Obama 'First Gay President' Newsweek Cover Aims At Controversy

Norman Byrd's picture

The latest Newsweek cover story by Andrew Sullivan is provocative. The magazine's cover is just as controversial. A rainbow-haloed -- gayloed -- President Obama on the cover with a title reading "The First Gay President" was designed for reaction. And it is getting just that.

Controversial magazine covers are nothing new. Some are unintentionally controversial or intentionally noncontroversial but many are designed to provoke some type of response -- mostly geared toward prompting a potential consumer to buy the edition or issue in question. Such is the latest Newsweek cover, which features President Barack Obama with a rainbow halo above his head. It is the cover for the title piece by Andrew Sullivan, "The First Gay President."

The Newsweek cover contains the determined visage of the president, who announced his support of gay marriage last week, slightly tilted upward in that familiar "broader scope" look, a look that conveys the idea that the individual depicted is a visionary, an individual that can see beyond what's in the present or an obstacle set in front of them. The halo above his head conveys a few other things: symbolic in both religious and gay circles. The rainbow pattern is, of course, the universal symbol of the gay rights movement and those adhering to a gay or LGBT lifestyle. The halo confers a saintliness, a holiness, or simply a good deed done.

The images are meant to incite and evoke a response. It's the nature of the business.

And then there is that title piece, "The First Gay President." Although Obama is not gay and the title is a reflection of Pulitzer Prize-winner Toni Morrison's labeling of President Bill Clinton as the "first black president," the label will undoubtedly provoke various reactions from the anti-homosexual and anti-gay marriage factions throughout the United States (and possibly around the world). Many of them will not be pleasant, some will undoubtedly be personal, and quite a few will be associated with politics.

If one were to think that the Newsweek cover was an intentionally provocative piece, one need only go so far as Tina Brown, Newsweek's editor, for confirmation. When first presented with rival news magazine Time's breastfeeding slash attachment parenting cover, Brown reportedly said, "Let the games begin."

As for the rainbow halo, which Brown refers to as a "gaylo," the editor explained to Politico by email: " “If President Clinton was the ‘first black president’ then Obama earns every stripe in that ‘gaylo’ with last week’s gay marriage proclamation. Newsweek’s cover pays tribute to his newly ordained place in history.”

The Obama "gay president" cover doesn't appear to be as controversial or even as shocking as many have found the recent Time magazine cover on Attachment Parenting -- a controversial subject in itself but made moreso by the Time cover showing a blond woman, defiantly standing with one hand on a hip and the other pressing into the back of a young boy who is breastfeeding -- one that many might consider just a little too old to be doing so. Still, it is causing a bit of excitement in the media and on the Internet.

But it isn't as though one has come to think of Newsweek without thinking purposely controversial as of late, especially with regard to its covers. Instead of allowing the "games" begin, Tina Brown seems to have a history of presenting controversial covers.

The cover of a wild-eyed ("crazy" was term use by many) Rep. Michele Bachmann when she was the cover story of Newsweek in August 2011 in her role as a 2012 presidential contender caused an uproar, especially among Bachmann supporters and Republicans that found the photo unflattering, misleading, and unprofessional. Many also found that placing the latest royal sensation Kate Middleton in a side-by-side with the late Princess Diana was an affront. And then there was another cover where the words mattered more than the cover art, another article by Andrew Sullivan, a known social conservative, asking, "Why Are Obama's Critics So Dumb?"

But before anyone can blame Tina Brown for a propensity to push for the provocative (which, after all, is a sales technique -- and part of her job), it must be remembered that Newsweek went for the sensational even before her tenure, which began in 2010. It is unlikely that many have forgotten the Sarah Palin running issue (November 2009), which was labeled sexist by more than a few.

A "first gay president" is a first. The "gaylo" just might be as well. But Tina Brown is simply carrying on a time-tested marketing strategy to keep her publication relevant. Besides, simply put: controversy sells.

(photo credit: Financial Times, Creative Commons)

Add new comment