Tina Brown’s Cover Shot Of Michele Bachmann Was Cruel

Lots of people like Michele Bachmann. Lots of people don’t. Maybe she’ll capture the Republican nomination. Probably she won’t

What most people seem to agree on, however, is that she is an attractive woman.

Rival John Huntsman said in a July 31 New York Magazine story, “She makes for good copy—and good photography.” Veteran pol and Tim Pawlenty advisor Vin Weber got in trouble when he told The Hill: “‘She’s got hometown appeal, she’s got ideological appeal, and, I hate to say it, but she’s got a little sex appeal too.”  Pawlenty immediately called for Weber to apologise. Back in March, Annie Groer of Politics Daily even wondered if “… Michele Bachmann (is) too thin and beautiful”… to be President.

So whatever else they think, most everyone seems to agree that Representative Bachmann is… pretty, especially for a 55-year-old mother of 5.

Not Tina Brown.

newsweek bachmann

Somehow, this week’s Newsweek managed to come up with a mean cover shot that shows the candidate in a highly unfavorable light. By approving this cover, maybe Tina somehow thinks she’s “speaking truth to power.”  It’s more likely that in her quest for continued celebrity, she’s speaking with her ego and ideology and not with good business sense.

Reaction was quick. As expected, conservatives were outraged, but even the uber liberal National organisation for Women complained.

“It’s sexist,” said NOW president Terry O’Neill. “Casting her in that expression and then adding ‘The Queen of Rage’ I think [it is] Gloria Steinem has a very simple test: If this were done to a man or would it ever be done to a man – has it ever been done to a man? Surely this has never been done to a man.”

“Who has ever called a man ‘The King of Rage?’, O’Neill continued in an interview with the Daily Caller. “Basically what Newsweek magazine – and this is important, what Newsweek magazine, not a blog, Newsweek magazine – what they are saying of a woman who is a serious contender for President of the United States of America… They are basically casting her as a nut job,” O’Neill said. “The ‘Queen of Rage’ is something you apply to wrestlers or somebody who is crazy. They didn’t even do this to Howard Dean when he had his famous scream.”

Diana Newsweek
Fail. The Diana Cover boasted just 13 ad pages.

Brown is the UK wunderkind who became editor of Tatler at 25, and then became an American citizen and edited Vanity Fair and The New Yorker between 1984 and 1998 with great success.  Sometime thereafter, however, she seemed to lose her magazine mojo, and her next project, Talk Magazine folded in January 2002 after just two years in print.Newsweek has always trailed Time Magazine, but in 2003 it boasted circulation of 2.7 million.  That figure has been declining ever since, and just last week it was announced that circulation had dropped another 5% from the first half of 2010.  By comparison, Time’s circulation rose 3.3% from a year earlier to 3.27 million.

It’s been a rough road financially for the weekly as well. Revenue tumbled 38% between 2007 and 2009 and continuing losses forced its parent, The Washington Post to unload it on 92-year-old Sidney Harmon, (husband of liberal Democrat, Congresswoman Jane Harmon) last August. The reported sales price was $1, with Harmon taking over the magazine’s liabilities.

Mr. Harmon passed away this past April. One hopes that it wasn’t this last bad business decision that did him in.

Three months later the magazine merged with the website, The Daily Beast, with Tina Brown effectively serving as editor of both entities. One can almost imagine Brown rubbing her hands  in glee after she and co-conspirator Barry Diller engineered the Newsweek takeover last fall, eager to get back to the top as the editrix who knows how to sell magazines and create buzz. But is this the way to do it?

At 64 pages, this issue of Newsweek resembles a campaign flyer, not a magazine. According to MagazineRadar, ad pages are averaging just 24.5 per issue, although the July 4th double issue with Brown’s cover story “Diana at 50″ contained just 13.8 ad pages. Newsweek was the only newsweekly to lose advertising pages in the first quarter of this year, suffering a painful 31% decline, followed by a loss of 24.5% in the second quarter, which was all under Brown’s direction. As of June 30th, ad pages are off 27.4 for the year.

Does anyone love this magazine? Advertisers seem underwhelmed, and they’d advertise in The Satanic Daily, if it sold soap. How about the public, the readers: do they love the magazine? There is no reason to believe that they do.

Palin Newsweek
Another poor Newsweek cover choice.

By all means, read the story, but don’t buy the magazine: it’s available online for free. Do you think you’ll find that the word “rage” which was featured on the cover appear anywhere in the article?. Not a single time.It’s still a free country and Tina Brown is welcome to put out any kind of magazine she wants, as long as Barry Diller keeps paying the bills. But there’s a basic problem here: publishing this kind of cover and the weak hit piece that accompanies it doesn’t make for the kind of fascinating journalism that pulls readers (and advertisers) in and makes them want come back.  Instead, Brown is talking to her friends, signaling that she is going for a very liberal, very narrow and  elite bi-coastal audience. What portion of the potential audience walks away from a cover like that –  30%, 40%, 50%?

If that’s the strategy, Newsweek will never be a successful, profitable magazine again.

If Brown wants to be the darling of the hip left, she could edit Mother Jones (circulation 200,000), or The Nation (under 150,000) or The New Republic (less than 100,000). If she wakes up tomorrow a born again Reaganite, she could knock on the door at The National Review ( 200,000) or The Weekly Standard (100,000). But if she craves the stardom that comes as editor of a major magazine participating in the national conversation, she’ll need to dial back her bias, or go back to writing endless sequals to her book The Diana Chronicles.

What a beastly thought.