Ringing clarion calls for fairness can be a cinch: Find sympathetic people, unearth someone who delivered them a sucker punch, then scream “foul!” Voila. We’re righteously indignant. But what if the punch slammed someone with whom we adamantly disagree? What if a news organization cuffs a tea party leader? Is not unfairness still unfair?
Why yes. It is. So I hereby cry foul at Newsweek’s recent cover of Michele Bachman, a presidential candidate for whom I will never vote unless she falls off a horse on her political Damascus Road. The magazine was patently unfair when it selected a photo that makes her look like a crazy woman. I can see the snickering boys and girls in the newsroom pinning it to a wall and guffawing their guffaws. All well and good for the office, but not for the cover. Who among us has not winced at our own errant portraits? Have we not all appeared worthy of a Post Office wall? Slap on the ankle bracelet and keep that lunatic under a 24-hour watch. We blush. We laugh. We show the pictures to our friends so they can have their hardy-har-hars, but we don’t frame them and prop them on our desks. We edit – as did the Newsweek editors with their not-so-hidden agenda.
The photograph is actually misleading. Fact is, Bachman is … well … a “looker.” The editors could have found another image truer to her genuine appearance; instead, it seems they rifled through their photos and chose the one tailored for their headline: “The Queen of Rage.” Foul again. Bachman controls her emotions and has never shown rage in public, at least. A more defensible banner could have read: “Queen of the Raging Tea Party” (the Tea Party is raging, not Bachman), or even better, “Queen of the Gaffe.”
Not flattering, but defensible.
I’m not calling for Newsweek to be “unbiased” or “objective.” That’s the nearly unobtainable goal of daily newspapers. Magazines, at their best, have always given us educated advocacy. Newsweek initially presented the more liberal angle to answer Henry Luce’s conservative Time Magazine, which has since changed. But we can still be fair to those we criticize. Worthy coverage of Michele Bachman would probe her ideas and factual errors. As it stands, Newsweek was so obviously unfair that it’s won her sympathy from the right and left. Perhaps it garnered her votes. Once again, the real issues have been veiled in a cloud of cheap shots.
Unfairness is unfair. Period.
The magazine cover:
A truer portrait: