate Way We Are:

When our “journalists” have a story they very much like, such niceties may not stop them from telling it. Over the past twenty years or so, our “journalists” have often found ways to tell the unflattering stories they like about the candidates they don’t prefer.

How odd! What follows is the very first paragraph of Horowitz’s report, a 5400-word novella in which no one is quoted saying that Lauber was believed to be gay:
HOROWITZ: Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn't having it.
Is the highlighted statement true? Was Lauber teased (and perhaps attacked) because he was presumed to be gay? Horowitz made this suggestion in his opening paragraph—although you’ll note that he doesn’t actually make any such statement. But at no point in his novella does he quote or cite a single student saying that Lauber was presumed to be gay, although he gave the semi-impression that Lady had made such a claim.

Horowitz quoted no one saying that Lauber was believed to be gay. But so what? Henderson leaped into action, telling the world that “five of Romney's classmates” said that Lauber was attacked because he was “presumed to be gay.” There is no sign that anyone made that claim at any point in Horowitz’s endless report.

But so what? Two days later, one of the most corrupt hustlers in our society was voicing this claim on Meet the Press, offering a typical brainless remark when Gregory questioned his statement.

Was John Lauber presumed to be gay? Like you, we have no way of knowing. But what follows is part of The Way We Are, part of The Way We Have Been for some time:

Alas! When our “journalists” get a story they very much like, they will find a way to tell it. The nation’s pundits will then swing into action, flinging their poo all around.

From 1998 through 2001, Matthews invented similar stories about both Clintons and especially about Gore. Jack Welch was making him rich at that time, and Welch was a hard-core Republican.

Today, the beast has been repurposed, in keeping with a new corporate line. But in the end, The Way He Is hasn’t changed very much at all.

So too with The Way We Are, as we will note on the morrow.

Tomorrow: Watching us liberals react


  1. The Real AnonymousMay 16, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    By the end of the week Mr. Somerby will prove it was Lauber who attacked Romney and crew, breaking their noses and causing lacerations to the back of their skulls.

    Everybody knows, or should know, Matthews was Media Matters inaugural Misinformer of the Year. He is no liberal. He swooned over W in a flight suit and got chills hearing Obama speak. He's a typical star fucker.

    It would be more interesting and relevant if Mr. Somerby compared the reaction to this revelation about Romney to the right's reaction to Obama's dabbling in drugs during his high school/early college days.

    To this day they claim Obama was given a pass by the press even though we know the New York Times talked to over 3 dozen friends, classmates and mentors and came up with a dry hole.

    "In more than three dozen interviews, friends, classmates and mentors from his high school and Occidental recalled Mr. Obama as being grounded, motivated and poised, someone who did not appear to be grappling with any drug problems and seemed only to dabble with marijuana."

    Alas, for Mr. Somerby time stopped in 2000 and nothing of importance has happened since then unless its somehow related to the 2000 general election.

    1. It would be more interesting and relevant if Mr. Somerby compared the reaction to this revelation about Romney to the right's reaction to Obama's dabbling in drugs during his high school/early college days.

      Why would that be interesting or relevant? To prove that "the right" are hypocrites?

      So what? No one other than the tribal warriors cares. Seriously, step outside your internet bubble - literally no one cares about this crap except for internet commenters.

    2. Typical of Somerby these days, isn't real? Unless it is reported in EXACTLY the way Somerby says it should have been reported -- this time with direct quotes from all the witnesses who remember this incident in rather specific detail (all except Mitt Romney, of course) -- then the reporter is merely making it all up.

      Is it just possible that all four of Romney's friends, the ones who admitted and regretted holding the kid down screaming and crying while Romney hacked at his bleached hair, also told Horowitz that they did it because they thought the kid was gay?

      Of course it isn't. Because Horowitz didn't quote them directly. Ergo, Horowitz is making it up.

      Which of course, leads to the question So what? It's somehow better to pin a kid to the floor and cut off his hair if you're not doing it out of a homophobic motive?

      Which, of course, leads us to the REAL story behind the story.

      Four of Mitt's prep school buddies remember the incident in great detail. One does not -- the one who happens to be his party's presumptive nominee for president of the United States.

      Now one might legitimately wonder how many "pranks" like this Romney was party to that this one wouldn't stand out. Or what kind of conscience (or lack thereof) must be in place to throw this one down the memory hole.

      But never mind all that. Romney said he was sorry for something he doesn't remember, and if he could remember it, it certainly wasn't because the kid was gay.

      That makes it all okey-doke in the world of Bob Somerby.

