If the people who run the Washington Post Company need an archetypal example of why their newspaper publishing segment is in so much financial trouble (as found here: a $22.6 million first-quarter 2012 loss following on the heels of an $18.2 million loss for all of 2011) and is bleeding customers (per the Audit Board of Circulations, the paper's daily and Sunday circulation dropped by 7.8% and 15.7%, respectively, during the year ended March 31), they only need wonder why the paper's editors tasked Jason Horowitz, with help from Julie Tate, to produce what turned into a 5,400-word writeup ("Mitt Romney’s prep school classmates recall pranks, but also troubling incidents") on Mitt Romney's high school years in the mid-1960s which appeared Thursday.
One can tell by the headline alone that it's an attempt at a hit piece. Horowitz led with the most damning incident he could find, and somehow gave it anti-homosexual overtones:
... 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.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
Of course, this wouldn't make anyone's list of their proudest moments as an 18 year-old (Romney had just turned 18 at the time). But Horowitz did not note any physical injury Lauber might have suffered as a result of the incident, wasn't able to pin any specific anti-homosexual utterance to Romney, and provided no proof that Romney might have known for certain that Lauber had homosexual tendencies. No one can possibly believe that the WaPo writer didn't try to find evidence of all of the above, or that he would have eagerly reported it had he found it.
On and on Horowitz went. In all of that verbiage, he could only surface the following additional potentially "troubling incidents":
Gary Hummel, who was a closeted gay student at the time, recalled that his efforts to speak out in class were punctuated with Romney shouting, “Atta girl!” In the culture of that time and place, that was not entirely out of the norm. Hummel recalled some teachers using similar language.
... in a well-known prank in which Romney flashed a police siren and, bearing a fake badge and cap, approached two friends and their dates parked on a dark country road, there was a stronger undercurrent of fear to the incident than commonly conveyed. Candy Porter, a Kingswood boarder from a small town in Ohio, had a strict 11 p.m. curfew. As Romney and his Cranbrook pals played out the joke, pretending to be shocked over empty bourbon bottles in the trunk, Porter thought of the dorm mothers waiting at the door and the threat of expulsion. “I just remember being like a deer in headlights,” she said. “I just remember being terrified.” Once she realized it was all a prank, and was safely back at her dorm, Porter joined in the laughter.
That's it? Geez, is Horowitz desperate for dirt, or what?
Desperate and deceptive, actually.
In Paragraph 18, the WaPo writer only tells us that Lauber, the hair-cutting incident victim, "died in 2004, according to his three sisters," without saying why. I would contend that Horowitz wants readers to believe that the incident involved scarred Lauber for life.
That is indeed what anyone not reading the entire piece might indeed believe, because only at the very, very end, in Paragraph 89, do we learn that "He died there (in Seattle) of liver cancer that December." We also learn that "He kept his hair blond until he died, said his sister Chris. 'He never stopped bleaching it.'" I guess Horowitz wants us to think that Lauber was obsessed with bleaching his hair because of a decades-earlier bullying incident. Please. Isn't it more likely that the guy just liked his hair blond?
Horowitz quotes one of Romney's classmates describing the 1965 Lauber incident as a "hack job." The real hackery is in Horowitz's 5,400-plus words.
Erick Erickson at RedState offered some comparative perspective yesterday on the WaPo's misplaced priorities, which in my view have contributed mightily to the newspaper publishing group's steep financial descent:
The Washington Post can’t be bothered to worry about Barack Obama’s college years, college transcripts, communist friends, cocaine use, or cop-killing plotters in whose living room he first launched his major political career, but they can get in the really way back machine to 1965 and Mitt Romney’s high school years.
Mitt Romney cut a hippy's hair at his preparatory high school. A day after Barack Obama caved on gay marriage, the Washington Post “coincidentally” says Mitt Romney cut the hair of a boy who “was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality.”
Let’s leave out the fact that the kid who got his haircut was subsequently thrown out of school for smoking one cigarette, but we’re to believe that the assailants of his hair, witnessed by many, were ignored. Oh, and the guy who got his hair cut never, ever, evermentioned it, including to family, and died in 2004 so it can’t be verified. But a handful of students who now probably support Barack Obama have a crystal clear memory of events from 50 years ago. The people who were adults at the time of the incident and still alive have no memory of it, but remember Romney and said he was never a disciplinary problem.
Readers can smell the Post's hatchet work from a mile away, are sick and damned tired of it, and are avoiding contact with it as much as they possibly can. As long as it continues, so will WaPo's decline. The paper's parent company would be well-served if it would stop subsidizing the paper's losses and force it to serve its readers instead of its editors' political whims.
Photo of Horowitz (cropped for this post) was found here.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.