Presumptive US Republican nominee Mitt Romney has apologised for high school pranks that "may have gone too far," - but insisted he did not remember a reported assault on a student who was presumed to be gay.
"Back in high school, you know, I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, why obviously I apologise," Romney told Fox News Radio host Brian Kilmeade just hours after The Washington Post published an explosive profile of Romney during his teen years.
The interview was a clear effort to ward off criticism of Romney as an insensitive bully during his high school years, a day after his rival for the White House, Barack Obama, became the first president to publicly support gay marriage.
"I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some may have gone too far, and for that I apologise," Romney said.
But when it came to the attack detailed in the Post, which said Romney led a group of friends who held down a student they presumed was gay while Romney cut the boy's hair, the candidate chuckled and said "I don't remember that incident."
The article describes Romney's time at the elite Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in the mid-1960s, and quotes several Romney classmates by name who recently recalled the incident to the Post.
Romney apparently led the attack against student John Lauber, who was "perpetually teased for his non-conformity and presumed homosexuality," and whose bleached-blonde hair draped over one eye, the paper said.
"He can't look like that. That's wrong. Just look at him!" Romney told friend Matthew Friedemann at the time, according to Friedemann's recollection in the Post.
The assault "happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me," the paper quoted Thomas Buford, one of the students who held down Lauber while Romney cut his hair, according to the account.
Buford, now a retired prosecutor, had later apologised to Lauber, who he said was "terrified."
"What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do," he told the Post, which quoted several other classmates corroborating the story.
As for the suggestion that the attack may have been motivated by the victim's sexual orientation, Romney said "that was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s. So that was not the case."
The lengthy article has drawn attention, coming less that 24 hours after Obama's landmark announcement backing gay marriage.
Romney, who opposes gay marriage, said Wednesday, "I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman."
"I know other people have differing views, and this is a tender and sensitive topic," he said.