      And strannix? Both you and Somberby would be better advised not to think you can tell other people what they should or should not care about.

      Unless, of course, your ego is such that you think I should care only about that which you dictate I should care about.

    3. God, you're such a tool, Anonymous!

      Since you clearly suffer from a readin comprehension problem:

      -- It's not about making Romney's behaviour "okey-dokey." Which no one thinks it was.

      -- It is about showing Matthews and Henderson's reporting is atrocious. Which it is.

    4. Ummmm, except for the fact that the original piece was written by Jason Horowitz, who seems to have done quite a bit of reporting.

      Of course, he didn't report in precisely the way Somerby demands, so Somerby is free to tell his readers that Horowitz just made up the "presumed gay" part, that nobody he interviewed could have possibly had told him that.

      And since Somerby goes to all the trouble to "debunk the "presumed gay" part, he gets to question the validity of the rest of the story as well --- a story four participants remember and one claims not to.

      And of course, Somerby's sheep say "baaaa".

    5. You say that the problem is that Horowitz "didn't report in precisely the way Somerby demands," but what Somerby is actually pointing out is that Horowitz didn't actually provide any evidence for one of the key assertions made about the Romney group's behavior.

      Somerby has also spent a decade and a half documenting how reporters use this sort of sleight of hand to mislead readers. So I think it's more than warranted for him to raise some red flags here.

    6. You are free to believe whatever Somerby tells you, but I don't think "presumed gay" is a key assertion.

      Even Romney, in the wake of his prep school buddies lined up to tell the story, doesn't dare deny that he led a group of kids on an assault against another kid.

      THAT is the key assertion, made even worse by his non-denial "I don't remember."

      I don't care what the motive was for that attack. It was outrageous, criminal, and something young Willard apparently got away with through privilege.

      A very good lesson for a preppie to learn at a young age, wouldn't you say?

    7. You are free to believe whatever Somerby tells you, but I don't think "presumed gay" is a key assertion.

      OK, that's my bad. I was under the impression that this incident was an example of Romney's pitiful homophobia, and that Horowitz's article itself spent a huge amount of space on the relevance of Lauber's sexuality.

      So that's my bad for making a big deal of it, then. I didn't realize that this was a minor part of the story of no significant importance to anyone but Somerby.

      I don't care what the motive was for that attack. It was outrageous, criminal, and something young Willard apparently got away with through privilege.
      Be serious - "apparently got away with through privilege"? What orifice did you pull that out of?

      I remember being bullied myself by some decidedly unprivileged kids while I was growing up in the 1980s, and they "got away with it" too. If you're remotely honest about your experiences, I'm sure you'll acknowledge that the bullies in your day were typically not frogmarched out of school by the FBI, either.

    8. You read it as a story of homophobia. I read it as a story of a guy with absolutely no empathy or conscience when he was a kid, who got away with an assault with impunity, and hasn't changed much.

      As for getting away with it, did a whole gang of underprivileged kids hold you down and hacked off your hair?

      Remeber, this was a boarding school. No adult supervision around? Nobody heard the kid screaming? No adult saw his hair after the hack job and wondered what happened?

    9. "Be serious - "apparently got away with through privilege"? What orifice did you pull that out of?"

      The one known as Cranbrook. Your pathetic ignorance and your personal experience are irrelevant.

  2. This strikes me as a bit too much strict constructionism. Why did gay people who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s stay in the closet? In part, because of incidents like this. No one might have used the words "homosexual" or "gay" when talking about Lauber -- they might have instead said he was "different" or "sissy" or "effeminate" -- but most likely everyone knew why he was the guy singled out for this treatment. Bullies can smell vulnerability a mile away -- they don't need a big sign flashing "gay" to zero in on people like Lauber.

    My uncle grew up gay in a small rural town during that same time period. Everyone knew there were gay people in the world, everyone knew who they were, and no one talked about homosexuality at all except in the most veiled terms because it was considered that shameful. We don't have to check all our common sense and experience of the world at the door and come to every news story as a blank slate.

    1. Lots of people get bullied for reasons having nothing to do with homosexuality, real or presumed.

      Your second paragraph doesn't make much sense anyway - if "no on talked about it", then how is it that "everyone knew who they were"? Surely you're not advancing the damaging stereotype that you can tell who the gays are by looking at them, are you?

    2. Yes, that is *exactly* what Anonymous above is doing.

    3. Not at all, actually. But people don't need evidence before labeling, and any deviation from mainstream male behavior can get a boy the gay label, accurate or not. My uncle didn't "look" gay (went out of his way not to, in fact), but he was good at art and in that time and place, that was enough to start the whispering. His first cousin, who dressed flamboyantly, also was whispered about. He eventually squelched the rumors by having a well-publicized string of female relationships. This wasn't just a cover, either -- he wasn't gay.

