Barbara Boxer's hair: The news media thump another vapid story

Barbara Boxer, member of the United States Senate

Image via Wikipedia

Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina are tough women at opposite ends of the political spectrum, just engaging in  what promises to be a spirited campaign for the U.S. Senate in California.

Boxer,  a liberal Democrat, is seeking a fourth term in a horrible climate for incumbents.  Fiorina, a former chief executive for Hewlett-Packard, won the right to oppose her by handily defeating a more moderate Republican in the primary.

In a state that’s been solidly blue in its national elections for a few decades, their race will have significant national implications and should revolve around significant political differences. I say should because that depends on whether the news media can get beyond their idiotic ruminating over a throwaway comment Fiorina made  about Boxer’s hair being “sooooo yesterday,” one that, unbeknownst to Fiorina, was being recorded.

For the record, I’m a liberal who often votes Democratic. Still, I think Fiorina’s comment, which I saw on a CNN clip circulating around the Internet, was fundamentally harmless, much tamer than those made daily behind closed doors of political campaigns. She made it in the midst of innocuous chatter with an aide while waiting for a TV interview.

Fiorina was simply unfortunate enough to be caught on camera and mic.  She was unfortunate enough to live in the age of “gotcha” journalism.” And , yes.  She was unfortunate enough to be a woman, running against another woman, which apparently gives the media license to trivialize both with ludicrously earnest — but still sexist — chatter about the importance of women’s hair.

Don’t believe me?  Just look at Page 1 — yes, Page 1 —  of today’s New York Times. (OK, the piece was written by a woman, but what was the sex of the editor who put it there?)

The Times, of course, is a serious establishment. So reporter Jennifer Steinhauer even found an expert to sound off on the significance of the comment:

“If you are dissing their hair, you are dissing their personality and their lifestyle,” said Billy Lowe, a celebrity stylist who owns a hair salon in Los Angeles. “It is probably the one thing a woman spends most of her time on every day. It’s always on their minds. Your hair is your personality.”

Oh, reeeally. Don’t tell that to my wife or my two daughters. And can you imagine a quote like this in an article about two male politicians?

Would the “expert” say something like: “Their muscles are their personality?” Or perhaps, “their genitalia are their personality?”

You get the idea. The answer, of course, is that the quote would never get past the news desk.

The Times, to be fair, has had a LOT of company writing about Barbara Boxer’s hair, or, more appropriately, Carly Fiorina”s lack of tact in mentioning Barbara Boxer’s hair.  Type the exact phrase “Boxer’s hair” along with Fiorina in an advanced search and 714 results pop up, ranging from the New York Post’s Do rag: Catty Carly blasts Boxer’s hair to The Wall Street Journal’s Fiorina’s Open Mic: Boxer’s Hair ‘Sooo Yesterday.’

Granted, it’s a great tabloid story and one that has provided headline writers with a field day. But is it really the stuff of page 1 for our nation’s most weighty national newspapers?

Meanwhile, as the media once again swarm around the circus of gossip and entertainment that commands more and more of Page 1, the blogosphere and 24-7 cable, growing numbers of people in California and elsewhere are quite literally going without bread.

I’m curious: Could this have something to do with why readership and viewership is peeling away from news organizations faster than baseball stadiums empty in the late innings of a blowout game?  Should they perhaps be looking for stories with more merit, stories that serve that struggling public?

One news organization that did not go with the Fiorina story, The Times reported, was the very one at which she was awaiting an interview, ABC affiliate News 10.

“We had a vigorous editorial debate,” said Tim Geraghty, vice president and news director of News 10. “To put on a clip of an interview with someone talking about someone else’s hair did not fit with that brand we are trying to establish for News 10 in Northern California.”

To which, Mr. Geraghty, I say, “Bravo.” In today’s world of Reality TV as news, I can only hope you still have a job next month.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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