In "Front-runners" profile of Edwards, four Wash. Post pieces mentioned expensive haircuts

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

In its "Front-runners" package on John Edwards, The Washington Post published four pieces that each highlighted the cost or "expensive" nature of Edwards' haircuts. The media have extensively scrutinized Edwards' haircuts, his North Carolina estate, and his work as an adviser to a hedge fund, often baselessly suggesting that they conflict with his anti-poverty campaigning.

On December 11, The Washington Post published four pieces profiling Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards that each mentioned the cost or "expensive" nature of haircuts Edwards has received. Edwards was the subject of the Post's series "The Front-runners," which the Post bills as a "revealing look at each of the leading presidential candidates." For instance:

  • In Sue Anne Pressley Montes' article, headlined "Beyond the Run of the Mill," Montes wrote, "Always describing himself as 'the son of a millworker,' he tells stories of family hardships -- the one about his father having to borrow $50, at 100 percent interest, to bring his newborn son home from the hospital is a favorite -- and says he identifies with 'the little guy.' But he does so with such glibness, and frequency, and it contrasts so greatly with who he is today -- a polished former trial lawyer worth millions -- that the truth of his biography is sometimes lost. These days, Edwards's $400 haircuts and $6 million house garner the lion's share of attention, and he is testimony to the fact that youthful good looks aren't necessarily a political asset."
  • In her article, "Holding His Own," national political reporter Anne E. Kornblut wrote that Edwards "has fared well in Democratic debates," then stated: "Still, Edwards has faced challenges of his own, namely, 'the three H's' -- his expensive haircut, his hedge fund work after the 2004 election, and his sprawling homestead in North Carolina, all seemingly at odds with his regular-guy persona and progressive agenda." Kornblut did not explain how Edwards' "expensive haircut" and "sprawling homestead" were at odds with his "progressive agenda."

As Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, the media have extensively scrutinized Edwards' haircuts, his North Carolina estate, and his work as an adviser to a hedge fund, often baselessly suggesting that they conflict with his anti-poverty campaigning. Indeed, Kornblut herself previously suggested in a July 10 Post article that Edwards' renewed focus on poverty as a campaign issue was launched to deflect attention away from "the three H's."

  • Similarly, in his piece on Edwards, "No More Mr. Nice Guy," national political reporter Dana Milbank, who writes the Post's "Washington Sketch" column, quoted Edwards saying: "What America needs right now is America needs a fighter. ... Let me tell you why we need a fighter. There's a wall around Washington, and we need to take that wall down. The American people are on the outside, and on the other side -- on the inside -- are the powerful, the well-connected and the very wealthy." Milbank then wrote: "Sounds like a bit of class warfare -- coming from a man with a 28,000-square-foot house, $30 million in assets and a $400 haircut."
  • While discussing photographer Annie Leibovitz's portrait of Edwards in her piece, "Working it," fashion editor Robin Givhan wrote that in the portrait, "the details contradict the regular-guy theme. His hair is tousled and gleaming in a way that only expensive hair can be both fabulous and mussed."

Additionally, in the print edition, the Post included a "tag cloud" graphic intended to illustrate the "40 most frequently mentioned words" respondents gave in response to the question: "What are the first three words that come to mind when you think about John Edwards?" "Hair" was included as one of the responses. According to the Post, the poll was "conducted by telephone November 28 to December 2 among a random national sample of 1,007 adults."

As Media Matters noted, Politico senior political writer Ben Smith "broke" the Edwards haircut story -- reporting in an April 16 blog entry that Edwards had spent $800 on two haircuts. The story was immediately seized upon by the media.

From Montes' "Beyond the Run of the Mill":

Always describing himself as "the son of a millworker," he tells stories of family hardships -- the one about his father having to borrow $50, at 100 percent interest, to bring his newborn son home from the hospital is a favorite -- and says he identifies with "the little guy." But he does so with such glibness, and frequency, and it contrasts so greatly with who he is today -- a polished former trial lawyer worth millions -- that the truth of his biography is sometimes lost. These days, Edwards's $400 haircuts and $6 million house garner the lion's share of attention, and he is testimony to the fact that youthful good looks aren't necessarily a political asset.

In an interview, Edwards dismisses the accusations of phoniness as "just politics." The rich-lawyer label rankles a little, though not enough for him to abandon the trappings that he has worked so hard to obtain. "What I want to say to people is 'Well, if I hadn't been successful, would that make me better qualified to be president?' " he asks.

From Kornblut's "Holding His Own":

He has fared well in Democratic debates, outperforming Obama even after the senator from Illinois forecast an aggressive match in Philadelphia on Oct. 30. Still, Edwards has faced challenges of his own, namely "the three H's" -- his expensive haircut, his hedge fund work after the 2004 election, and his sprawling homestead in North Carolina, all seemingly at odds with his regular-guy persona and progressive agenda.

From Givhan's "Working It":

In the Leibovitz portrait, the details contradict the regular-guy theme. His hair is tousled and gleaming in the way that only expensive hair can be both fabulous and mussed. His canvas work jacket is too crisp and spotless. The dog looks as if it has just come from a pampered grooming session. Edwards doesn't look like some family farmer getting ready to walk the back forty. He looks like a gentleman farmer preparing to tour his estate.

From Milbank's "No More Mr. Nice Guy":

"What America needs right now is America needs a fighter," says the candidate, who was a trial lawyer and a Democratic senator from North Carolina. "Let me tell you why we need a fighter. There's a wall around Washington, and we need to take that wall down. The American people are on the outside, and on the other side -- on the inside -- are the powerful, the well-connected and the very wealthy."

Sounds like a bit of class warfare -- coming from a man with a 28,000-square-foot house, $30 million in assets and a $400 haircut.

"This is not class warfare," he continues. "This is the truth."

And the truth is that Edwards likes to fight. He used a version of the word 23 times -- about once a minute -- in a stump speech he gave to the Democratic National Committee recently: "Who's going to stand up to those people and fight? ... This is going to be the fight of our lives. ... You can win the fight."

Posted In
Elections
Stories/Interests
John Edwards, 2008 Elections
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