    4. 2:17, I was small and bad at sports. That's all it took for me to get taunted as gay through school.

    5. But people don't need evidence before labeling, and any deviation from mainstream male behavior can get a boy the gay label, accurate or not ... His first cousin, who dressed flamboyantly, also was whispered about.

      So now we've gone from "everyone knew who they were" to "people made assumptions that were sometimes correct and sometimes not correct."

      And we've also gone from "no one talked about it" to "rumors ran wild over any little thing".

      Presuming that the same "anonymous" wrote both comments (apologies if that's not the case) ... I'm beginning to think that this person is completely talking out of his ass.

    6. You mean, as opposed to someone who wants to believe that evidence of bullying with impunity on the part of a privileged spoiled brat who grows up to be a vulture capitalist and run for president of the United States is irrelevant?

      Good grief, look at the way the guy ran his primary campaign. Not that I'd ever feel sorry for Santorum or Gingrigh, but when Romney's back was to the wall, he called on his monied buddies and ran one of the most negative, scorched earth primary campaigns in history.

    7. You mean, as opposed to someone who wants to believe that evidence of bullying with impunity on the part of a privileged spoiled brat who grows up to be a vulture capitalist and run for president of the United States is irrelevant?

      Wow, nice job there cramming in talking points. If you head over to Daily Kos, you could get a lot of recs for that one. The Howler's software is, I'm afraid, too primitive for you to get your due rewards here.

      Not that I'd ever feel sorry for Santorum or Gingrigh, but when Romney's back was to the wall, he called on his monied buddies and ran one of the most negative, scorched earth primary campaigns in history.

      Ha ha, whatever.

    8. Yeah, whatever. Who cares if a snotty prep school bully with an overblown ego, sense of entitlement and no conscience grew up to be a snotty adult bully with an overblown ego, sense of entitlement and no conscience.

      After all, we're electing the president of the United States here.

    9. 'Your second paragraph doesn't make much sense anyway - if "no on talked about it", then how is it that "everyone knew who they were"?'

      That's one of the worst cases of poor reading comprehension and selective misquotation I've seen in quite a while. The explanation was given, in some detail.

  3. Of course they thought he was gay. Let's be serious

    1. Let's be serious!

      Our mind-reading skills are excellent:

      We weren't there, but we know exactly what people we don't know thought about other people we don't know!

    2. Except that Horowitz actually interviewed everyone he could find who took part in this incident.

      Never mind that. Because he didn't put it in quotes, he obviously made up the "presumed gay" part.

  4. If the problem was that he was gay and not that he was a long-hair why did they run with him, and why didn't they shave his head or give him a wedgie before his hair was long? The fake offense over this thing is ridiculous.

    1. Spoken like a true Somerby camp follower.

      The offense to me in all this is that Romney says he can't remember it. Either he is lying about that or telling the truth, and I don't know which is worse.

      Had he said, "Oh Lordy, yes, I remember it and it has haunted me for years" like the rest of his buddies, then its just something that happened nearly 50 years ago when he was young or dumb.

      But either they guy lacks both empathy and conscience, or he's a liar. Take your pick.

    2. He probably remembers it but like a good politician, issued a generalized blanket apology without acknowledging the specific allegation. I've got no problem with that.

      A REAL problem is a politician who lies about his positions and then changes them once elected. Both party candidates do so, with Obama having an edge on that practice.

    3. Fake offense? You're sick.

  5. Mitt Romney didn't bully him because he was gay. Mitt Romney bullied him because Mitt was the alpha male, and Lauber was at the bottom of the pecking order. That's what bullies do. It wouldn't matter if he was a nonathletic short kid, or a uncoordinated overweight kid. Mitt would have found somebody to bully.

    Mitt didn't consider whether he was gay. He just knew he was different, and Lauber didn't have a right to be different.

    1. About the only two things Somerby can hang his criticism and defense of Romney on is

      1. Horowitz didn't put "We attacked the kid because he was gay" in direct quotes from one of his multiple sources.

      2. It happened in 1965, and what happens in 1965 should stay in 1965.

      And both points conveniently gloss over what Romney and his defenders says NOW about it: "No big deal. Happened a long time ago. So long ago, I don't even remember it among all the dumb things I did as a kid. But I guess I should be sorry about it and if it happened it wasn't because the kid was gay. I didn't even know what that meant in 1965."

