Thursday's CBS Evening News and Friday's CBS This Morning spotlighted the Washington Post's reporting on the accusation that Mitt Romney supposedly bullied a high school classmate almost 50 years ago. Evening News anchor Scott Pelley trumpeted how "what [Romney] said about it today made it relevant again." Political director John Dickerson touted how "the reporting of the story seems pretty solid."
Correspondent Jan Crawford reported on the Romney issue on the evening and morning newscasts. During the Thursday report, Crawford highlighted how one former classmate of Romney's labeled the alleged incident an "assault and battery." The following morning, she did contrast the allegation with President Obama's admitted drug use during his high school years and President Clinton claiming he tried marijuana, but "didn't inhale."
Pelley noted how "Romney was questioned repeatedly today about something that happened nearly half a century ago when he was in high school" during his lead-in to Crawford's report, and added his "relevant" label to the story. The CBS journalist then outlined what the Post reported, that "Romney and other students, 46 years ago at the prestigious Cranbrook School, often teased a fellow student, and then hatched a plan. One day they tackled him and held him down, while Romney repeatedly clipped his longish dyed-blond hair. Phillip Maxwell, a classmate who was involved in the incident, told CBS News he believes it was an 'assault and battery.'"
After playing soundbites of the former governor responding to the allegation, Crawford pointed out that "other classmates we talked to said they had never heard of this incident, that it was completely out of character for Romney. They said he was very funny, Scott, but never malicious."
By contrast, the correspondent used the anecdotes about Presidents Clinton and Obama during her CBS This Morning segment over twelve hours later, something that wasn't included in the initial report:
CRAWFORD: The youthful experiences of presidential candidate have been dissected for years. President Obama faced questions about using cocaine and marijuana, something he admitted in one of his books.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from the audio book version of "Dream of My Father"): I spent the last two years of high school in a daze, rank beer heavily, and tried drugs enthusiastically.
CRAWFORD: And then there was Bill Clinton, who famously side-stepped the drug issue.
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON (from March 29, 1992 interview): I experimented with marijuana a time or two and I didn't like it and didn't inhale and never tried it again.
Dickerson came on immediately after Crawford's report and lauded the Post's reporting, even as he acknowledged that the issue might not have legs:
CHARLIE ROSE: Does this story damage Mitt Romney, or is it simply what's going to be happening in this campaign?
JOHN DICKERSON: I think- oh, I think it is what's going to be happening in this campaign- these little eruptions. It comes at a bad time for him because he's not really well defined for the broader part of the electorate. But for it to really damage him, it has to sustain- it has to continue on for a long time. His opponent, President Obama, has to kind of work this issue. There's not any evidence that's going to happen. It also has to attach to, kind of, current view of him, and nobody's been able to find any current behavior that's like this from him.
ROSE: And you have to, I assume, admire the way the governor came right out and said, you know, I don't remember it, but I apologize. So he's trying to put the story behind him.
DICKERSON: Definitely trying to put the story behind him. He's in a pickle there because, on the one hand, he can say it didn't happen at all. The reporting of the story seems pretty solid. Every single detail may not be exactly as it happened, but certainly, something happened, and a lot of people are on the record. But on the other hand, he doesn't want to embrace all the details and have this story go on. So, yeah, he certainly is trying to put it behind him.