'The Queen of Rage'

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Paul Waldman on the now infamous Newsweek cover:


On the other hand, they did pick a photo where she looks crazed. Bachmann does sometimes look that way, but presumably they had lots of shots from which to choose. I wouldn't be surprised if Newsweek chief Tina Brown, who knows a thing or two about buzz, picked that photo because she knew it would generate controversy. And it worked! 

The "Queen of Rage" headline is where things get interesting. Is that accurate? To a degree, in the sense that Bachmann's primary appeal is to the GOP's angry wing. Her constituency is the resentful, the conspiracy-minded, the get-government's-hands-off-my-Medicare crowd (this applies to Bachmann herself, who personally profits from farm subsidies and Medicaid payments while decrying the tyranny of government spending). If you're looking for a sensible, experienced manager, Bachmann is not your candidate. 

What's interesting, though, is that as she stokes and profits from angry voters, she is extremely careful to keep a smile on her face. If Newsweek put an unflattering picture of Sarah Palin on its cover, you can bet she'd be whining about the lamestream media and their campaign to keep her down. But Bachmann hasn't said a thing about the Newsweek cover. She knows there's nothing to be gained by complaining, and the controversy is actually great for her.

I was turning this over in my head this morning: Would Newsweek label Rick Perry "The King of Rage?" I don't know. Maybe that isn't the right comparison.

But I do know that, as a writer, I really hate when editors pick an image that totally overshadows the story. The goal is to draw eyeballs, of course. The challenge, however, is drawing eyeballs to the actual story. I am speaking non-cynically, and assuming an editorship that really does think about more than making magazines fly off the stands. Even assuming that that's all they want, you don't want to be that writer. For the rest of your career, you'll be answering for that image. Not your editor. Not the photographer.

It goes without saying that I would have picked a different picture, mostly because I don't enjoy spectacle. Everyone takes unflattering photos. But not everyone believes that emancipation would have been inhumane. I don't much like watching media go for the face. I've always prefered the jugular.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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