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John Edwards And The Case Of The "Breck Girl" Comment

In 2003, as Greg Sargent notes, the New York Times anonymously quoted a "Bush associate" calling John Edwards "the Breck Girl of politics." Now the Times' Adam Nagourney is expressing regret for helping the unnamed "associate" spread the slur. "Our story may have had the result of not only previewing what the Bush campaign intended to do, but, by introducing such memorably biting characterizations into the political dialogue, helping it," he writes.

Continues Nagourney: "Was that a mistake on our part? Perhaps… faced with the same situation again, I would press the Bush officials to be named in offering their characterizations; no justification for anonymity here. And based on my experience in trying to insist more often that sources speak on the record in this campaign season, I think I might have succeeded."

The issue is back in the news because of revelations that Edwards got two $400 haircuts paid for by his campaign. (Edwards is reimbursing his campaign $800 to cover the cost of the cuts.) Sargent writes that the "decision by many in the media to devote the amount of attention to Edwards' fair locks that they did was idiotic and indefensible." He cites an Associated Press report and a Maureen Dowd column as evidence of the media's obsession with the topic.

I understand Sargent's criticism, and it's hard to disagree completely: A haircut should not be a major election issue. At the same time, we're talking about a $400 haircut, paid for by the campaign, for a candidate who champions himself as an advocate for America's poor. Is that really something the media should simply ignore? Isn't it possible that it tells us something, even if it's just that Edwards needs to exercise better political judgment so as not to play into the criticisms favored by his political enemies?

The haircut isn't even close to a major story, of course. It's no more than a footnote, and should be treated as such. Here's hoping that Nagourney and his peers spend this election cycle covering stories like this with restraint -- and make an effort not to let themselves be used by partisans looking to score cheap, and anonymous, political points.

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