Memo to Newsweek editors: Dancing Mormons may be a hit on Broadway, but they're a flop on the cover of a magazine that purports to do serious journalism.
In a move some describe as bizarre and others as insulting to a major American faith community, Newsweek magazine
unveiled a cover this week that shows presidential contender Mitt Romney dressed as as a goofy, white-shirted Bible boy kicking up his heels in excitement.
The tragedy is that it mars an otherwise respectable piece of journalism about the former Massachusetts governor — arguably the first Mormon candidate in history with a shot at winning the presidency — and the history of his faith.
Though it will be lost on many outside the incestuous circle of East Coast media elites, the photo is a sendup of the poster for the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” put together by the creators of the animated show, “South Park.” The musical's reviews have been considerably more positive than the magazine's.
The National Review’s Jim Geraghty writes
, “The article itself is not that bad, covering a lot of ground about the history of the faith and the values of the modern community. But obviously they had to feature the cover that makes the GOP frontrunner look like a lunatic.”
NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard
asked whether it is “appropriate to be focusing on a presidential candidate's religion in 2011,” and noted that Real Clear Politics' Tom Bevan tweeted, "This leaves me dumbfounded."
There is no word yet from the Romney camp on the cover. However, he is not the first candidate to get a less-than-respectable treatment on a magazine cover and certainly won’t be the last.
Back in 2000, The Nation took heat for its cover drawing that depicted George W. Bush as Mad magazine’s idiot mascot Alfred E. Neuman. A 2008 satirical New Yorker cover that showed Barack Obama dressed as a Muslim and Michelle as a militant armed with a rifle while the American flag burned in the Oval Office fireplace was criticized by both the Obama campaign and that of John McCain. Newsweek also was criticized for a cover photo of Sarah Palin in 2009 that showed her in running shorts.
Separate from the cover, the Newsweek article is a mostly positive look at Mormons and their religion, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The subhead for the story reads: “They've conquered Broadway, talk radio, the U.S. Senate — and they may win the White House. Why Mitt Romney and 6 million Mormons have the secret to success.”
The article takes a look at the church’s 181 years of history and its growth to the fourth-largest religious denomination in America and concludes the religious breeds success in business, politics and the arts.
In an interview with the Deseret News, active Mormon McKay Coppins, who co-authored the Newsweek piece,
said, “Don’t judge the story by its cover alone. I think members of the church will find that the package treats Mormonism fairly.”
“Indeed, the article – which offers a secular defense of Mormonism – reads like a sales pitch for the faith,” the Deseret News concluded.
Of course, magazine covers are supposed to sell the magazine and the right cover, with the right celebrity or image, can boost newsstand sales by the thousands and create a buzz, two things Newsweek could use.
The Washington Post, faced with circulation declines in the millions and operating losses at the magazine, sold Newsweek for the reported price of a dollar a year ago. It has since merged with the website The Daily Beast, whose editor, Tina Brown, runs both.
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