September 11, 2007

bald-headed lies?

britney-bald2.jpgA debate is brewing over the recent New York Times article exposing the secrets of hair-donation charities. In the original article, freelancer Elizabeth Hayt wrote,

But although charities have been highly effective at stirring the passions of donors, they have been less successful at finding a use for the mountains of hair sent to them as a result. As much as 80 percent of the hair donated to Locks of Love, the best known of the charities, is unusable for its wigs, the group says. Many people are unaware of the hair donation guidelines and send in hair that is gray, wet or moldy, too short, or too processed, some of which is immediately thrown away. Even hair that survives the winnowing may not go to the gravely ill, but may be sold to help pay for charities’ organizational costs.

When I read it, I thought it was a good, well-reported piece. And it may well be. But Locks of Love isn't having it. Romenesko links to an article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy about LoL's objections, but the real action is over at the blog of Trent Stamp, president of Charity Navigator. Stamp was contacted by Locks of Love and summarized the group's complaints.

The New York Times says that, according to Locks of Love themselves, "80% of the hair donated to Locks of Love is unusable" and thus thrown out. Locks of Love president Madonna Coffman says she has no idea where the Times got that number. According to her, "the only hair that is ever thrown out is hair that has been swept off the floor or has become moldy from being packaged wet over a long period of time, prior to receipt."

As several commenters noted, LoL doesn't actually say that they don't throw out 80% of donated hair -- maybe that's how much is unusable. One commenter crunches the numbers LoL provides on its own site and finds the Times' analysis plausible.

But here's the juicy part:

Locks of Love says that the reporter in question, Elizabeth Hayt, acknowledged to them that her editors asked her to dig up "negative information." When she was unable to find any such information, Locks of Love says she resorted to "inaccurate quotations," "created quotes," and made up "conversations that did not occur." In a telephone discussion with Ms. Coffman of Locks of Love on Friday, she told me that the reporter from the Times had called her in tears, apologizing for what the Times editors had done to her story and the reputation of Locks and Love.

I know from personal experience that editors do sometimes push for negative information (though I'm surprised to see it happen in the Styles section) but that's part of their job. If there's negative information out there about a charity, we call that news. But making up quotes and conversations to appease them is a no-no. And crying to a source because you betrayed them is just tacky. Everyone knows journalism is morally indefensible. Drown your regrets in whiskey like the rest of us.

It's hard to tell from Stamp's version of Coffman's version of Hayt's version what's really going on here and who, if anyone, is at fault. But I'd love to have some answers. We can wait till Clark Hoyt gets around to investigating, but why? Hayt has a blog where she can speak for herself. (Warning: plays bad music) (Also: I'm totally adding pictures like that to my blog). So, Elizabeth: did you make stuff up about Locks of Love, or is Coffman making up stuff about you?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


You can quibble all you want, but the fact remains that in this country, convincing people to shave their heads and then throwing out their hair is a 2-billion dollar industry.

How do you make someone who has survived working with David Lee Roth for three whole months cry?

It's never easy to find the lie between Love and Hayt.

Man, you weren't kidding about the bad music.

I let my hair grow out for two years in order to donate for this cause. During that time, I found accusations on the web that proposed that Locks of Love was guilty of some inappropriate accounting...

The allegations claimed that administrative costs were being accounted for as program expenses.

To most people, this would not matter... but as I have a Finance Degree, it prickled my attention.

In order for a company to exist as a "non-profit" organization in the United States, there are limits as to where the monies go... otherwise, the company becomes taxable.

Because there is much inaccurate information on the web, as well as reliable information, I took the time to at least try to contact the folks at Locks of Love.

I explained that I understood the selling of some hair in order to pay for the costs of wig making, but before I could donate, I needed to know the percentage chance that my donation would ever make it onto the head of a child.

I proposed that if it were not likely ( and I gave a thorough account of my own hair)that it would be better for me to just send them money... because my estimates projected that even the cost of postage would be more than what "bulk hair" sells for.

I never got a response.

I have a plastic bag here in my home, that has in it hair of appropriate length, never colored, never bleached... attended with more care than I have ever given my hair before in my life, so as to try to have it as strong and healthy as possible ( healthy as a descriptive only, as hairs are comprised of strands of dead protein)...

I let it grow for all the right reasons... but I have a bad feeling about these folks if the will not answer me when I asked them to respond and tell me whatever were true and accurate... so I could feel good about sending hair, or even money...

If the journalist that was looking for un-found "dirt" is still hunting, perhaps she needs to sick the IRS on Locks of Love to review the books.

The number of wigs made and given at the time I was researching this was quite small... a few hundred if that.

I gave the folks running the "charity" all of my concerns and the chance to respond... they did not.

I'm inclined to believe these folks are working the system to milk a nice living out of people who believe that they are helping children in need.

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