White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Jan. 7, 2014.
Susan Walsh/AP

Yes, Jay Carney grew a beard, but so what?


When Jay Carney walked into the Brady Press Briefing Room for the first time after the holiday break, he was not greeted with polite salutations from the assembled members of the White House Press Corps. Neither was his entrance into the room treated with apathy. Instead, there were gasps and groans and laughs. Off-camera reporters said things like “Wow!” and “Whoa!” and “What happened?”

The cause of this uproar? Jay Carney had grown a… wait for it… beard!

Twitter, predictably, asploded with the usual laughs and snark (and some praise).

The Carney beard also made The New York Times feel secure in declaring that beards are “mainstream.” The Style Section piece, headlined, “The Brooklyn Beard Goes Mainstream,” declared:

The beard, until recently the scruffy fashion statement of the plaid-shirt-and-craft-beer creative underclass, has lately been institutionalized, co-opted by The Man not only in the form of pinstripe-clad Beltway insiders, but by Wall Street titans, professional sports golden boys, Us Weekly cover boys and morning-show television hosts.

Forget biker chic or even mixologist chic. For beard purists, Mr. Carney’s adoption of the whiskered look marked an inevitable mainstreaming of a look that defined a subculture.

I have tried repeatedly to reach “The Man” for comment about his facial hair co-optation, but my attempts thus far have been unsuccessful. While declaring the beard mainstream in its headline, The Times also repeatedly used language to suggest the otherness of the bearded. Additional phrases used to describe beards by The Times included:

  • “unthinkable, at least by Washington standards”
  • “Bushwick-inflected fashion”
  • “lumberjack-chic”
  • “conspicuous facial hair”
  • “the L-train look” (referring to the New York subway line that services Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Bushwick neighborhoods)
  • “the misfit beard”

The Times also pointed to NFL player Andrew Luck and his playoff beard this way:

Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts’ Stanford-educated quarterback, mounted an epic playoff comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend wearing a beard (which some referred to as a “neard,” or neck beard) that made him look like a bit player in “Deliverance.”

It seems to me that the article’s stated point–arguing that beards are suddenly and now “mainstream” –is undermined by a tone of incredulity around the idea that a football player who went to Stanford has one. It also tells me that the Style section and The Opinion Pages must not intermingle at New York Times office parties, because the Times’ own Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has had a beard for as long as I can remember. A beard which can clearly been seen in his photo on the Times website.

It’s easy to mock the Times for this piece. GQ magazine went as far in a blog post to suggest because the paper highlighted beards, beards are thus now “uncool.” But looking at the totality of the reaction since the debut of the Carney beard, I’m left asking the question: what’s the big deal?

Full disclosure and as evidenced by my own online staff photo, I have a beard. I also have tattoos, which according to at least one university study, should make me more difficult to employ. All things being equal, that shouldn’t be the case. The Carney beard should also not be a big freaking deal, either. It should merit the same level of attention one gets when sporting a new haircut for the first time.

I think the reaction is more a sad statement on Washington’s sameness than the otherness of places like Brooklyn. To be sure, growing a beard to some is an affectation done because there are people who think that’s what the “cool” kids are doing so they do it, too. But for most of us though, we grow beards because we want to… and we really don’t care what “The Man” or anyone else thinks about it.

The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 1/10/14, 5:52 PM ET

The Carney beard freakout

As the White House Press Corps. got back to business after the holiday break, Press Secretary Jay Carney entered the room to gasps, ‘Woahs!’, and questions like, ‘What happened?’ All because he dared not to shave the beard he grew while on vacation.

Jay Carney and Social Media

Yes, Jay Carney grew a beard, but so what?