Recycling the media haircut charade

Published August 17, 2004 3:20PM (EDT)

New York Daily News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove put some real gumshoe work into his lead item today, a report that John Kerrys camp flew out a Washington stylist to a campaign stop in Oregon in order to cut Kerrys hair. The item, trumpeted by Drudge, who has been on the Democratic haircut beat all year, is supposed to lampoon Kerry for being a rich, liberal hypocrite.

Perhaps the only interesting portion of the gossip item comes at the end, when Grove tries to tie the Kerry caper to the famous case in 1993 when the Washington Post reported that president Clinton got a haircut from a celebrity stylist onboard Air Force One at LAX. Back then, writes Grove, there were reports that the notorious haircut-on-the-tarmac caused delays in commercial air traffic. But yesterday there was no evidence that Kerry's haircut made anyone late.

Note Groves careful wording about how there were reports, without coming right out and saying Clintons trim caused delays. Journalism, even the gossip variety, doesnt get much more disingenuous than this. While there were erroneous reports in the Post about delays, FAA records, according to Newsday, proved categorically that no commercial flights were ever delayed at LAX by the Clinton haircut. Of course that didnt stop the Post, and the rest of the Beltway press, from pounding the man-made controversy for weeks; the haircut symbolized something very, very important, we were told.

But that summer things soon got so out of hand -- the Post cited the haircut story more than 50 times, nine times in front-page stories -- that the papers ombudsman had to devote an entire column to the matter, slapping reporters hands for doing the absolute minimum to clear up any confusion about nonexistent flight delays caused by Clinton.

Its curious that in trying to hype the Kerry haircut item, Grove, who worked at the Washington Post at the time of the Air Force One flap, forgets the facts of the Clinton case.

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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