By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2007 7:30 AM
Things are a bit hairy in the blogosphere these days.
The issue du jour is John Edwards's haircut--two of them, to be precise--at $400 a pop.
You might think that this would be too trivial to spark a major online debate, but hair matters, apparently. It's a metaphor for . . . well, for something very important.
Liberal bloggers are saying that either a) Edwards is getting a bum rap; b) the media are to blame, or c) Edwards should have known better.
I have no particular expertise in this matter, since my neighborhood place charges only $14. But I've gotten a lot of haircuts in my life--some even as much as $30!
What triggered the debate was a Maureen Dowd column in which she said America is not ready for a "metrosexual" as president:
"John Edwards has reminded us that even -- or especially -- in the age of appearances, you must not appear to care too much about appearances.
"When you spend more on a couple of haircuts than Burundi's per capita G.D.P. , it looks so vain it makes Paul Wolfowitz's ablutions spitting on his comb look like rugged individualism.
"Following his star turn primping his hair for two minutes on a YouTube video to the tune of 'I Feel Pretty,' Mr. Edwards this week had to pay back the $800 charged to his campaign for two shearings at Torrenueva Hair Designs in Beverly Hills. He seems intent on proving that he is a Breck Girl -- and a Material Boy."
Breck Girl, by the way, was a shot taken anonymously by a Bush aide in the NYT during the last campaign.
Blogger Garance Franke-Ruta can't get over the size of the bill (which involved the stylist traveling to wherever Edwards was):
"I guess this one isn't going to go away that quickly. Maureen Dowd rips into John Edwards for receiving two $400 haircuts from Torreneuva Hair Designs in Beverly Hills . . .
"I know several female on-air television personalities who spend considerably less than this on haircuts, though Japanese straightening treatments can take them into the over $500 range. I can't imagine Edwards spent $400 for just a haircut. That seems excessive, even for a top salon, given how short his hair is, how basic his style is, and given that men's cuts generally run less than women's."
Japanese straightening treatments?
Matthew Yglesias says it's all Dowd's fault:
"To me what makes this sort of crap doubly aggravating is her refusal to even take responsibility for what she's doing. Dowd doesn't want to wake up and say, 'I'm using my New York Times column to argue that John Edwards would be a bad president because he got some expensive haircuts.' She won't come out and write: 'John Edwards' expensive haircuts indicate to me that he would be a bad president.' If she wrote that, after all, it would be obvious that she was being idiotic. Why, after all, would you think that the price of Edwards' haircuts is an important indicator of what kind of job he'd do as president.
"So, instead, she writes a column which is nominally about how other people will find his haircuts objectionable."
But Ezra Klein blames the candidate:
"What I don't understand is John Edwards. A presidential campaign demands so many sacrifices. It rips you from your family, forces a ceaseless travel schedule, demands constant kowtowing to parochial primary voters, demands endless humiliating fundraising calls, and imposes a thousand indignities and inconveniences, some major, some minor. So why, in all that he is giving up, did he not eschew the big house or the costly cut?
"To be clear, for all I care, Edwards can live in Versailles and give Alan Greenspan gold bricks to cut his hair. But every Democratic presidential candidate since Clinton has been tagged for expensive haircuts. Everyone knows appearances matter, and populist credibility is harmed by accusations of opulent personal habits."
And Cenk Uygur puts the blame on . . . conservatives!
"When is the mainstream media ever going to catch on to the obvious right-wing smears that pop up every election cycle? This week we were treated to the same old political trick the Republicans do to almost every Democratic presidential candidate -- the expensive haircut!
"How many times do you have to see this movie before you get bored by it? Or even catch on to what's happening? Remember Bill Clinton's supposed $200 haircut? That was later completely disproved, but the late night comedians got a hold it and it was way too late. The damage was done already. How many people heard those jokes and heard conservative radio and Fox News Channel talking about it? Millions upon millions. How many heard that it was later shown to be untrue? Maybe eight people, maybe.
"Then it was John Kerry's $75 haircut. Then that got bumped up to a $1,000 haircut. And one conservative blogger estimated that it even cost $15,000. Other than the fact that this is absurd, why do you think we never hear about Republican candidates' haircuts? You don't think we could find one Republican getting a $75 haircut? How about Mitt Romney? It looks like it would cost $75 just for the gel he puts in his hair everyday."
Just to clarify: Clinton did get a $200 haircut on a plane at LAX; what turned out to be untrue was that air traffic was held up during that time. And Edwards' costly snipping (blame inflation) came out because he disclosed it in his FEC spending report.
Another potential flap for Edwards, as observed by Roger Simon:
"Does John Edwards include Jews in his prayers? Or Muslims? Or Hindus? Or any other non-Christians?
