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November 17, 2009

The truth hurts: Newsweek's Palin cover


Newsweek used this photograph of Sarah Palin as this week's cover shot.

The headline reads, "How do you solve a problem like Sarah? She's bad news for the GOP--and for everybody else, too."

It's a damned good question, and I couldn't think of a better image to make the point.

Palin posed for this picture as part of a photo essay captioned Governor Palin, The Runner, which ran in the August issue of Runner's World. When I saw this image in its original context, I was appalled that a sitting governor would pose for a shot like this; or this stretching shot that puts the visual center of gravity squarely on her crotch.

Maybe Palin didn't realize that the photographer, Brian Adams, was depicting her this way. If so, he totally fucked her over. But I think she was on board with the concept. If Palin had assailed Runner's World for making fun of her, I might now take her complaint about Newsweek seriously. She liked the Runner's World spread, though. She thought it was appropriate. [NB: In an earlier version of this post, I misspelled Brian Adams' name "Bryan Adams." Today, I got an email from a firm called Web Sheriff telling me that they'd take legal action if I didn't apologize to the rock star Bryan Adams and ACI for any injury I might have caused to his reputation. So, I sincerely apologize to Bryan Adams. I wouldn't want my name associated with these ridiculous pictures either.]

There's nothing scandalous about Palin showing some skin, or wearing Spandex. But this cover image is deliberately styled to make the then-governor of Alaska look like a Vargas pinup girl. Unlike the other images in the series, this one references her status as a governor. As she poses like a swimsuit model, she's clutching one icon of political power--the Blackberry--and leaning on another. The theme isn't Sarah Palin, athlete. The theme is Sarah Palin, Sexy Governor. (As in: one of those dime store Halloween costumes: sexy cop, sexy lady bug, sexy sanitation worker...)

Predictably, Palin complained that Newsweek's use of the image was sexist. Yes, the image was plucked from its original context. The whole point was that the picture was appalling it its original context. Newsweek is holding this picture up to the world and asking: Who does this? 

The bottom line is that Palin's a clown. She doesn't get a pass because her chosen clown persona is stereotypically feminine.

She caricatures herself. Day in and day out. Good for Newsweek for pointing and laughing.

The story is about why Sarah Palin is a problem for the GOP. The picture answers the question. She's a problem because she's a freak with no judgment who regularly makes a spectacle of herself.  Obviously, she's a potential problem for America because she's an incompetent leader who supports terrible policies. But that's not Newsweek's question.

Newsweek's question is why she's bad for the GOP. The answer is that she's dragging down her party because it's impossible for adults to take her seriously. Not because she's beautiful or maternal or fit, but rather because she has no decorum, no dignity, and no common sense. I mean look at her, she's working the goofy MILF persona like that's a perfectly normal thing for a governor with presidential aspirations to be doing.

Palin's not even bad news for her party because she's ignorant or radically reactionary. Lots of American politicians are both and they do just fine. Palin has the double whammy of being ignorant and absurd. She's absolutely not ready for prime time. John McCain plucked her from obscurity as a publicity stunt and he lived to rue the day.

The tighter the wingnut base embraces her, the more clownish they reveal themselves to be.


Lindsay, I usually agree with most of what you write and am a fan of the blog, but I think you've missed this: it's blatant boys club, frat party sexism at play, wrapped very slightly in some kind of socioeconomic 'analysis' of Palin's appeal to the right. Newsweek was dead wrong, and they embarrassed themselves.

I can't stand Palin and her faux middle America rap, and the policies she endorses are generally abhorrent, but I also think she pushes some kind of weird cultural button that lets liberals say to themselves "whatever it takes to bring her down."

I think Julie Millican @Media Matters has it exactly right (echoed by Digby, Melissa McEwen and Joan Walsh):

"This is just the latest in a pattern of the media's sexist coverage of female politicians."

Newsweek ceased being a credible news source years ago. It really should start calling itself Week. Or, Weak.

Who You Gonna Call
Tel 44-(0)208-3238013
Fax 44-(0)208-3238080

Hi Lindsay (& Everyone),

Fyi, the photographer here was BrIan Adams and not BrYan Adams ... .. it would be greatly appreciated if you could correct this - unfortunately misleading - misspelling.

With Thanks & Regards,


Sarah Palin is neither working class or middle class. She is rich. Even before she was plucked out of obscurity, she was worth 1.2 million dollars. Like George Bush in a military uniform, the working class thing for Palin is pure drag.

The first thing I thought of when I saw this picture, with its staged pose and symbolic props, was a passage in John Kennedy Toole's farcical novel, "A Confederacy of Dunces" where the sexy bar owner poses as a school-teacher for pornographic pictures with props like a globe, a piece of chalk, and a book. The book prop is a used book, but happens to be a book of philosophy beloved by the novel's anti-hero hero, Ignatius Reilly.

"Oh my God!" Ignatius stared at what he saw....A nude woman was sitting on the edge of a desk next o a globe of the world. The suggested onanism with the piece of chalk intrigued Ignatius. Her face was hidden behind a large book...Ignatius scrutinized the title on the cover of the book: Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, The Consolation of Philophy "Do I believe what I am seeing? What brilliane! What taste. Good grief....."

He imagines her to be "Some destitute woman intellectual....Her worldview must be quite incisive, if her reading ,aterial was any guide. It could be that she was in the same situation...a seer and philosopher cast into a hostile century by forces beyond her control."

That's the first thing I thought of when I saw this photo - an episode from a comic novel.

Please give Newsweak a break, they could have gone with a pro lib story featuring Pelosi on the cover or a pro lib story with Palin. Given the cover is designed to sale copies, they made the bottom line choice. So who is sexist the Right who do not buy their rag, or Newsweek and their Liberal readers.

as i wrote on alas, a blog: For further context, which I think effectively reveals Newsweeks’s intent, please consider they apparently ran this image accompanying a Hitch essay on Palin, in the offending--or not so offending depending on ur POV-- issue.

Image Pic:

Well she does look like a MILF which would be lauded in some section of the girls gone wild fan belt.
Of course the bible belt is mad that newsweek used this photo instead of the more presidential ones. The lies she has propelled forth have been debunked so many times and yet she garners huge media coverage for any and all trivial activities (like facebook postings). Her base is mad coz pictures speak louder than words and her attempt to punk people into believing that she was really an intellectual, just had few bad breaks in the past will not be bought.
You see dubya was sold to us as the guy you can have beer with, and she is being sold to us as jes-regular-folks kind of person.
It won't work coz regular people don't pose in runner magazines ala MILF style.

>> but rather because she has no decorum, no dignity....

A more apt characterization of no decorum, no dignity would be, hmmmm.........., let's say, for the head of state of a proud egalitarian people to bow like a lackey before an ornamental despot.

Yes, repurposing an appropriate Runner's World photo for the cover of Newsweek, combined with the pictures inside ("sexy schoolgirl" Palin action figure? Seriously?) is sexist.

Misogyny is not suddenly OK when it's directed at someone whose politics we abhor.

Why is this so hard to grasp? There's some serious internalized misogyny going on here that is truly disappointing to see.

At least Palin didn't cover her book with a naked woman and then attend a luncheon with Bill Clinton in sexy "luncheon sweater" outerwear, because women who trade in publicly photographed sexuality have to accept the bargain they've struck for attention and not complain about sexist blowback.

Anybody want to start a pool on the date Sarah will compare herself to Rosa Parks?

I'm not saying that any photograph of Sarah Palin in running shorts would have been inappropriate. I'm saying this bizarre cheesecake rendition is inappropriate. Trust me, someone put a lot of thought into the pose and the props and the wardrobe. This isn't a candid or an action shot. It's a posed portrait in shorts, complete with patriotic props. Formal political portraiture in shorts with Blackberries is weird. It's unusual even for Runner's World. If she'd done a shoot for RW with her actually running, that would have been fine.

They intentionaly make her look like an idiot. They would never do this with Nancy Pelosi because she is a liberal Democrat. See the bias yet? Morons.

go figure wonder why this blogger doesn't like a straight white god fearing conservative woman who believes marriage should be between a man and a woman

sorry i forgot to ad HOT to that list

The Saul Alinsky Soldiers in the media and in the Democrat party are jealous they don't have a woman that is a popular, beautiful, and down to earth like Sarah.

My problem is that I would walk right past the magazine thinking that it wasn't a political mag. Before even reading a word, I would have visually written off the magazine. It is simply not what I would consider a Newsweek cover. What may be appropriate if over the top for Runner's World can be perceived differently in another context.

My feeling is that it is sexist because they would have had their own shoot done if they hadn't meant to belittle her.

And were she running for office, all the right-wing crazies would scream about her sacrilege to the U.S. flag, right?

And if you believe that, I've got an affidavit here from Dick Cheney saying the Bush administration never tortured anyone, except that courier from whom they got the Obama-born-in-Kenya birth certificate.

Will you just pay me for it, or must I sell it on eBay?

Sarah has every right to be stupid in public!! It's her right, and no on should take that from her.

Likewise, people have the right to point and laugh.

Bible Spice 2012 forever!

If she runs in panty hose, she certainly has a lot of grit and determination. Run, Sarah, run! It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of far-right partisans.

I just wanted to say that while I think that it is approprate for representatives of Bryan Adams to correct you on the whole Brian/Bryan thing, I think that the whole threat of legal action from Web Sheriff is over the top, particularly for a public figure.

As such, I am posting a satire diary, "Is Pop Musician Bryan Adams Being Investigated For His Involvement in a Child Prostitution Ring?"

BTW, it appears that Web Sheriff is a British firm, and Britain's nutzo libel laws might very well be behind their attitude.

I'm always happy when someone takes the time to alert me to a typo. When Web Sheriff pointed the typo out in the comments, and I fixed it right away. The next day I got an email from them thanking me for the correction and threatening to take legal unless I apologized. If Bryan Adams and/or his corporate representatives cares about his reputation, he/they shouldn't hire Web Sheriff to threaten bloggers over typos they've already fixed. Poor form.

Bryan Adams isn't a very unusual name, but I'm still glad there aren't more John Smiths in public life.

I trust Web Sherrif made it clear that when Bryan Adams isn't busy being a rock star, he's also a photographer and has had at least one book of photography published. That would be why they took this so seriously.

i like the photo, it may be camp, but in many ways almost all photos have that element.

i don't know about it's use on the newsweek cover. if they were taking a piss, good on 'em.

better than the media did with george bush's flight suit and his "sunny nobility"

i just think it's funny that bryan adams and company felt it necessary to correct your spelling error.

finally, it some how reminds me of a hunter thompson photo which i could not find. he's draped in a flag, in his very middle class house, skulls of various sorts adorning the mantle. same picture, all camp, completely different message communicated.

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