Poll Position: How much of a candidate’s life is fair game?

A day after President Obama endorsed the concept of same-sex marriage (but, notably, no policies to legalize it), the Washington Post reported that, as a teenager in boarding school, Mitt Romney once forcibly cut the longish hair of a fellow classmate who was “presumed” to be gay. The story has since been found to have a number of problems: Two sisters of the alleged victim (who died several years ago) claim the depiction of him is “factually incorrect,” and one says she had never heard of the incident (which, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen); one of the Romney classmates quoted about the incident now says he didn’t actually witness it.

As if to confirm that juvenile behavior by juveniles is not a partisan issue, a blogger soon posted an excerpt from Obama’s “Dreams From My Father” in which he describes behaving rudely toward an unpopular female classmate. (The posted excerpts don’t refer to his age at the time, but the reference by Obama to her being in “my grade” suggests to me that he was in elementary or middle school.)

But the overriding question is: Does anyone care what presidential candidates did as youths?

How far back should the press go in vetting presidential candidates?

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Maybe one’s college years are relevant. Or maybe, since voters in 1992 looked past Bill Clinton’s youthful use of marijuana and avoidance of the military draft, those years aren’t all that important.

Maybe what matters is not so much the age of an incident, but its relevance to their fitness for office. So, maybe long-discontinued substance abuse is off-limits, given the track record of the past three presidents — Clinton (marijuana), George W. Bush (alcohol; there are also unsubstantiated allegations that he used cocaine) and Obama (marijuana, cocaine) — but other actions, even as a youth, might be fair game.

This is not a one-time dilemma: In the past weeks, we’ve seen partisans trade barbs about how Romney treated the family dog on vacations decades ago — only for some, in response, to point out that Obama, again in “Dreams From My Father,” admitted to eating dog as a youth in Indonesia.

As a journalist, I’m inclined to think the press should report what it finds and let voters decide what’s important. But, given the blowback for some of the things that have been reported, I’m genuinely interested in what readers think about the boundaries of vetting. So here’s this week’s Poll Position question: How far back should the press look in vetting presidential candidates? Answer in the nearby poll and the comments thread below.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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175 comments Add your comment

1961_Xer

May 11th, 2012
11:11 am

1961_Xer

May 11th, 2012
11:15 am

If the candidate killed someone or stole cars or has a really horrible skeleton, then it’s fair game. But I really don’t care about playground fights, rolling yards, fender benders, etc of candidates as children (and maybe even up through college).

This is all nothing more than liberal media Kabuki theatre on the childhood lives of Republican candidates in order to take attention away from the real issues.

Becky

May 11th, 2012
11:29 am

You also conveniently leave out Mitten’s age of 18. Old enough to be drafted, old enough to be charged with assault.

InAtl

May 11th, 2012
11:31 am

I don’t consider childhood relevant, but high school possibly may be. The story about Romney though is beyond partisan smearing, especially in light of the absence of any media investigation of Obama’s past. Nobody knows what his grades were, how he paid for school, what his papers were about. Extremely strange lack of curiosity on the part of those who claim to be reporting whatever is “news” on the candidates.

getalife

May 11th, 2012
11:33 am

Well, you cons attacked our President’s childhood and family so it is fair game.

Karma.

Hillbilly D

May 11th, 2012
11:33 am

Put me squarely in the “is it relevant” camp. Most of these stories are just some media person with an ax to grind against one candidate or the other. Then it gets on these blogs and becomes, “yeah, but your guy did even worse”. It’s like the old “he started it” thing that kids do. My parents had an excellent solution to that when I was growing up; everybody got their butt beat, so we quickly figured out it was better to just settle things on our own.

None of the stories that Kyle mentioned in this column, about Romney or Obama, rise to that level for me. As has been mentiond, it’s just deflection from things that need to be talked about.

The dueling dog stories are the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. First off, for the life of me, I can’t see the big deal about putting a dog in a cage, on top of a car. Where else are you going to put it? Second off, I have no desire to eat a dog but some folks in some parts of the world do eat dogs. Unless you’re a vegetarian, you really don’t have much room to talk.

A little common sense and judgement go a long way and they are sadly lacking in today’s “journalism”.

Class of '98

May 11th, 2012
11:42 am

I think it is patently absurd to make an issue out of this. I don’t care if Romney bullied someone 40 years ago, and I don’t care that Obama may have eaten dog 40 years ago.

It has nothing to do with either’s fitness to be President of the United States.

Human beings tend to change just a bit between high school and mature adulthood at 40, 50, 60 years old.

Becky

May 11th, 2012
11:44 am

I imagine this whole story would have gone away quicker if Willard hadn’t been caught in another lie. Just own up to it, apologize and be done. Can’t even man up enough to offer a simple apology. And you want him leading the country? Not a chance.

Jefferson

May 11th, 2012
11:45 am

Self indulgent crimes such as substance abuse differs from “devilment” or mean sprited crimes against others. In this case you decide, I’m sure most can rationalize most anything.

Road Scholar

May 11th, 2012
11:46 am

I wonder if he “bullied ” any of the companies he picked apart? Oh that’s capitalism!

ByteMe

May 11th, 2012
11:51 am

I don’t think this particular instance of assault and illegal restraint are the problem with Romney.

The problem is that when he recalls layoffs at one of his Dad’s factories, he laughs.

Obama: He may be from Kenya, but at least he’s human.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 11th, 2012
12:00 pm

We should be much more concerned with more recent events, such as Idipt Klown Obozo and his enemies list made up of Americans whose biggest sin is having contributed to a candidate running against him.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304070304577396412560038208.html

Obozo: Fascist.

iggy

May 11th, 2012
12:04 pm

MuchAdo about nothing. 6 months from now, after Romney wins the election no one will remember this. Just more crybaby/junk reporting from the left.

Becky

May 11th, 2012
12:05 pm

and the asshats have arrived to shut down the comments on your blog Kyle. You really need to do some policing, this is why your hits keeps dwindling. I’m gone, others will follow me.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 11th, 2012
12:07 pm

Obozo receptacles have forgotten what it means to be an American. They think it’s OK for the president to use his campaign and other resources available to him to harass private citizens.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 11th, 2012
12:08 pm

Screen door, meet Becky’s hind quarters.

iggy

May 11th, 2012
12:11 pm

Bye Becky and dont come back.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 11th, 2012
12:12 pm

“Fair game” just like other terms being used today like “bullying”, are ever-evolving and only relevant to the decidedly liberal media and their slobbering minions.

Evidence the remark by Becky, who has now taken what many of us would have considered a harmless prank even 20 short years ago, and turned it into a felony crime. Entirely for her convenience, and completely ignoring the alternative view of the man’s own family which at least calls the incident into question.

In the namby-pamby liberal world, “teasing” has turned into “bullying” which has evolved into “assault”; regardless of any facts surrounding any incident. That’s because with folks like Becky, there needs to be government protection in every facet of our lives. No more playing on those monkey-bars, they might be dangerous (and of course the term monkey-bars is now racist as well). So now that we’ve cancelled out play and have become sedentary, let’s have government ban sweets and other junk food because our kids are getting fat!

“Fair game” is also evolving as a term. It’s fair game to go after a conservative or a Republican for his/her past indiscretions, but not fair to after a liberal or a Democrat. The Washington Post had a three-page spread starting on their front page regarding one Romney incident that now cannot be verified (Ben Bradlee should be ashamed of his paper), yet no such “investigation” can be found regarding Obama and Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers or Tony Reszko in 2008.

And let’s not discount the timing of this particular “news story”. Even Eugene Robinson of the WaPo said that no three-page story could ever have been written, researched and approved for publication in less than one day, which is exactly the timing of this story. Obviously, this Romney-assaulting-a-gay-guy (who nobody knew was gay, but don’t let facts get in the way) story was waiting for some pro-gay story to come out from Obama’s camp in order to further display the great divide between GOP extremism and Democrat reason.

How many headlines have been written about Romney “flip-flopping” on various issues, yet when Obama comes out and changes his view on gay marriage, his views have “evolved”. My God, the fawning sycophants in the media couldn’t wait to anoint him one again with “courageous” and “principled” and “honorable” for his own personal flip-flop, even when it took a gaffe by his Vice President to nudge him towards that “courageous” decision. Just as it took him over 21 hours (and some military leaders now say maybe 6 months) for him to decide to actually give the order to take out Bin Laden.

So if you’re a conservative, the operative terms for the media to use are:

1.Fair game
2.Flip-flop
3.Indecisive
4.Assault or bullying

If you’re a liberal, the media will use the following terms:

1.Cheap attack
2.Evolving
3.Courageous
4.Harmless prank or youthful indiscretion

I hope this clears up all the questions brought up in Kyle’s column. :)

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
12:18 pm

absence of any media investigation of Obama’s past.

That’s total BS. The fact they haven’t found anything substantial doesn’t mean they haven’t looked. You think the media vetted every President up till now and decided to just give this one a pass?

This is like yokels and the birth certificate – thinking vetters just let this one pass and didn’t do their homework is ludicrous.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 11th, 2012
12:20 pm

Just the distraction du jour.

Democrat Obozo receptacles want to talk about anything other than issues of actual importance.

No wonder–they’re desperate to prop up the worst pResident ever.

Obozo: Loser.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
12:23 pm

harmless prank

A noogy is a harmelss prank
A wedgie is a harmless prank

He took scissors to the guy’s hair???? What if he had taken scissors to a girls hair….or dress?

Of course, what do you expect from the “waterboarding is a recreational activity” crowd?

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 11th, 2012
12:23 pm

That’s total BS. The fact they haven’t found anything substantial doesn’t mean they haven’t looked.
——-

I’d think that associating with communists and domestic terrorists might be juuuust a bit more deserving of a three page WaPo story than a bogus, discredited tale of high school antics.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 11th, 2012
12:25 pm

He took scissors to the guy’s hair????
———

No, according to his sisters.

You bought the Duke lacrosse story too, didn’t you?

Sucker.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
12:28 pm

the worst pResident ever.

Would it kill you cons to come up with something original for a change?

Van Jones

May 11th, 2012
12:28 pm

I once pooped my diaper as a young toddler. I hope I don’t have to run for office.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 11th, 2012
12:29 pm

“The fact they haven’t found anything substantial doesn’t mean they haven’t looked.”

And cutting off the long hair of someone in the ’60’s attending a prep school is “substantial”, Finn?

Really?

Is getting the legally-sealed divorce records of two of your opponents illegally leaked considered by you to be “substantial’?

Where’s the three-page story on Obama’s cocaine dealer? Oh, right. Youthful indiscretion. Never mind.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 11th, 2012
12:29 pm

Obozo: “Sometimes I forget the magnitude of the recession”

Wow. Just wow.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
12:31 pm

I’d think that associating with communists and domestic terrorists might be juuuust a bit more deserving

LOL, that is 4-5 years old. Guess what? the American people didn’t think it substantial enough! Mwuahahahaha

But you post an excellent example of what you “think” has zip to do with most of the population of this country. Off in your own world there, pal.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 11th, 2012
12:33 pm

“What if he had taken scissors to a girls hair….or dress?”

Deflection.

And creative fiction.

Is that all you’ve got, Finn? Really?

Did you grow up in the ’60’s, Finn, or have you always been this effeminate?

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 11th, 2012
12:34 pm

Don’t be so dense, Finn. Lamestream media barely touched on it, and some never did.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 11th, 2012
12:35 pm

“the sycophants in the American MEDIA didn’t think it substantial enough!”

Fixed your typo, Finn.

No thanks needed.

clyde

May 11th, 2012
12:35 pm

Vetting goes back to the candidates birth certificate,normally,so I guess just about everything is in play.I’m a big boy.After it’s reported,I’ll decide what’s relevant.

Rafe Hollister

May 11th, 2012
12:37 pm

The story here to me is that you expect Romney stories to come out, as this is the first time in the national media glare. What everyone misses is that the Oblama stories are being exposed for the first time as well.

Conservatives all knew that he had not been vetted the first time, but the irony seems lost on the MSM. People are finding things in his two books and folks are asking, why didn’t we know that already. Youda thunk someone in the press would have taken time to read the books the first time, but they were so enthralled with the tingle running up their leg when the great orator spoke, that they paid no attention to his track record.

In one of his books he says he was always attracted to the Marxist professors and was fascinated about a Marxist society. When I tell people that, they look at me like I’m making stuff up.

As far as how far back we look, I agree with the after school when they enter real life. All of us, had limited exposure to the real world while in school and had not totally formed our character and morals.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
12:39 pm

Hehehehe

“De whole wide world is agin us conservatives! Won’t nobody believe our stories?”

“whaaaaaaaaaa”

reebok

May 11th, 2012
12:40 pm

The answer to the headline question is simple, at least for Fox News…if you are a Democrat, everything is fair game and lies and rumors will be reported as established facts. If you are a Republican, everything is off-limits, and any reporting is either hate-mongering, desperation, or class warfare. Everyone have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend!

Ted

May 11th, 2012
12:41 pm

Romney’s worst is so much better than most people’s bottom 50%.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
12:42 pm

Yeah, Rafe, all those millions of dollars from all those scared conservatives in 2008 and no one thought, “Hey, maybe we ought to investigate this guy!”

Ya think?

What new stuff have we learned about BO this month?

Ya’ll keep on pining for the fjords. You’ll see them some day. I promise.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
12:43 pm

well said, Reebok.

“Keepen yer hands offen my candeedate”

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 11th, 2012
12:47 pm

Hate to break it to ya, Finn and reebok, but the Romney story is on Fox News. The difference is, on Fox News, so is the alleged victim’s sisters debunking of the story.

