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:

Sarah Palin Newsweek Cover Sexist or Insulting

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Matt says:

    I’d say that it could be construed as sexist, if only from the perspective that Newsweek’s only real goal is to sell magazines and they employed a cheesecake photo to help that along. Love her or hate her, Palin is a non-hideous, reasonably-maintained female, and you’re probably going to have more people picking up the magazine with that picture than one in a business suit. As a bonus, Palin boosters who’d normally never buy Newsweek will pick up the issue just to have it. I think it would be naive not to think that it didn’t cross the editor’s minds.

  2. Mike says:

    looks like a People magazine cover. can you imagine if there was a picture of Hillary like that on the cover of Newsweek. I used to have a subscription to Newsweek years ago but quickly found that it wasn’t filled with news stories but rather commentary which i would rather get from other sources.

  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    McCain could draw 300. Palin drew 30,000. That is a mistake. Obviously you have not read her book James, but your advanced degree make you able to know she did not write it and you somehow know what is in it. If she didn’t write it, who did? Obama’s ghost writer? You are nothing if not an elitist. University of Idaho not good enough? I am quite sure Palins views are more in line with what most Americans want than say, yours.

  4. Anderson says:

    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.

    She posed. As an office-holder. In shorts. With flags. End of fake controversy.

    As usual, Palin absolutely refuses to take any responsibility for her own choices and actions.

  5. Mike says:

    Anderson – good point – she chose the tight shorts/top for a reason. Part of her appeal is looks and she uses that.

  6. just me says:

    You can’t convince me that those were the only photos they could have used. I don’t know that I would necessarily call it sexism, but I don’t think you would see Newsweek choose that photo for any other woman.

    And I tend to think that while the cover photo was on the cheesy side, it was at least appropriate for a running magazine where shorts and athletic wear are appropriate for a photo.

  7. Mr. Prosser says:

    The cover reminds me of the type Mad Magazine would have put up as parody of Palin, but she posed for this while in office. What if they had used the one of her sitting on the couch in the Alaska governor’s office leaning on a bearskin and looking at a giant king crab on the coffee table? Or perhaps the one with the guy slaughtering turkeys in the background? The woman’s a clown, she’s getting what she deserved and Newsweek, a dying rag, just portrayed her as she is.

  8. DL says:

    a “Problem” one must “solve.”

    This sounds very much like Obama’s view of a pregnancy. God knows that they’d like to abort her away as an inconvenience too.

  9. Observer says:

    James,

    Your complaint seems to stem from the fact that (a) Newsweek should be objective and (b) they’re painting Palin as a buffoon.

    But she is a buffoon.

    So they are being objective!

  10. sam says:

    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.

    Wait a minute. I read the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, etc, etc, etc. They all have editorial pages. They all run opinion pieces. Newsweek is different because?

    As for the photo, Little Miss Starburst uses her sexuality a political tool. Hey, but don’t ask me. Let’s let Rich Lowery, the Woodman-in-Chief at NRO, take the floor:

    Projecting through the Screen [Rich Lowry]

    A very wise TV executive once told me that the key to TV is projecting through the screen. It’s one of the keys to the success of, say, a Bill O’Reilly, who comes through the screen and grabs you by the throat. Palin too projects through the screen like crazy. I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, “Hey, I think she just winked at me.” And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can’t be learned; it’s either something you have or you don’t, and man, she’s got it.

  11. odograph says:

    Sarah posed, and the fake controversy is about Newsweek’s choice of a voluntary photo, not a sneak paparazzi shot.

    To step back, and look at it at the meta level, it’s a huge, huge, win for Newsweek. All publicity is good publicity.

    When was the last time Newsweek had a million links to their site?

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    I smell fear, jealousy, and hatred….

    Projecting through the Screen [Rich Lowry]

    A very wise TV executive once told me that the key to TV is projecting through the screen. It’s one of the keys to the success of, say, a Bill O’Reilly, who comes through the screen and grabs you by the throat. Palin too projects through the screen like crazy. I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, “Hey, I think she just winked at me.” And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can’t be learned; it’s either something you have or you don’t, and man, she’s got it.

    lol,what no tingle running down his leg?

  13. odograph says:

    Come to think of it, you guys at OTB must have come idea of the relationship between controversy and page impressions. Any guess as to the dollar value of this controversy for Newsweek?

  14. gVOR08 says:

    “you read Newsweek for detached roundups of the week’s most important events”. Ummmh, no, not so much, and certainly not since last years format change, when they took out most of the real news content.

  15. sam says:

    @GA

    I smell fear, jealousy, and hatred….

    Stop sniffing your own skivvies.

