James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

James Fallows: Romney

  • More on the Haircut, in Context

    What did the candidate know, and when did he stop knowing it?

    I mentioned yesterday that picking on "sissies" seemed a familiar part of 1960s-era American high school life as I remembered it, while cutting off someone's hair did not. Many people have written in with contemporary observations. One reader from upstate New York says:

    I'm a few months older than [Romney]. The son of a postman and stay-at-home mother, the oldest of eight children (7 boys, my sister in the middle). I attended Catholic grammar and high school, the high school being all boys, then on to a Catholic college...all male but with a "sister" college down the road.

    In college, we had our share of 'hippies"...me being one..long hair, wire-rimmed glasses, protests on and off campus against the war and more. All now part of the era's myths, facts and folklore.

    I remember an incident on that college campus similar to Romney's but with a different outcome.

    Walking on campus one afternoon, I witnessed another long-hair desperately trying to elude a quartet of fellow students chasing him across a parking lot, yelling and laughing, scissors visible.

    A funny sight in some ways as all were wearing the required suitcoat and tie. Yep...even in college, at least Catholic colleges.

    Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, another student appeared from behind a car. He yelled and ran to step between the chasers and their prey which the group had now cornered. His crew-cut made him instantly recognizable to me as an acquaintance.  The chase ended. No haircut.

    I later saw Mike (the crewcut) and asked him what happened. Mike, a military veteran (there were a number of vets on campus back from Nam and elsewhere) told me that he didn't care for "hippie values", but it was unAmerican to tolerate bullies of any kind....

    Ganging up on someone reflects a certain cowardice, physical if not moral. Assault is not a "prank."

    Several people sent links to this 2005 article by Lanny Davis, about a parallel episode involving George W. Bush at Yale:

    George was not just a frat-house party boy. One of my most vivid memories is this: A few of us were in the common room one night. It was 1965, I believe -- my junior year, his sophomore. [And the same year as the reported Romney episode.] We were making our usual sarcastic commentaries on those who walked by us. A little nasty perhaps, but always with a touch of humor. On this occasion, however, someone we all believed to be gay walked by, although the word we used in those days was "queer." Someone, I'm sorry to say, snidely used that word as he walked by.

    George heard it and, most uncharacteristically, snapped: "Shut up." Then he said, in words I can remember almost verbatim: "Why don't you try walking in his shoes for a while and see how it feels before you make a comment like that?"

    Remember, this was the 1960s -- pre-Stonewall, before gay rights became a cause many of us (especially male college students) had thought much about. I remember thinking, "This guy is much deeper than I realized."

    In light of that memory, I wondered last year why Bush chose to exploit the gay marriage issue in his campaign. I'm still not sure, but I think that's what politics sometimes does to a person.

    A reader who is one year older than Romney says:

    There were 'sissy' kids and, I think, it was generally assumed that they were 'homos' (who knows if they actually were homosexual).  I think the term gay would not have been used.  It is also true that kids can be quite cruel to one another and I'm sure that those who were 'sissies' got more than their share of nastiness directed at them...

    So given the context Romney's behavior might have been more acceptable then that it would be now...

    His 'apology' seemed genuine enough when I saw it on TV, but ... the 'I'm sorry if I offended anyone" bullshit is getting old.  You assaulted the kid, drove him to the ground and cut off his hair (which he obviously thought was important enough to dye).  What's with the "IF"?

    Romney's claim that he didn't know the kid was gay is simply not believable.  With another boy on another occasion he said "atta girl" so this was on his mind and he apparently was offended by homosexuality and out to teach 'them' a lesson. In my public high school, I'm sure most of the kids with homosexual thoughts were well-closeted which made those who were effeminate or 'sissy-like' all the more unusual....

    I also don't buy at all Romney's claim that he doesn't remember it.  It is credible that he doesn't remember all the stunts he pulled in high school, but this one involved a group, a physical confrontation and a boy in tears, screaming. (if others have got the story right).  It seems to me an incident like that would stick in one's mind....

    It is germane, I think, to the election as it goes to the man's character.  His cruelty to the blind man he walked into the door (and laughed about) and this classmate and his casual attitude toward his now famous dog, bring into question what kind of person he is.  I think that's fair game.

    And from a reader who is six years younger than Romney and went to the same public high school I did:

    We all did pranks in those years. But we also remember them well. I can't think of a single episode that I witnessed, or perpetrated myself, that I do not recall vividly. These are the kinds of things in your past that stick with you. and by belittling the episode, it only makes things worse.

    As it happens, this last reader is my younger brother, on whom I inflicted at least my share of the standard older-brother torments. As I remember and regret. 

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