More on that BusinessWeek cover

A firestorm over its unintentionally inflammatory art

My post on this unfortunate Bloomberg BusinessWeek cover touched off a wave of fury on the intertubes this morning.

First, there’s a lot of nonsense going around about whether BW was intentionally racist, which is silly. The problem here is that the magazine just flat missed how the cover would be construed.

The cover artist was Andres Guzman, a native of Peru who says, in an email passed along by BusinessWeek that, “The assignment was an illustration about housing. I simply drew the family like that because those are the kind of families I know. I am Latino and grew up around plenty of mixed families.” (On a totally uninteresting side note: Here’s where I make sure to link to Matt Yglesias, who had the Guzman statement first, at least. Yglesias’ link-and-credit-stingy aggregation four hours after my post is pretty irritating, particularly since folks like the NYT and New York credit him with the story. Good thing I’m not paid by the click!).

It surely wasn’t Guzman’s intent to draw a racially insensitive picture, and his own racial background is mostly irrelevant. The real problem is, as I wrote, that the picture made it through a BW editorial structure that is well familiar with American racial history and imagery, and onto the cover of the magazine. Part of the point of having an institution is to keep things like this from happening. This passed through too many editorial gatekeepers who missed the problem with the cover. It’s the whole machine that’s responsible for what it spits out.

The actual story itself, which is very good, has nothing to say about minorities in particular. But as I noted in my previous post, a publication has to be aware of the concerted effort to misdirect blame for the subprime crisis from the banks who caused it to the lower-income blacks and Latinos who were disproportionately victimized in it. And it has to see how its image would play right into that—even if the caricatures hadn’t unintentionally resembled racist cartoons from a hundred years ago.

The National Association of Black Journalists says this today:

“The image that was published by Bloomberg BusinessWeek is just a microcosm of a bigger problem in the magazine industry—the lack of diversity,” said NABJ President Gregory Lee Jr. “The last presidential election demonstrated that our nation’s demographics are changing rapidly and it is essential that media companies should make the appropriate changes to welcome diversity in their newsrooms, specifically in managerial positions.”

The irony here, though, is that BW may have taken false comfort from the fact the artist himself was a racial minority, not realizing how it would look on its face to everyone else.

In other words, this is a big screw-up, but it wasn’t in bad faith. BusinessWeek is a very good magazine and Editor Josh Tyrangiel has reinvigorated it under Bloomberg’s patronage, as I’ve written. That’s not meant in any way to excuse what happened, just to put it in context.

Another unfortunate thing about this is that the cover controversy has overshadowed Susan Berfield’s report from Phoenix on the return of bubble behavior to some housing markets, fueled in part by bigtime investors.

Read it.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , ,