Does Nancy Pelosi’s unfortunate trip to a hair salon have any news value? Or is it much a hairdo about nothing?
Compared to the big stories of the day, it hardly matters. The country faces violent disorder, we’re unsure who will become our next president and millions of people are trying to get back to work and school. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, ‘It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of one person getting a shampoo and blow-out don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.’
But even in this crazy world, Pelosi’s misstep deserves some attention because it so perfectly encapsulates a larger, more troubling problem. Insiders like Pelosi are allowed to play by a different set of rules than the rest of us. Worse, they think they are entitled to receive this preferential treatment. That’s particularly irksome when they actually work for us, as politicians and bureaucrats do. It’s hypocrisy, too, when you have been lecturing us for months to accept the lockdown, wear masks and bear the pain, as Pelosi has.
You and I cannot go to a salon in San Francisco because they are legally closed. But Nancy can. You and I must wear masks nearly everywhere ‘to protect the public’. But not Nancy, unless she knows the cameras are on her. She claims to represent working people, but she requires them to follow rules that don’t apply to her.
This is precisely what people hate about powerful politicians, celebrities and billionaires. They cut to the front of the line and actually think it’s their right to do so. Pelosi actually had the gall to complain that she was ‘set up’ by the salon owner who’s been at risk of losing her business these past six months. When the peasants raise an objection, the privileged class is genuinely surprised and outraged — not at themselves, but at the people who caught them, the reporters who asked and the lowly aides who screwed up.
Pelosi has plenty of company. Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot visited a closed salon herself and caught some flak. Her lame excuse? Lots of people look at her. When the dangerous demonstrations that rage across the city moved toward her residential block, she deployed police to stop them. Her justification? She and her family deserve safety. They certainly do (and more than most because she is subject to more threats), but what about everybody else in Chicago? Don’t they deserve something better than broken windows, looted and boarded-up stores, free-fire zones in bad neighborhoods and a city prosecutor who sits on her hands crying ‘social justice’? In Seattle, we saw the same hypocrisy and entitlement when the city councilors who voted to defund police added extra security for themselves, at taxpayers’ expense. In New York, we saw it when celebrities flying private to the MTV Video Music Awards were allowed to duck the velvet ropes and skip the 14-day quarantine imposed on other travelers.
Pelosi’s visit to the hair salon encapsulates this broader problem of entitlement, hypocrisy and two-tier justice. The story won’t have legs though, because the legacy media will cut it off at the knees. Why? The country’s major news organizations are on her side, politically. Most of them reported her mistake briefly and then moved on. Almost all are now partisan instruments, loathe to dwell on anything that might hurt ‘their side’ and eager to highlight anything that hurts their opponents. Opinion shows on Fox News do the same for conservatives, but they are far outnumbered. Since viewers and readers can choose sources that reflect their views, they can avoid stories that challenge them.
This media fragmentation and the flagrant bias exhibited by so many once-reputable outlets has consequences far deeper than Pelosi’s blow dry. It means the Washington Post, which did so much to uncover Watergate, has maintained radio silence on the scandals surrounding the Obama-era FBI, Department of Justice and CIA. They are ignoring the problems now emerging with Robert Mueller and Andrew Weissmann’s investigation. Was there a proper legal basis for their work? Did they hide exculpatory evidence? Did their FISA warrants break the law? The Post, New York Times and other mainstream media are avoiding these questions, just as they avoided Devin Nunes’s serious probe of the investigators’ abuses. They were too busy repeating Adam Schiff’s worthless stories about Russian collusion, contradicted by the sworn testimony he kept hidden.
This willful blindness means those Pulitzer Prizes, given out for ‘deeply sourced reporting’ about these major stories, are risible. But nobody should be laughing. The joke is on us.
Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Program on International Politics, Economics and Security.