It’s Day Two of the controversial Michele Bachmann Newsweek cover....which means the mini-scandal is just about played out. These uproars are like summer squalls: Loud, messy and will probably pass with no lasting damage.
Missed it? Editor Tina Brown, mistress of stunt covers, chose an unflattering portrait of Bachmann looking. . . well, a little off. The GOP presidential hopeful stayed above the fray, but many others found the image sexist, anti-conservative, or both.
“You’ve resorted to recycling bottom-of-the-barrel moonbat photo clichés about conservative female public figures and their enraged ‘crazy eyes?’ Really?” wrote commentator Michelle Malkin on her blog.
The bi-partisan backlash forced Brown to tweet a defense (“Michele Bachmann’s intensity is galvanising voters in Iowa right now and Newsweek’s cover captures that”) and release other, less crazy looking photos from the shoot.
Magazine covers are, by definition, supposed to attract attention. Brown outraged royal fans last month by Photoshopping a creepy-looking Princess Diana next to Kate Middleton; in June, she plopped Mitt Romney’s head on a dancer from Broadway’s ”Book of Mormon.” Brown’s predecessor grabbed a pose of Sarah Palin in tiny jogging shorts — originally intended for “Runners World” — for a 2009 Newsweek cover. Palin called it sexist; editor Jon Meacham said it was “gender-neutral” and the “most interesting image” available.
But for all the sound and fury, here’s the bottom line: It doesn’t really hurt the candidates and rarely influences voters. In short, it doesn’t matter.
“The shelf life of outrage for these covers tend to be brief,” said W. Joseph Campbell, professor of Communications at American University. “Most media consumers are not going to remember these.”
A collection of the most controversial magazine covers, compiled by designers, includes the famous 1991 Vanity Fair image of a pregnant Demi Moore and the classic National Lampoon cover from 1973 with a gun pointed at a dog’s head: “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.” There are just a few political figures — a 1998 Time cover with Bill Clinton (the “M” made little devil horns over his head), a 2000 Esquire image of Clinton posed with his legs spread (criticized as a cheap Lewinsky shot), and the New Yorker’s 2008 “Politics of Fear” cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama dressed as terrorists.
The most memorable of all the covers, Campbell told us, is the 1994 Time story that depicts O.J. Simpson’s mug shot — with a menacing look and darkened skin — after his arrest for murdering his wife. “That’s the one people still recall” said Campbell, because the story was so huge and it was the first time a news organization clearly tampered with a photo.
His take on the Bachmann cover? “It comes down to good taste and judgment. If this were my call, I’d say let’s go with another image.”