I can’t believe it. I’m actually finding myself sort-of agreeing with Sarah Palin about something. Newsweek’s new cover is, at best, deeply weird. Some might argue that since Palin posed for that photo in the first place, she shouldn’t be calling its use by Newsweek sexist.
The problem is the use of that photo, ripped out of its context of an interview with Runner’s World and plopped onto the cover of a hard news magazine, is odd, to say the least. I completely fail to see how it passes editor Jon Meacham’s test of conveying the message the magazine is trying to send. How does a picture of Palin posing in running gear that appeared in Runner’s World (which, incidentally, is a completely normal kind of image that you would see of any famous person in that magazine’s “I’m a Runner” series) in conjunction with an article about running in any way convey or reinforce the message that she is bad news for for both the Republican Party and the country as a whole? By the way, that message is one I wholeheartedly agree with, lest you think I’m defending Palin here.
Maybe Newsweek is trying to make some connection between her willingness to do such a magazine interview and photo shoot with the evils of populism, but I can’t see how that connection can be realistically made. It’s incredibly tenuous at best. She was photographed in running gear that, being a sub-four-hour marathoner, she presumably uses regularly while discussing running in a magazine about running. While I agree with the basic and necessarily brutal assessment of Sarah Palin that she’s essentially the Second Coming of William Jennings Bryan minus any sense of economic justice, that cover doesn’t help make that point.
Think about it this way: we all know George W. Bush is an avid distance runner and that John Kerry is a world-class windsurfer for his age group. We all know that there are plenty of photographs of Bush in running gear and of Kerry in windsurfing attire, some of which have appeared in magazines devoted to their respective sports. Have any of those ever been put onto the cover of a hard news magazine to make some kind of point about someone’s impact on our political process? I’ve never seen this done with a male politician, so why is it okay to do with a female one?
I wouldn’t go so far as Palin in saying that Newsweek’s cover is “oh-so-expected” of the magazine’s coverage or perspective. I will agree, though, that the decision to use it is “out-of-context” and, if not consciously sexist, at least rooted in some level of unconscious sexism.
I believe some of the failure to notice this arises from “the boy who cried wolf” syndrome. Here we have a politician who has always been despicably quick to falsely claim unfair treatment and cynically play the victim to boost her political career. As a result, the first time something genuinely strange in media coverage does pop up, we’re slow to see it.