  16. hcantrall says:

    Why is so much energy spent on this woman if no one likes her or takes her seriously. Honestly it’s almost as bad as Britney Spears type of over exposure.

  17. hcantrall says:

    Why is so much energy spent on this woman if no one likes her or takes her seriously. Honestly it’s almost as bad as Britney Spears type of over exposure.

  18. odograph says:

    hcantrall … here is one explanation

  19. Herb says:

    Obviously you have not read her book James, but your advanced degree make you able to know she did not write it and you somehow know what is in it. If she didn’t write it, who did? Obama’s ghost writer?

    Geez, Zelsdorf, you assume that James is just assuming that Palin used a ghost-writer, but informed people have already heard that someone named Lynn Vincent served as Palin’s ghostwriter.

    No wonder you’re such a big fan of Sarah Palin. You’re exactly the kind of low-info voter she seeks to represent.

    Did you buy the book yet? You should. I have a feeling it’s going to be the best book you read all year…

    Mrs. Palin doth protest too much. I’m getting sick of it personally. If she’s too thin-skinned to be Gov of Alaska, or appear on the cover of Newsweek while on her book-release tour, then maybe she shouldn’t even be a celebrity.

  20. James Joyner says:

    I read the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, etc, etc, etc. They all have editorial pages. They all run opinion pieces. Newsweek is different because?

    They don’t run them on the front page.

  21. sam says:

    They don’t run them on the front page.

    As a matter of fact, papers sometimes do: google “front page editorials”

  22. Grewgills says:

    Why, it’s right there in bold text: “Sarah” (not “Governor Palin” or even “Palin” but “Sarah”) is a “Problem” one must “solve.”

    Isn’t it just a not too clever show tune reference?
    On the bright side for Palin Maria was excellent with children.

  23. odograph says:

    They don’t run them on the front page.

    What, is there a law in the magazine business?

  24. Davebo says:

    Pointing out the obvious isn’t necessarily brilliant reporting, but it’s reporting none the less.

    So the controversy for James seems to be…

    Yes, I realize Sarah Palin isn’t the sharpest bowling ball on the rack but for Newsweek to mention that Sarah Palin isn’t the sharpest bowling ball on the rack and to accentuate that story with a rather silly photo that she voluntarily posed for (and most likely staged herself) is yellow journalism.

  25. odograph says:

    The free market is all good until somebody (conservative) gets hurt.

  26. By the way, Google Ads is popping a Newsmax link for the book right onto this site. It’s headlined “Sarah’s New Book, Free Offer!”

    Text supplied by Newsmax, a right wing site. If they’re first-naming her, why can’t Newsweek?

  27. anjin-san says:

    Governor Palin

    How do you figure she rates that title? She bailed on the people in Alaska who elected her so that she could cash in.

    Perhaps when the GOP stops using the expression “Democrat Party”, they will be in some position to bitch about how its members are addressed…

  28. James Joyner says:

    If they’re first-naming her, why can’t Newsweek?

    Newsmax is a hack site and being friendly. Newsweek is supposed to be a serious, objective journalistic outlet.

    Perhaps when the GOP stops using the expression “Democrat Party”, they will be in some position to bitch about how its members are addressed…

    I’m not bitching about how left wing bloggers or Democratic Party hacks are addressing Palin but rather how one of the two major U.S. newsweeklies is doing it. Big difference.

    Beyond that, I’m pointing out that the editorial judgment is anti-Palin rather than anti-woman.

  29. odograph says:

    I expect James that the cover-content is always about retail sales. Magazines test and retest for that bottom line (sometimes giving two cities with similar demographics different covers to see which pulls the most sales).

    This isn’t about Newsweek being anti- anyone, it is about them being pro-sales.

    Do you think that’s wrong? If so, what marketing guidelines should Fox News follow?

  30. James,

    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.

    The thing is, I never expect Newsweek (or Time, etc) to be hardcore news–they are popular news magazine that traffic very much in pop culture, celebrity and their covers tend to try and make some kind of point. And you are right: forget the picture, the words tell you all you need to know about the POV. However, I think that the picture fits the POV and it is one that is hardly out of the mainstream–i.e., that she is this weird synergy of politician and celebrity (by her own design) and that she is a problem for the GOP even if some of the base of the GOP doesn’t understand it.

  31. And it sells magazines (and, no doubt, more books for Palin). It’s win-win capitalism (and I do not mean that in a snarky way at all).

    I must confess I find all the sexism talk a bit silly, at least coming from the GOP base as that segment of the population tends to dismiss the notion out of hand (e.g., Limbaugh or read Stacy McCain’s post on the subject from yesterday).

  32. James Joyner says:

    I never expect Newsweek (or Time, etc) to be hardcore news–they are popular news magazine that traffic very much in pop culture, celebrity and their covers tend to try and make some kind of point.

    That’s true so far as it goes. I think they went further with Palin than is typical, although I don’t have a cover gallery archive at my disposal.

    I think that the picture fits the POV and it is one that is hardly out of the mainstream–i.e., that she is this weird synergy of politician and celebrity (by her own design) and that she is a problem for the GOP even if some of the base of the GOP doesn’t understand it.

    I think that’s right.

  33. although I don’t have a cover gallery archive at my disposal.

    It would be an interesting exercise to give them a look. I do recall (from December 1993, I think) a cover (that I think was Newsweek’s as well) of a cartoon rendering of Speaker Gingrich as the Grinch entitled “The Gingrich that Stole Christmas).

    Indeed, a quck Google search provides it: click.

  34. anjin-san says:

    Newsweek is supposed to be a serious, objective journalistic outlet.

    So is Fox News…

  35. Highlander says:

    James,

    I know that the GOP and Democratic establishment have a deep seated fear of this washed up “insignificant” female politician. And the people of the MSM probably just dislike her for being just a so un “special” sort of person.

    And unfortunately James I am beginning to see why you have this fundamental disrespect for the woman. Every time you post concerning her it costs you credibility with a significant portion of your most loyal readers. I’d just leave her alone if I were you. If you and the elites are right, she will just disappear in the sands of time.

    My personal guess is however she is going to give all of you a lot stomach acid before she is finished.

  36. Newsweek hasn’t been about “news” for somewhere around 30 years. I could care less what they put on their cover. Why anyone takes Evan Thomas seriously boggles the mind.

  37. Democratic establishment have a deep seated fear [of Palin]

    I have seen this repeated numerous times and I find it to be a baffling position. I would wager that Palin is the candidate that the Democratic establishment most wants to face in 2012.

  38. Wayne says:

    Highlander
    I think there will be plenty of people giving the GOP and DNC elites heartburn in the coming years. The elites have been talking down to and demeaning their base\common person for a long time now and they are tired of it. They have reached their tipping point and backlash will not be pretty. It reminds me of monarchs being marched out to the gallows and one turns to another and say “why are they doing this. I thought they loved us”.

  39. Wayne says:

    As for the cover I understand what they were attempting with the picture but it just came off as her being fit to me. Non athlete type may have a different mentality.

    What offended me were the words. It was clearly a bias agenda driven story. I have never seen them treat a Dem anywhere near this bad. Newsweek is two level below the National Enquirer as a valid news source.

  40. Drew says:

    LOL

    PDS has clearly replaced Bush Derangement Syndrome.

    What’s worse (or more sad) is the straw man that Palin is dumb, while most politicians are smart. Anyone who believes that really needs to look in the mirror while spouting about dummies…….

  41. JVB says:

    For hating a woman so much, the media spends an awful lot of time letting the world in on the secret. Newsweek, however, has laid all of their cards on the table with this issue. Biased, radical left, liberal view point, meet the one person who will not run from you….Palin. They are exploiting Levi and inciting drama between the family and Levi to the full extent of their limited understanding that conservatives don’t care….just liberals. It’s become the liberal horse-and-pony show. So much time and energy wasted being scared of the something as simple as an opposing view…an opposite view point…a difference in opinion. Scary for liberals.

  42. sam says:

    BTW, for all of you buying Going Rogue. As you know, the book lacks an index. For most of her readers, accustomed as they are to comic books, which lack an index, this is no great inconvenience. But for that small percentage of you for whom an index might be useful, help has arrived: see The ‘Going Rogue’ Index.

  43. An Interested Party says:

    God knows that they’d like to abort her away as an inconvenience too.

    Ohh, on the contrary…they don’t want to abort her at all…they want her front and center…there’s no one better to help them paint conservatives and Republicans in a certain way than her…they’re probably salivating deliriously over the prospect that she could actually be the president’s opponent in 2012…

    PDS has clearly replaced Bush Derangement Syndrome.

    If that truly is the case, PDS has strong competition with ODS, as many of the comments on this blog prove…

    So much time and energy wasted being scared of the something as simple as an opposing view amused of someone as simple as she is…. Scary for liberals conservatives (if she gets the 2012 GOP nomination).

    Happy to be of help…

  44. G.A.Phillips says:

    Stop sniffing your own skivvies.

    Damn you! You’ve figure out the secret of my power!!!!!

  45. G.A.Phillips says:

    Errr, I forgot the D on figured, must have had that pic up there of our next president on my mind, ya thats it…

  46. G.A.Phillips says:

    Do you know how cool it’s going to be to have a pin up of the new President hanging over your bed? Oh sorry, I forgot a lot of you guys already do….