      And of course, that is what Somerby and his sheep choose to believe.

    2. Realizing that journalists should have sources for their assertions about what someone "believes" only implies accepting Romney's version if one is as simpleminded as Anonymous above.

      Luckily, some of us can think for ourselves.

    3. Did you bother to read Horowitz's story? He has multiple sources.

      But since y0ur guru has accused Horowitz of the great sin of not directly quoting one of those sources about motive, you're going to go along with him and excuse Romney of this entire episode, as well as the fact that he's kinda, sorta sorry for doing what he can't remember doing but certainly not doing what he can't remember doing because he thought a gay kid with bleach blond hair was gay.

      As the Real Anonymous wrote in the very first post, by Friday Somerby will be blaming Laudner and claiming all the guys in Romney's gang had broken noses and horrible, awful boo-boos on the back of their heads.

      This Web site made a hard right turn ever since Somerby tried to excuse George Bush for lying in the State of the Union address while trashing Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame in the process.

  6. This was 1965. Long hair was symbolic of the counter culture. It had nothing to do with being gay. The musical "Hair" which is about the counter-culture is not called that because it is about gay rights. People who disliked long hair as an act of rebellion used to taunt those with long hair by saying "you look like a girl" and so on. This was well before Stonewall and before the existence of closeted gays coming out had become part of mainstream awareness. Although boys at boarding schools have always (1) been gay; and (2) engaged in same-sex sexual behavior, the idea of explicitly being gay was not on anyone's radar. It would have shocked Romney and his friends to think that anyone at their school was actually gay. I say this because I lived through these times. I myself am shocked to find that Romney is this old and I've been asking myself what time machine he crawled out of and why the rest of us look like such old farts.

    1. Well, I lived through it to, and you are about two years off, depending where you live. The whole hippie "Summer of Love" counter-culture thing was 1967, not 1965.

      Also in '65, taunting and picking on certain kids who were perceived to be gay was quite common, whether they had long hair or not.

      In fact, the f word was quite the common insult where I grew up.

    2. Kids were growing their hair long before 1967 in CA -- surfers for example. It fits the bleached blond description.

    3. This toney prep school was in Michigan.

    4. Yeah, as someone who likewise went through this period past childhood, you are quite right. People looking back to this era without having lived through it don't really appreciate just how difficult it was for the vast majority of people to believe that an individual was, in fact, gay (as opposed to being a "sissy"). It was entirely possible for ordinary people to believe that Liberace, for example, was NOT gay -- as absurd as that belief seems in retrospect. The general belief was that being gay was a truly extraordinary -- even freakish -- condition.

      And certainly the quote from Lady seems quite consistent with the idea that Lady is himself recognizing ONLY IN RETROSPECT that Lauber might actually have been gay.

    5. Just to give a sense of the times, I remember back in the late sixties in my small town of several thousand there were perhaps at most one or two men about whom it was actively speculated that they might be gay. And it never went beyond speculation, because, God knows, there was not going to be any admission in that era by anybody actually in a position to know for certain.

  7. Shorter comments:

    If you think a journalists should have a source for asserting what someone thought about something, you're a sheep.

  8. Dammit Bob, there you go again, getting your panties in a wad, insisting that journalists back up their claims with actual evidence. Why don't you just get over it? [/snark]

    1. So the whole story gets discounted because the reporter didn't back up the motive with a direct quote?

      Is that the way it now works in Somerbyland?

      You know, perhaps instead of some evil intent to invent an entire 47-year-old story out of whole cloth, the reporter instead chose to dwell on the description of the incident itself, as told to him by multiple sources rather than the motive.

    2. Anonymous, are you serious?

      Look, don't you think that if the reporter had a CLEAR statement from one of his interviewees on the absolutely crucial point as to whether the student in question was presumed gay, then that quote would be included, even highlighted, in this very long story?

      If you can't imagine and comprehend what such a quote would do to advance such a story, well, what do you understand?

  9. If my experience in schools in the '70s and '80s was at all typical, being picked on for "being gay" rarely had much connection to actual sexual orientation or erotic behavior, and was much more about clamping down on boys who failed to uphold prevailing norms of masculinity, for instance by crying, or being bad at sports. So Romney could have been bullying Lauber for "being gay" rather than for being gay, if that makes any sense.

    I suspect the people who remembered the incident said that Lauber was bullied for being "a sissy," and then, thinking back, realized -- with guilt -- that they were doing something that has since then become much less "oh well, boys will be boys," especially after Matthew Shepard and Tyler Clementi.