If you turned on the TV yesterday, you probably caught Donald Trump asking a random audience member at a press conference to yank on his hair to check if it was real.
It’s a clear example of the sort of stunt that tells us nothing about a candidate and has no bearing on the 2016 presidential race or any of the issues facing the country, and yet receives wall-to-wall coverage for being mildly entertaining. Trump held his press conference in South Carolina in the early afternoon, ensuring that footage of Mary Margaret Bannister -- a registered Republican and the wife of South Carolina House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister -- yanking on his hair would dominate primetime coverage.
MSNBC played the clip on "PoliticsNation" with Al Sharpton, "Hardball" with Chris Matthews, "The Rachel Maddow Show" and "The Last Word" with Lawrence O'Donnell.
CNN was just as bad. "Erin Burnett OutFront," "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer," "The Lead With Jake Tapper" and "Legal View With Ashleigh Banfield" all dedicated precious airtime to informing viewers about Trump’s coif. CNN’s Noah Gray even published an exclusive interview with Bannister, who opined that Trump used “definitely a combination of hair gel and hairspray” to style his hair.
Fox News' Sean Hannity, Greta Van Susteren and Neil Cavuto also played the clip.
To their credit, the broadcast networks spent considerably less time discussing Trump’s hair, though ABC, NBC and CBS all covered it in their nightly newscasts.
The problem isn't that some levity made its way into 2016 coverage, or that the networks covered it at all. It’s that this sort of fluff gets played over and over on the news, crowding out substance. Every moment that’s spent discussing the styling products Trump might use or gawking at his helicopter could be spent covering the substantive policy debates that will shape the future of the country.