Time's pointless haircut journalism repeats long-debunked lie

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

In a bold challenge to the Washington Post's supremacy as the nation's leader in haircut journalism, Time magazine wastes your time with a feature on "Top Ten Expensive Haircuts." Number two on the list? "Hairgate," in which, according to Time:

For a about an hour in May 1993, two of LAX's four runways were shut down. And then-president Bill Clinton never heard the end of it. The reason for the delay was the presence of Air Force One, inside of which the president was in the throes of a $200 trim from a glamorati stylist named, fabulously, Christophe.

Clinton later insisted that he hadn't asked for (and had been told that there wasn't) a hold on air traffic while "Hair Force One" sat on the runway. Yet scheduled flights had already been forced to circle, people had already been made hours late, and "Hairgate" solidified an opinion in some quarters of Clinton's out-of-touch excesses.

Good story -- but it's complete bunk.

Newsday reported on June 30, 1993:

The story was that planes were kept circling as President Bill Clinton had his hair clipped on Air Force One at Los Angeles airport last month.

...

But the reports were wrong.

According to Federal Aviation Administration records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the May 18 haircut caused no significant delays of regularly scheduled passenger flights - no circling planes, no traffic jams on the runways.

Commuter airlines that fly routes reportedly affected by the president's haircut confirmed they have no record of delays that day.

The FAA records, generated by the regional Air Route Traffic Control Center, show that an unscheduled air taxi flight had the only delay attributed to the closure of two runways for an hour in anticipation of Air Force One's departure. The air taxi took off 17 minutes after leaving the gate -- two minutes late, by FAA accounting.

"If you understand the air traffic system, you'd find that statement [that planes were circling] ludicrous," said Fred O'Donnell, an FAA spokesman at the agency's Western-Pacific regional office, which responded to New York Newsday's May 21 request under the freedom of information law.

O'Donnell said that although two runways were closed, traffic was light that afternoon and arriving flights were simply diverted to the two other runways. "It did not cause any problems," he said.

UPDATE: Time has amended and corrected its false claim. Here's the new version:

The media widely reported that scheduled flights had been forced to circle, that runways were jammed and that people were made hours late, though a Newsday report later that year showed that there were no significant delays. By then, however, "Hairgate" had already become a public-relations nightmare and solidified an opinion in some quarters of Clinton's out-of-touch excesses. What made it doubly awkward was that it occurred while the President was struggling to get Congress to pass a deficit-reduction bill.

An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that flights and passengers had been delayed several hours by the President's haircut.

Seems like this whole fiasco should be "doubly awkward" for the news outlets that spread ludicrous falsehoods years after those falsehoods were debunked, to the point that they're forced to run corrections on news reports about haircuts. But maybe that's just me.

Network/Outlet
Time Magazine
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