Note to Time: You Can’t Win for Losing

Controversy, controversy, controversy! Ann Coulter is on the cover of this week’s Time magazine, which the HighVizPr blog is calling the “ultimate HighViz PR!”

The ever-raving Vern Beachy goes outside the box, commenting that “[t]his will upset liberals.” Why? “Because they’ll wonder why someone like Al Franken wasn’t featured.”

Or will they?

Common sense might dictate that Time’s choice of the venomous Coulter would send lefty bloggers into a snit, but, au contraire, it’s the rightosphere that is up in arms. John Pike, a self-described conservative Republican with libertarian tendencies, explains, “I have been trying to think of the counter version of this.” Lightbulb. “Hey, wait … they already did that,” writes Pike, following it up with graphic evidence of the July 12, 2004 Time, which featured Michael Moore on the cover.

And the Ace of Spades decides that the Coulter cover is actually “proof of media bias” against conservatives. Why? Because Coulter didn’t get a cover until now. The Ace lays down his cards:

So why did they avoid doing this previously? Why did they avoid giving Coulter her richly deserved props while simultaneously selling a boatload of magazines — which is, in case they’ve forgotten, sort of the business they’re in?

Because, of course, they’d rather make less money doing cover stories on, say, “Barney Frank’s Secret Pain” or whatever than lower themselves to giving a conservative exposure.

The Urban Grind says “it’s about time” Coulter made the cover but he halts long enough to teach the Ace of Spades a lesson about the publishing biz. The Grind argues, “It’s the publisher’s job to decide what the editorial focus of a magazine will be, what other publications it will compete against, and what the circulation, distribution and ad rates will be as well. It’s not only the job of the editors. So if their sales revenues and circulation numbers are on target, then they’re pleasing their advertisers and readers.” (Last time we checked, Time was outselling not only competitors Newsweek and U.S. News, but also People, its sister publication.)

In a further strange turn of events, the Coulter story has managed to build a bridge in the blogosphere between powerful voices on the right and left, both of which take Time’s editors to task for not properly vetting one particular photo that it printed alongside the Coulter expose. Skippy the Bush Kangaroo breaks down the error: “In [Time’s] photo gallery of anthrax [Ann Coulter] through the ages, they show a picture of the parody group ‘Communists for Kerry’ with this caption: Protesters blast Coulter at the G.O.P. convention in New York City last year.” Skippy continues, “Uh, guys … ‘Communists for Kerry’ is a satire group, the hardly-ever-right counterpart to ‘Billionaires for Bush.’ Both groups pretend to be extremist supporters of said candidates to make fun of the opposite side. As anyone with a sense of humor, or, failing that, a Lexis-Nexis subscription, could tell you.”

The Free Republic expresses comparable frustration with a thread titled, “Idiots at Time Mag Fall for Protest Warrior Satire.”

Did Time know the protest was satirical? And if so, did it feel that its readers were so clued-in that there was no need to explain that to them? Curious, we called Time to find out. No answer yet (these guys aren’t real quick on the draw), but when and if there is one, we’ll let you know.

Thomas Lang

Update, 4/18: Yesterday Time corrected the photo in its online version.

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.