Newsweek exploits Bachmann, female politicians

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 8, 2011 - 3:13 PM

Newsweek cover of presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota.

Photo: File, Associated Press

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The news magazine that recently featured Sarah Palin in a Hooters waitress-like outfit is at it again.

This time, the female presidential contender with the this-candidate-can’t-be-taken-seriously cover shot is Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

Bachmann, who is currently leading the latest Iowa poll, stares out from Newsweek magazine’s Aug. 15 cover. Unlike Palin, who wore a form-fitting, breast-amplifying hoodie, Bachmann is at least dressed for success with pearls and a nice jacket. The trouble isn’t what she’s wearing. It’s her intense, off-kilter look.

The headline underneath a smiling, no-so-angry photo of Bachmann with the blaring, evil witch caption: “The Queen of Rage.” It might as well say “Crazy Eyes.’’ Bachmann’s eyes are open wider than normal — just for the record, I’ve had portrait photographers tell me to do the same —  her smile is forced, and her chin tilted unnaturally upward.

The photo isn’t just unflattering. It goes way beyond that, making the three-term Congresswoman look unbalanced. It’s the kind of photo you expect to see in a political attack ad, not on the cover of a mainstream news magazine. And that’s the issue here.

Bachmann’s politics unquestionably are suspect. This page has criticized her numerous times, most recently for her reckless position against lifting the debt ceiling.

But running a cover photo that makes her look like a loon  — and not the nice Minnesota state bird — crosses a line, especially for a once-venerable news institution like Newsweek.

It’s unclear if the photo was chosen for this reason. In an emailed statement, Newsweek officials said the photo was not doctored in any way, and was shot in Washington, D.C. by Chris Buck. 

It was chosen, according to Creative Director Dirk Barnett, because  “Candidate Bachmann has emerged as a legitimate voice as we look ahead to the 2012 elections. We felt it was an important moment to have her on Newsweek’s cover.’’

But it’s hard to believe that the photo session with Buck didn’t yield photos that didn’t make Bachmann look like a kook. Or, that there weren’t other usable photos out there of this limelight-loving presidential frontrunner.

Picking this one makes Newsweek look like a partisan tabloid just as the Rupert Murdoch phone-hacking scandal has disgusted the world and revealed how some British tabloids abused the freedom of the press. Newsweek is now run by Brit Tina Brown.

The Bachmann photo isn’t likely to deter her legions of followers. She is much brighter than the national press gives her credit for. She is also sincere in her beliefs,  which makes her a powerful saleswoman for her positions, no matter how wrongheaded they may be.

For Bachmann supporters, the magazine photo just fuels everything they already believe about the mainstream media’s biases.

Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin is also raising fair concerns about unflattering photos of other conservative women, among them Condoleeza Rice. I’d say that the many ghastly shots of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s cankles and pantsuits through the years suggest gender is the issue, not politics.

Women in the public eye not only get evaluated for their views, but for their looks. Consider Minnesota politico Vin Weber’s recent statement about Bachmann’s “sex appeal.’’

Those who dismiss this as political correct pablum should first have to show a cover photo equivalent of a male politician.

Until there’s one of Mitt Romney on a bad hair day, Tim Pawlenty mid-yawn or New Jersey’s supersized Gov. Chris Christie tucking into a sandwich he doesn’t need to eat, the debate is far from over about the double standard for women candidates.

Jill Burcum is a Star Tribune editorial writer.

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