Fair and Balanced. Doesn’t that just p*** you off?

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
12:54 pm

The victim’s sister was there when it happened? No? Oh…

but 5 guys in separate stories say pretty much the same thing?

Fair and Balanced? Hehehehehe.

You are a laugh track, Li’l Barry!

jconservative

May 11th, 2012
12:54 pm

This is how I remember it.

Going to to Nixon, presidential candidates pretty much got a pass from the press. Eisenhower’s alledged affair did not see a word in print. Ditto Kennedy.

Then Nixon and Watergate and the coverup. Most of the national press let it pass. The WaPo did not and we had a president resign.

Then the press said to itself, gee we let Nixon off and the WaPo wins all the awards. We will not do that again. So the press became more militant, if that is the correct word, towards anyone in public office.

Then came the internet, the blogs and the 1 hour news cycle. Everything became fair game.

Oh, did you hear that Bachmann no longer wants to be Swiss?

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
12:56 pm

The difference is, on Fox News, so is the alleged victim’s sisters debunking of the story.

“The difference is, I can’t tell the difference between a first hand account and a second hand account. So one is usually considered more substantial than the other? Seriously? Whoda thunk it?”

Lil Barry, where are the 5 guys who were there when it happened? When do they go on Fox News to give us some of that “Fair and Balanced” reporting we’ve come to expect from Fox News?

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
1:01 pm

When Fox brings on just 2 – two(2) – of the 5 guys that were there, then we can begin to think Fox is showing both sides of the story.

Notta gonna happen…..

Apples and Oranges

May 11th, 2012
1:03 pm

Very skillful attempt at a false equivalency Kyle. Obama was the person who wrote about his experience with the girl and expressed it as a growing experience. With Romney, someone else brought it up and he deployed the Herman Cain crisis management method….1) Claim he does not remember the incident, 2) apologize in a vague sort of manner and 3) state no disagreement with the reports and apologize even more specifically as the media attention grew.

Also, it has been awhile since I last visited your blog, but I recall you banning people that took the discussion off topic…..liberals that is. You seem to have no issues with the non-sensical and non-topical ravings of your fanboy Lil’Barry. I am with Becky…..I will leave you in the echo chamber you so desire.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 11th, 2012
1:03 pm

Finn, here’s the actual story, as opposed to your version. This is how being able to look at both sides is educational and illuminating.

Five guys in separate stories pretty much say the same thing.

One of those guys wasn’t even there, but heard about it through a third-party.

The family of the “victim” never heard about it, implying the incident wasn’t a very big thing to him, but did admit that no one knew their brother was gay until after he came out years later.

So be truthful, Finn (if that’s even possible for you), does this rise to the level of a three-page spread in the WaPo timed to come out after a pro-gay story by Obama, implying that Romney might have assaulted a gay guy who nobody knew was gay at the time by cutting his long hair back in the ’60’s?

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

May 11th, 2012
1:05 pm

$1.5 trillion deficits every year.

Nearly four years of 8-10% unemployment.

Record numbers of folks on welfare.

Two million fewer jobs than in January 2009.

In case you’ve forgotten.

Obozo has.

Jefferson

May 11th, 2012
1:05 pm

Rich kids get away with stuff others don’t.

ragnar danneskjold

May 11th, 2012
1:05 pm

I would be concerned if a candidate were a 30 year old who drove an automobile off a bridge killing a young woman who was not his wife. I would be concerned if a candidate were the state attorney general, and used his authority to quash a rape investigation. I would be concerned if a candidate defrauded a 100 year old woman in order to obtain funds to pay hush money to the mother-of-a-child not the wife of the candidate.

I do not care about alleged high school misbehavior involving people now dead. I think the obvious lack of judgment in the press usually reflects political bias of the editors.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

May 11th, 2012
1:06 pm

So, Tiberius’ “actual story” is that it’s all a big left wing conspiracy!

It’s Obama’s fault, America! Obama made Mitt bully that guy 40 years ago! Just like he called ahead to Hawaii the year he was born and asked Hawaii to set him up a birth certificate!

mwuahahahahaha

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

May 11th, 2012
1:07 pm

“When Fox brings on just 2 – two(2) – of the 5 guys that were there, then we can begin to think Fox is showing both sides of the story.”

So Fox has to bring on at least 2 guys to corroborate a story they have already corroborated in the WaPo (when no one is claiming the story isn’t true about the hair-cutting incident), but the WaPo had no obligation to follow-up with the guy’s family, Finn?

Where did you get your degree in journalism, son?