Leading the story with appearances of politicians

One frustrating aspect of political coverage is the common emphasis on the appearance of politicians. This is particularly common in stories about female politicians: the story often has to start with a quick summary of how (appropriate or fashionable) they look. Perhaps this is to be expected in a culture that prizes attractiveness and youth. But this emphasis can cross gender lines. Just consider this summary of Mitch Daniels found in the third paragraph of a story in a recent edition of Newsweek:

If you’ve heard anything about Indiana’s very slight, very balding, very unimposing governor—and that’s a big if—it’s probably just the opposite: that he couldn’t possibly win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, and that even if he did, his chances of defeating Obama in the general election would be close to nil. The reasons, they say, are many. At 5 feet 7 (in boots), Daniels is shorter than Obama’s 12-year-old daughter, Malia. His rather uninspiring demeanor—reticent, stiff, and slightly skittish, with darting eyes and long blanks between words—better suits a former director of the Office of Management and Budget, which he happens to be, than a leader of the free world. And his comb-over is borderline delusional. As conservative journalist Andrew Ferguson recently put it, “I see [Daniels] as he strides toward the middle of the stage to shake hands with Obama before the first debate and comes up to the president’s navel. Election over.”

There are lots of reasons you could disagree with Mitch Daniels – the story goes on to discuss some of these points. But what do his height, “uninspiring demeanor,” and hair have to do with his ability to govern?