On October 13, 2008, Newsweek ran this cover:
And for November 2009, Newsweek runs this cover:
For the October cover, the photo is a close-up of the populist governor of Alaska, before she prematurely left office. It exposes the flaws in everyone’s face, and Newsweek decided not to retouch the photo. Perhaps they were making a statement of Palin being a populist governor with nothing to hide: she likes us and is like us. Yet, a long line of research in women and politics shows that media outlets tend to focus on the physical features of women candidates more so than men, and Newsweek’s cover for October and November follow that script.
Newsweek had this to say, officially:
“We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover, which is what we always try to do,” Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham said. “We apply the same test to photographs of any public figure, male or female: does the image convey what we are saying? That is a gender-neutral standard.”
Sarah Palin had this to say:
The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this “news” magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant. The Runner’s World magazine one-page profile for which this photo was taken was all about health and fitness – a subject to which I am devoted and which is critically important to this nation. The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention – even if out of context.
Eleanor Clift of Newsweek wondered why the conservative media ran to her defense, and comes up with this explanation:
Why do right-wing men rush to Sarah’s side to defend her? My theory is that this is payback time. They’ve been called sexist and racist, and subjected to media ridicule of their allegedly retro views. Palin is their way to push back against the elites that have marginalized them.
Clift goes on to call Palin “mediocre:”
Palin embodies the backlash against the intellectual and geographical elites that the folks who live in flyover country blame for wrecking the economy and denigrating their values. She’s a vehicle for their rage. After all, there is something to be said for mediocrity, declared Republican Sen. Roman Hruska in 1970 defending G. Harrold Carswell, an undistinguished Supreme Court nominee who was ultimately rejected by the Senate. In the words that immortalized him more than anything else, he said of Carswell, “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters, and Cardozos.” Substitute whatever names you like for those legal giants, and you’ll plumb the whys and wherefores of Palin’s appeal. She’s ordinary folk, and in times like these, when the elites have messed up, the segment of society that feels most marginalized?white, working-class men who more often than not are conservative?have found their heroine.
Palin is right to call this sexism. Could there be no other photo of her other than that which exposes her legs? Why not the same type of photos the magazine has run of men: in business atire, with serious faces? Newsweek wanted to poke fun at Palin, but in the process that kept to the same sexist script major media outlets use to portray woman candidates in America. I think anyone — conservative or no — should denounce this script. It is possible that conservatives are sensitive to being called sexist, but for the women running for office who are the victims of sexism, such sensitivity — and outrage – is justified.