The Times' Jennifer Steinhauer jumped on Carly Fiorina for a gaffe she made to an open microphone the day after winning California's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate race against Sen. Barbara Boxer: "An Early Campaign Gaffe Makes a Non-Issue Big."
The Times played a double game, admitting the pittance of the issue while simultaneously using it as a club against Fiorina's November prospects.
You can parse a voting record. Flip-flops - political ones - are fair game. But don't talk about a woman's hair.
In one of those classic campaign gaffes, Carly Fiorina, the Republican nominee for the Senate seat held by Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat, was caught mocking Ms. Boxer's hair into an open microphone on Wednesday. She also had a few tough words about the newly minted Republican candidate for governor and her B.F.F.-on-the-stump, Meg Whitman.
Ms. Fiorina's comments were, all told, really no more incendiary than a bit of warm pasta salad - who hasn't indulged in some off-the-record chitchat about the grooming habits of others now and then? But they presented her with a political problem that could haunt her throughout the campaign.
Only if the Times makes a big deal out of it - like Steinhauer did in her Friday story, using the incident as a metaphor for campaign criticisms of Fiorina:
They both inform and confirm the image from her days as chief executive at Hewlett-Packard that she is tart and unpleasant. And they open the entire campaign to perceptions, however tired or unfair, that women can be dragged down the road of pettiness, perceptions that detract from the serious and pressing issues of the day.
Steinhauer, who, as Times Watch documented yesterday, labeled Republican Senate primary winner Sharron Angle of Nevada a "far-right conservative," pumped the story into a scandal for Fiorina, even referencing a supposedly "vicious" ad by Fiorina:
....after commentary on the passion for hamburgers shared by her husband and male staff members, Ms. Fiorina somehow pivoted to the locks of her Democratic opponent.
"Laura saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone says, 'God, what is that hair?' Soooooooo yesterday," Ms. Fiorina said, scrolling, scrolling.
Even in the age of uncivil talk-show discourse and vicious campaign advertisements - Ms. Fiorina's campaign constructed one that depicted her primary opponent as a possessed sheep - physical appearance, especially hair, is a place most candidates and their staff are careful not to go.
You can follow Times Watch on Twitter.