The media have given Mitt Romney a pass he doesn't deserve on his response to a report that he bullied other students at his Michigan boarding school. Romney was fortunate in that the bullying story broke in the wake of President Obama's declaration of support for same-sex marriage, which the media concluded was the bigger political story and more worthy of follow-up and commentary.
The Washington Post broke the story of Romney's bullying of a younger student who later came out as gay. According to classmates, including some who joined in the attack, Romney announced his intention to deal with the student's long, bleached hair with a pair of scissors. He then led a group of attackers who pinned the student down so that Romney could cut his hair as he cried and shouted for help.
One participant who later apologized for the attack was quoted as saying that "to this day, it troubles me. ... What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do." Another classmate, a friend of Romney's who witnessed the attack, described it as "vicious." Yet another classmate and Romney friend expressed remorse and said of the victim, "He was just easy pickin's."
And what's Romney's recollection? He claims to have no memory of the attack or of other instances of taunting and mockery, though he hasn't denied them, either. Everyone else who participated seems to remember these events vividly, but not Romney.
The presumptive GOP nominee admits only to orchestrating "pranks" and "high jinks" that he concedes "might have gone too far." He offered a classic non-apology to Fox News: "There's no question but that I did some stupid things when I was in high school, and obviously, if I hurt anyone by virtue of that, I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it."
Romney has suggested that he's just like anyone else who did dumb things in high school. But most of us remember and regret our stupid adolescent acts and, when asked about them, will apologize.
What should we deduce from Romney's inability to remember incidents he personally participated in and instigated? Is he likely to forget mistakes made by others in, say, Iraq, or in the deregulation of banks? How would his faulty memory affect future policies?
And what should we make of Romney's lack of empathy for the victims of his "high jinks"? This is, after all, the man who said he's not worried about the very poor, suggesting a survival-of-the-fittest, Lord of the Flies philosophy.
The even worse alternative is that Romney does in fact have a clear memory of the incidents in question but, like former presidential candidate John Edwards, is lying to avoid any damage to his campaign.
Romney has a law degree and should understand that what he did in boarding school was not a mere "prank"; it was a potentially criminal act for which he should have been held accountable. But the son of a CEO and governor faced no punishment at all. His victim, on the other hand, was later expelled for smoking a cigarette.
Jan C. Ting is a professor of law at Temple University's Beasley School of Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.