Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Cover Story That Newsweek Doesn't Want to Sell to America

Huffington Post
Michelle Pilecki
The Cover Story That Newsweek Doesn't Want to Sell to America

Thanks to truthout for flagging this story on "Losing Afghanistan: The Rise of Jihadistan," which appears on the cover of international editions of Newsweek, but not the U.S. version. Truthout explains

Editor's Note: Newsweek has scrubbed the cover of its United States edition for October 2, 2006. The cover of its international editions, aimed at Europe and other world regions, has maintained the original title of the story, "Losing Afghanistan." The new cover for the United States edition features photographer Annie Leibovitz and is titled "My Life in Pictures." We offer the European edition cover and story here.
- vh/TO

Although I haven't seen the printed Newsweek, I will note that the website still labels the in-depth feature on the regression in Afghanistan as its "cover story," and I assume that it did appear in print (commenters can please alert me if it did not). It's an important and timely story about the inroads the Taliban is making while the US-backed Afghan government crumbles.

Jabar Shilghari, one of Ghazni's members of Parliament, is appalled by his province's rapid reversal of fortune. Only a year ago he was freely stumping for votes throughout the province. Today it's not safe for him to return to his own village. In a recent meeting he asked Karzai for more police and soldiers; he was rebuffed by the deputy director of intelligence, who told him the Taliban threat in Ghazni is minimal. "We have patiently waited five years for change, for an end to official corruption and abuse of power and for economic development," says Shilghari, who now lives in the increasingly sequestered capital of Kabul. "But we've received nothing."

(Also check out the Q&A with President Karzai and excerpts from a Taliban recruitment video.)

As a former magazine editor, I can make an educated guess why the folks at Newsweek opted for a celebrity cover rather than a news cover: a better shot at big newstand sales. Celeb covers nearly always sell far more than mere news -- you don't need to sit through the seminars I've endured to figure that one, but the actual differences in sales can be huge. And a foreign news story, in particular, is the kiss of death for newstand sales, regardless of how important the story is.

So the powers-that-be at Newsweek figure that they can attract readers in Europe, Asia and Latin America with a dramatic cover depicting an Islamist armed with an evil-looking rocket-propelled grenade launcher that seems to be aimed right at the reader, who -- it is to be assumed -- would be thus "grabbed" by the prospect of a hard-hitting news story. American readers, on the other hand, are assumed to prefer the soft pap of Newsweek Entertainment. "The audience is stupid" is the prevailing sentiment among the people at the top of the MSM, as Harry Shearer pointed out last week: "Whether or not they actually started out stupid, your programming [or editorial] decisions may help make them stupid." It's a self-fulfilling belief.