Romney’s Non-Apology About ‘High Jinks’ Does Him No Favors

Mitt Romney

A Washington Post report about Mitt Romney's prep school years has forced the Romney campaign into crisis management mode, as it tries to present the presidential candidate as a tolerant person who may have "gone too far" with high school "high jinks."

In the May 10 article, Washington Post reporter Jason Horowitz quotes high school friends of Romney's who say the future Massachusetts governor led a "posse" at the Cranbrook School in Michigan that tackled, pinned to the ground and cut the hair of a fellow student who, as Horowitz reports, was "perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality."

Questions of whether high school behavior and attitudes is relevant to one's qualifications to be president of the United States aside, it was clear Romney would need to respond quickly and offer his own take on the incidents mentioned in the article. He did exactly that in a radio interview with Brian Kilmeade of Fox. Unfortunately, Romney fell back on the commonly used "if I offended anybody I'm sorry" non-apology, which usually suggests an inability to accept responsibility for one's wrongdoings.

“Back in high school, I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” Romney told  Kilmeade. “I participated in a lot of high jinks and pranks during high school and some might have gone too far and for that, I apologize.”

Romney said in the radio interview that he doesn't remember the hair-cutting incident. Assuming this is true, he still could have sent a stronger, more decisive message. If he had been able to recall even one incident from his high school years when he may have teased and hurt someone—and few of us can claim not to have teased someone in their youth—he could have said, "I don't recall this particular incident, or any other specific incidents, but yes, I did some dumb things in high school and I'm sure I hurt a few people. And for that I apologize."

And then move on, back to a subject where he can score points against his political competitor.

Same old lesson: Either apologize, or don't apologize. Halfway apologies don't do much for one's reputation.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI