First came Time magazine's controversial breast-feeding cover. Now, rival Newsweek has made a bid for media attention with its May 21 issue declaring Barack Obama the country's "first gay president" and adorning the commander-in-chief with a rainbow halo.
The cover story was written by Andrew Sullivan, the popular—and openly gay—political blogger, and looks at Obama's decision to support gay marriage. Newsweek posted the cover image on its Facebook page a day before it hit newsstands and iPads, with the message, "Presenting this week's cover: Barack Obama, the first gay president. Click 'like' if you like it! Let's hear your thoughts." Thoughts poured in, of course, and over 500 predominately negative comments ranged from "Are you serious? This is a horrible way to mock the real issue, I'm very disappointed with Newsweek. Consider me as a past subscriber, I am canceling my subscription," to "horrible, senseless, over-dramatic."
On Twitter, @Newsweek has attempted to get a #FirstGayPresident hashtag trend by tweeting pictures of the cover and linking to the article. Newsweek was not coy about its attempt to steal thunder from Time—it retweeted this tweet from @NYdailynews: "Take that, breastfeeding mom! Newsweek names Obama 'The First Gay President.'"
Rival publications trying to one-up each other with provocative covers is nothing new, but Newsweek's Obama cover is too obvious a publicity-seeking ploy, and smells of desperation from old media. The Obama cover won't exactly enhance Newsweek's reputation for credibility and seriousness. Let's see if it results in a bump in subscriptions. That was the happy result for Time: It sold more online subscriptions the day the breast-feeding cover was released than it did all of the week before.
Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg