By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Right complaint, wrong picture

palin_doll_20091119A number of critics, including Sarah Palin herself, are going after Newsweek for running a cover shot of her in a sexy running outfit. Palin calls it “sexist.”

I can’t get too worked up about it. Palin, after all, posed for the shot, which was originally intended for Runner’s World. (At Beat the Press, Ralph Ranalli writes that Newsweek may have violated Runner’s World’s exclusivity deal with the freelance photographer.)

But Palin and other critics have a legitimate complaint about Newsweek’s inside photos. I haven’t picked up a Newsweek in many months, but Media Matters has the pictures — a back-to image of Palin’s shapely legs, something she most definitely did not pose for; and a photo of what Media Matters accurately describes as a “Sarah Palin-as-a-slutty-schoolgirl doll.” The latter was used to illustrate a piece by Christopher Hitchens, who is almost as overexposed as Palin herself.

The treatment is further evidence of Newsweek’s plunge into irrelevance. The New York Times this week described the magazine as repositioning itself for a smaller, more intelligent news audience.

But with garbage like this, and with recent cover headlines like “Is Your Baby Racist?”, the only thing editor Jon Meacham seems to be repositioning his magazine for is rack space next to People and Us.

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  1. Newshound

    This is an injustice to Sarah Palin, and even more so to the readers who buy the magazine based on a reputation of integrity.

    Of course we all should have a chuckle sometimes, and Mrs. Palin is certainly unique and interesting. Her comments and complaints appear brave. More importantly, she is right.

    When I was an adolescent Mad Magazine was just the thing.

    The editors of Newsweek obviously need to refresh themselves with 1 Corinthians 13:11.

  2. mike_b1

    Newshound: Using the words “Sarah Palin” and “injustice” in the same sentence in a contradiction in terms. You have a person with no intellectual curiousity, no talent, and so full of personal hypocrisy it could span the gulf between Alaska and Russia (which, of course, she can see from her house), and put them within shouting distance of the White House: Now that’s an injustice.

    Dan: I read that article on babies and race. It actually revealed some interesting science about brain development and the psychology of parenting.

    You can condemn the headline as intentionally provocative and unnecessary, of course. But your tax dollars are going to study the issue, and it seems to me Newsweek is the only MSM pointing that out.

    • Dan Kennedy

      mike_b1: With regard to “Is Your Baby Racist?”, I was talking only about the stupid, offensive cover. I didn’t read the article. I did hear Po Bronson on NPR, and it sounded like he had some interesting things to say.

      As for Palin, I continue to believe she is the worst person ever to be placed on a national ticket by a major party. My criticism of Newsweek in no way implies that I’ve changed my mind about her.

  3. To the point of the cover photo.. What is the “sex” part of someone wearing a jogging outfit? I seem to recall Bill & George being photographed while jogging.. Does sexist only apply when it’s a female? Lets be honest, she wasn’t the best VP choice based on her experience, policies or ability to garner a significant number of votes that McCain wasn’t going to otherwise get…if she looked like Madeline Albright she wouldn’t have been chosen. Think Kennedy / Nixon debate. Her time has passed, and she knows it with the content she placed in this book, not because her credentials have decreased, but because they were weak to begin with, and she is going to be a less attractive candidate as time goes on. You don’t pull an unknown out of a distant state to help you secure a voting block when you they dont have a substantial loyal following. To suggest that her ‘sex’ was irrelevant to this entire process is silly. As far as Newsweek.. you may be right.

  4. BillH

    I believe that Palin is a lightweight, but I also believe that the Newsweek cover is sexist and condescending.

  5. Renee

    When I was in high school, before the Internet, I would be in the local library researching through publications of Newsweek as a reputable source for papers like everyone else.

    If people lose faith in reputable criticism, then it gives people an excuse to end up watching and reading whatever they want for news.

  6. I hear you Renee, but take exception to your last sentence… People shouldn’t need an excuse to recieve their information from whatever source they enjoy getting it from. Conservatives love Fox because it tells them what they want to hear.. other read the USA today because they have an interest in national information, others read People because they prefer to live through other peoples’ lives. Some people tune out reality altogether because they are either indefferent, ignorant or overburdened by reality. Collectively, that’s probably a healthy element of the human condition.

  7. TomW

    I cancelled Newsweek several years ago because I already saw it moving toward more clebrity/society coverage,which held no interest for me, or going on for pages and pages about issues that could have been covered in one or two. In fact, a few years before 9/11, one issue of the magazine did not have a single article about anything outside the U.S. That’s when I started thinking about moving on.

  8. mike_b1

    TomW, I didn’t like Newsweek’s redesign this summer. It felt forced, with the random and quirky emphasized over readability. And editorially, I felt the organization lacked coherence relative to the previous book.

    But … now that I’ve had time to get used to the new format, I have to say, the book is clearly better. Like many newsweeklies, NW had fallen into the formula trap, with far too much (by percent) of the content tied up in endless ledes and pithy (yet unremarkable) conclusions. Today, freed from the one-page-and-done syndrome, features now carry much more heft and balance.

    I think the editing still overreaches — every article and item has a similar style and tone, regardless of the author — and on occasion it appears the entire book is written by Evan Thomas and Michael Isikoff, but all in all, it’s better today that it was 12 months ago.

    I credit NW for taking chances and focusing on its core audience. Like Burger King when it realized that customers eat there for their burgers and fries, not because they want salad, NW awoke to the idea that it’s better to be smaller and make money than larger and lose it.

