Newsweek’s Sarah Palin Cover
Newsweek‘s choice of cover art for its Sarah Palin issue has managed to generate controversy for three days now, finally prompting a response from the editors. The salient passage:
To note that choosing that particular photograph has ruffled a few feathers is perhaps an understatement. Palin denounced it—and us—to her million-strong Facebook following last night. “The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this ‘news’ magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant,” she wrote on her fan page, adding, “The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now.” She also told ABC’s Barbara Walters that she found the cover “a wee bit degrading.” Others, like CBN’s David Brody, said our cover was a new low: “biased and sexist at the same time.”
Today, Newsweek’s Editor Jon Meacham has responded to critics. “We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover, which is what we always try to do,” Meacham said. “We apply the same test to photographs of any public figure, male or female: does the image convey what we are saying? That is a gender-neutral standard.”
As with June’s controversy over Sarah Palin’s toenails, the issue here isn’t so much sexism as it is contempt for the erstwhile vice presidential nominee as a serious public figure. Indeed, the “theme of the cover” could not be more clear: Palin’s a buffoon. Why, it’s right there in bold text: “Sarah” (not “Governor Palin” or even “Palin” but “Sarah”) is a “Problem” one must “solve.” Lest one miss that not-so-subtle message, the subhead goes on to inform us that “She’s bad news for the GOP — and for everybody else, too.”
Now, as regular readers are painfully aware, I’m not a big fan of Palin. I thought she was a disastrous choice for the nomination from the instant it was announced and hope very much that her brand of silly populism isn’t the future of the Republican Party.
Then again, OTB is a journal of opinion, not a news magazine. You come here to read the signed analysis of our writers whereas, presumably, you read Newsweek for detached roundups of the week’s most important events.
It’s odd enough for Newsweek to have two opinion pieces on Palin, an out-of-office politician who’s peddling a book she almost certainly didn’t write, in the issue. Let alone that they’re both negative. (“Palin’s Base Appeal” by Christopher Hitchens and “Gone Rogue – How Sarah Palin Hurts the GOP and the Country” by Evan Thomas.) But to add insult to injury by choosing to portray Palin on the cover in a way that they would never use for any other former governor or vice presidential nominee — male or female — is beyond the boundaries of objective journalism.
Yes, Palin posed for those photos. For Runner’s World. What she was thinking when she agreed to pose for the cheesy ones with the flags — which have very little to do with running or fitness — I don’t know. At the time, I wrote that “Palin has crossed the line from politician to pop culture celebrity,” an assertion of which I’m even more confident today. But, again, that’s a fair point for political commentary, not for an outlet purporting to be covering the news.
UPDATE: Until seeing some traffic to it in my referral logs, I’d completely forgotten about the “Newsweek Sarah Palin Cover Outrage!” from October 2008. That one featured a non-airbrushed close-up of Palin’s face and a Jon Meacham cover story titled “She’s One of the Folks (And that’s the problem).” I sense a trend.