Newsweek's Bachmann Photo Isn't Sexist, It's Just Unflattering

Michele Bachmann should expected to be treated like a presidential candidate, even if that means being mistreated like one.

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Rep. Michele Bachmann, an unusually attractive woman, looks less than stunning on the cover of the current Newsweek, which promotes a profile of the GOP contender with the headline, "The Queen of Rage." And the photo has drawn an astonishingly angry reaction from both conservatives and feminists alike.

[Weigh in: Did Newsweek go too far with its Michele Bachmann cover?]

Why? It's not a doctored photo. The image wasn't manipulated to make her look more ominous—certainly, it's nothing like the Time magazine cover of O.J. Simpson that appeared to have been altered to make the then-murder suspect look darker skinned. True, her eyes have a somewhat crazed looked about them, but Bachmann's primary appeal is her defiance of everything Obama—for that matter, of just about everything related to government. So it's not a candidate for the Facebook photo. Is there any reason to jump to the woman's defense as though she were some sort of fragile little girl being bullied at school? [See photos of Michele Bachmann.]

Conservatives claim the so-called liberal media meant to make her look crazy. Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women was quoted calling the image "sexist," and remarking that a magazine would not have done that to a male candidate. That should provide a much-needed chuckle to male politicians, who have learned that newspapers and magazines often find the least flattering photo to be the most newsworthy one. If times are tough—and that's been true for some time—President Obama's photo in the paper will almost always be the one shot where he wiped his brow, or appeared to hold his head in his hands. Politicians in both parties who make strong statements on an issue know to expect to see photos of themselves with their mouths wide open and twisted. Those photos are evocative, but not flattering. [Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]

And the "Queen of Rage" moniker? Bachmann has made no bones about the fact that she is angry about the way the country is being run, and she's made some pretty sharp comments about the president and other politicians she opposes. She embraced the "birther" lie about Obama's citizenship. She should be prepared to have a cover line with the word "rage." In fact, she should be pretty pleased that she's on the cover at all, given the fact that her candidacy was laughed off early on by media and political figures. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]

Bachmann's a presidential candidate, and she should expect to be treated as one—even if that means being mistreated as one. During the 1992 campaign, Hillary Clinton—mouth open and eyes bugged out—was featured on the cover of the New York Daily News, with the headline, "Well, Shut My Mouth!" The headline referred to an interview someone else had given to Vanity Fair about the Clintons, and employed a Southern expression which means, basically, "You don't say?" Admirably, Clinton was a good sport about it, and didn't complain. In fact, she told a Daily News reporter at the time she thought it was hilarious. Since then, Clinton—despite having distinguished herself as a cerebral public policy leader and relentlessly hard-working Secretary of State—has had to put up with numerous unflattering photos of her in the media. If it bothers her, she keeps it to herself. Most likely, like others in public life, she ignores the photo choices to focus on more important issues in the world.

Bachmann brushed off the Newsweek photo, suggesting that she, too, has more important priorities than the attractiveness of her photo on the cover of a magazine. There's nothing sexist about printing an unflattering photo. What is sexist is the supposition that a woman would fall apart over such an insignificant matter.

  • Vote: Did Newsweek go too far with the Bachmann cover?
  • See a slide show of who's in and out for the GOP in 2012.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the GOP hopefuls.