  9. TomW

    Mike, I moved to The Economist before dropping NW and I’m glad I did. I like knowing what’g going on in many places around the world, just just a few here and there.

  10. Michael Pahre

    Dan, regarding your post itself: spot on.

    What the h@!! was Newsweek thinking to run a picture of that doll?

    Does Newsweek run a picture of the Hillary Clinton nutcracker doll (breaking nuts between her thighs) alongside stories about her work as Secretary of State?

  11. mike_b1

    Michael, I so agree! That doll is an complete insult to the tree from which it was cut. Newsweek should apologize to forests everywhere for its poor taste.

  12. Let’s see – Newsweek picturing the doll is a sleazy move, but MediaNation picturing the doll is informative.

    Boy, this new media world sure is confusing ….

    • Dan Kennedy

      Dave: So we must never depict what we are criticizing. Thank you for your novel insight. I’ll try to keep it in mind.

  13. Bill Callahan

    I thought that the doll picture captures Sarah’s status as a media icon. I took it as ironic. It is not so much a reflection on Sarah but a reflection on us reflecting on Sarah.

    I like the new Newsweek. I hope they do well – and I am going to send my re-subscription in tonight – just to spite the host of this site. 🙂

  14. O-FISH-L

    Dan wrote: “I can’t get too worked up about it. Palin, after all, posed for the shot,…”

    Dan, refresh us on your reaction to outrage from the Obama campaign in February 2008 when Hillary’s people circulated that picture of Obama wearing the traditional white headdress and matching robes during a visit to Kenya.

    As David Plouffe, Mr Obama’s campaign manager said at the time: “On the very day that Senator Clinton is giving a speech about restoring respect for America in the world, her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive, fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election.”

    Dan, did you scold Plouffe at the time? After all, Obama posed for the shot.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Fish: Palin posed for the cover of a major American magazine and it ended up on the cover of another major American magazine, albeit not one as good as Runner’s World. If she was looking forward to seeing that image in magazine racks, well, she got her wish, didn’t she? Newsweek’s cover was stupid and sexist, but that’s to be expected. It’s Newsweek, after all. If the cover line had read “Ready to Run America,” I somehow don’t think she’d be objecting to the photo.

      The better analogy is the close-up of her legs inside Newsweek, with several male worshippers looking like they’re going to lose consciousness. Like Obama in Africa, she knew people were taking her picture, but she wasn’t posing, and she had no way of knowing to what end the picture would be used.

      Did I scold Plouffe? I don’t remember, and I don’t care. There’s a search box in the upper right. Why don’t you try using it?

  15. O-FISH-L

    I tried searching David Plouffe in your search box and got this response.

    “Not Found. Sorry, you are looking for something that isn’t here.”


    • Dan Kennedy

      Fish: There was only one time during the campaign that the Obama people were complaining about a magazine cover, and my take was that they ought to grow up.

  16. Dunwich1

    I’m tempted to say Newsweek and Meacham should just go away.
    Then I think of related jobs going away too, and get a bit more tolerant.

  17. Brad Deltan

    Dude, if Palin doesn’t want to be treated like a whore, she shouldn’t act like one. Her entire political presence is based on her MILF-ness and her regurgitation of Limbaugh’s so-right-it’s-wrong talking points.

    She f**king WINKED at the audience during a goddamn VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE for Chrissakes!!! How can ANYONE take her seriously after she so shamelessly whores herself out for a just a few more seconds past her 15 minutes?!?

  18. Joey

    First, I wholly agree that Newsweek is making itself irrelevant, but that was happening long before the Palin photo spread.

    Second, how is the Palin cover shot any different than the photo of Obama widely circulated just after his election, when he was vacationing in Hawaii and someone snapped a shot of him with his shirt off? For a 47-year-old smoker, the guy had a nice set of pecs (better than mine, certainly). The image was clearly intended to show off his physique, and to give some eye-candy to the opposite gender. Nobody cried sexist then. This is just more Palin whining and more wingnut belief that any criticism of the right must by definition be proof of liberal bias. Please.

    Third, the photo of Palin’s legs isn’t a photo of her legs; it’s a photo of the three men in the mid-ground, gazing up at her. The legs are just a vehicle to prove the primary point, that Republican men were drooling over this supposedly smart, sexy, conservative woman. She’s only two of the three. I see scant evidence of any sexism or bias in these photos.

  19. Al from the North Shore

    Newsweek is beyond pathetic at this point. It usually takes me less than five minutes to get through it when I’m in a doctors’ waiting area (about the only time I read it now). I loathe Palin and agree with Dan about her selection being the worst ever (someone being worse than Dan Quayle is quite an accomplishment)–but that cover and the images are dumb.

  20. We got a Newsweek subscription as a gift, two years ago. I never cracked it open until a month or so ago. I was really impressed – I read it cover to cover. Found out that it was after their upgrade, this summer.

    They’ve had a couple of misfires; the Palin cover is as off-base and insulting as any “Jon and Kate” cover on US Weekly.

    If they can keep on track and be a serious newsmagazaine, without this type of junk, it might just pay off. I know I’d start reading it on a regular basis (well, it was free, after all …)

  21. Al from the North Shore

    thing is it USED to be a serious magazine. I started reading it more or less regularly in the 70s and it had a fair amount of gravitas. Not in recent years…

  22. Laurence Glavin

    I think that Fareed Zakaria’s article about the United States falling behind other countries in the area of competitiveness is well worth reading.

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