"He didn't the other day. The other day, in order to commemorate those killed at Virginia Tech, Edwards led a prayer 'in Christ's name' . . .
"Edwards has a perfect right to pray publicly or privately any way he wants to. But people who are not Christians often feel left out of prayers like his."
I think it's fair to say the president is in the minority on this one:
"President Bush said Monday that the Congressional testimony of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales last week, roundly panned by members of both parties, in a way had 'increased my confidence in his ability to do the job.' "
Apparently he did a heckuva job.
"Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is trying to do something few have done: Outlive a Washington scandal. And he's trying to do it with little or no support from Republicans in Congress," says the Boston Globe.
And look! The Gonzo-Meter is down, from 95 percent to 85 percent.
Here's an objective headline in the New York Post, about Harry Reid:
" 'WHITE FLAG' HARRY FUROR/ White House: Pullout Plan a Death Sentence."
So . . . it's been only a few weeks since Al Gore's movie won the Oscar and the rumors are starting up again. I've learned to be skeptical about British "scoops" about American politics, but here's a report in the Telegraph:
"Friends of Al Gore have secretly started assembling a campaign team in preparation for the former American vice-president to make a fresh bid for the White House.
"Two members of Mr Gore's staff from his unsuccessful attempt in 2000 say they have been approached to see if they would be available to work with him again. Mr Gore, President Bill Clinton's deputy, has said he wants to concentrate on publicising the need to combat climate change, a case made in his film, An Inconvenient Truth, which won him an Oscar this year.
"But, aware that he may step into the wide open race for the White House, former strategists are sounding out a shadow team that could run his campaign at short notice. In approaching former campaign staff, including political strategists and communications officials, they are making clear they are not acting on formal instructions from Mr Gore, 59, but have not been asked to stop."
Well, Bill Clinton did say on Larry King that Gore might run. Gore pal Marty Peretz reacts in the New Republic:
"Is this true? Or is it not? I couldn't reach my source(s). But all of this news (or maybe it is just speculation or wishful-thinking) tells you how much of a clamor there is for him to run. Even Bill Clinton thinks he might. This would not be good for Hillary. In fact, it would be a disaster. What do you think about a Gore-Obama ticket, particularly if Obama falters a bit?"
I would think Peretz would know if this was really happening.
I do trust the British press on all things Diana, including this Daily Mail report on Tina Brown's forthcoming book:
"Princess Diana was a manipulative schemer who was ruthless in her pursuit of Prince Charles, a bombshell book will claim."
Historian David Greenberg has an interesting piece arguing that the media can no longer distinguish between high crimes and misdemeanors:
"Just hours after devouring Don Imus for his slurs against the Rutgers University women's basketball team, the media pack was already circling fresh quarry. As the leather-faced hate jock fast became a bad memory, the scandal jackals were, by last weekend, starting to chew up a new menu of reprobates, from U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales to World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz to Durham County, N.C., Dist. Atty. Michael B. Nifong. Next week, surely, still other offenders will face the media maw.
"I am not defending these guys . . . But the speed and ferocity of the attacks against them and the harsh tenor of the discourse -- in these scandals and others like them -- hardly reflect a dispassionate pursuit of justice. It's impossible to measure a quality as intangible as public hunger for punishment. But it seems to me that in the last decade or so, a strain of intolerance and vengefulness has spread throughout our culture. Vocal swaths of the public, amplified by the media, have been expressing a primitive, unquenchable desire to inflict stern penalties on supposed wrongdoers -- no matter how obscure the offender or how minor the offense.
"We've repeatedly failed to distinguish among capital crimes, misdemeanors and innocence. We summon the same level of indignation for someone like Gonzales, who apparently tried to turn a professional corps of attorneys into a partisan prosecutorial force, as for someone like the hapless John Kerry after he bungled a joke about the troops last fall and was almost forced into premature retirement . . .
"Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, for instance, inadvertently plagiarized -- and was mercilessly pilloried in the media for it. She was subsequently removed from various positions, even though she (unlike the unrepentant historian Stephen Ambrose) apologized at length and resolved to make amends. Some moralists called for another eminent historian, Joseph Ellis of Mount Holyoke College, to be sacked for telling tall tales in the classroom about having served in Vietnam; he was suspended for a year. The sloppy, sexist remarks that former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers made about women and science deserved a reprimand, but they didn't justify the loss of his job, which came fast and furious last spring."
So much for journalistic standards; check out this San Francisco Chronicle piece:
"Former Chronicle Managing Editor Jerry Roberts on Sunday denounced a front-page story in the Santa Barbara News-Press concerning images found on the hard drive of a computer he used when he worked at the News-Press before quitting last year in a bitter dispute over the ethics of the paper's owner and management.
"The paper, Santa Barbara's largest, said in the story -- which appeared Sunday -- that a data recovery expert it hired last summer found images of child and adult pornography on the hard drive. Police, the paper said, later found more than 15,000 such images.
"Eric Hanson, chief trial deputy for Santa Barbara County District Attorney Christie Stanley, told Santa Barbara police in a letter March 2 that there is no way of knowing who put the images on the computer 'given that multiple persons had either access to or use of the computer during its several-year existence at the News-Press.' The newspaper purchased the computer secondhand . . .
"Roberts said at a news conference Sunday that he was considering legal action against the newspaper over the story. 'Today's front page story smearing and libeling me is utterly false, defamatory and malicious -- and published with knowledge that, as to me, it is completely untrue,' Roberts said. 'My family and I are outraged beyond measure at this desperate attempt to ruin my reputation.'
"Roberts said that whoever wrote the story -- which ran without a byline -- did not contact him for a response before publication."
Nice piece of work, huh?
Is McCain getting more unpopular? TPM's Greg Sargent says that has been overlooked:
"So is it possible that John McCain has the same 'electability' problem -- or even conceivably a worse one -- than Hillary does? A new poll suggests that it's time to at least ask this question. But will the pundits ask it?
"As you all know, the notion that Hillary is so polarizing and disliked that she may not be electable in a general election is etched deeply into the sacred tablets bearing the Pundit Codes of 2008. Here, for instance, is a very partial list of all the pundits/commentators/reporters who have raised the 'electability' question about Hillary:
"Stuart Rothenberg, Tucker Carlson, Chris Matthews, Kenneth Walsh, Karen Tumulty, Charlie Cook, Adam Nagourney, etc.
"But now check out these numbers buried in the new Washington Post/ABC News poll:
" If (NAME) wins the (Democratic/Republican) nomination for president would you definitely vote for (him/her) in the general election for president in 2008, would you consider voting for (him/her) or would you definitely not vote for (him/her)?
"Hillary Clinton: Definitely would, 27%; Would consider, 26%; Definitely would not, 45%
"John McCain: Definitely would, 12%; Would consider, 39%; Definitely would not, 47%
"As you can see, McCain has edged higher than Hillary in the 'definitely would not' category."
The first call for Harry Reid to quit, from Bill Kristol on Fox News:
"If he believes it is lost, he has an absolute responsibility to cut off that funding and bring those troops home as soon as possible -- three months, six months, maybe, not 15 months, which is the appropriations bill that he just supported with this gradual withdrawal. I really think it's a disgrace. And Trent Lott, who was Senate majority leader in December 2002, was forced to resign by a rebellion within his own party because he had praised Strom Thurmond at a 100th birthday dinner for him. He had made it seem that the country would have been better off if we had followed segregationist policies back 40 years ago. What Harry Reid said is much more disgraceful than anything Trent Lott said. And I do think Democrats should ask Harry Reid step down."
Turning back to Edwards, the Nation's John Nichols-- without even mentioning the haircut!--analyzes his hiring of Howard Dean guru Joe Trippi:
"The hire is another indication of how hard the Edwards Campaign is working to win over the netroots. Former Bush Campaign webmaster Patrick Ruffini even argues that bringing Trippi on board effectively 'solidifies Edwards as the candidate of the netroots.' Edwards did win this week's Daily Kos straw poll by his widest margin yet. But the same poll showed Obama with a solid 25 percent, and he won this month's MoveOn straw poll on Iraq.
"The big difference is that Obama's online support is growing without major netroots outreach -- he is definitely the only candidate to criticize Daily Kos as predictable and uninteresting -- while Edwards is making the most deliberate appeals, from leading the charge against Fox News to offering bloggers a direct line to senior staff (like Deputy Campaign Manager Jonathan Prince) to recruiting Trippi."
Hey--I'd also like a direct line. I wonder if there's a special red phone that he picks up.
Television democracy? From the jury selection in the Phil Spector murder trial:
"One prospective juror said she believes Spector is guilty and did not think she could keep an open mind. The juror said her opinion was influenced by Nancy Grace, an acerbic CNN crime show host who has said of Spector on her program 'he's got mommy issues or wife issues or girl issues -- I don't care.' "
Kim Basinger says she didn't leak the voice-mail of ex-hubby Alec Baldwin's rant at their 11-year-old daughter, but: "She called Baldwin 'unstable' and 'irrational,' and said she had hired security after the media storm that followed the release of the voicemail, 'to allow Ireland to maintain her regular routine.' "
Notice she didn't say that nobody leaked it on her behalf.