John Cloud is a staff writer for Time magazine, where he has worked since 1997. Before coming to Time, he was a senior writer at Washington City Paper. He wrote this week’s much-discussed Time cover story about Ann Coulter.
Brian Montopoli: First things first: Why did you write the story? Did you pitch it, or did the editors come to you and say, “We want to do a cover on Ann Coulter?”
John Cloud: Last summer, you know, we put Michael Moore on the cover. And, by the way, at that time we didn’t get quite the reaction, certainly not from the left, which seemed rather pleased with the cover we did on Michael Moore. You get it from both sides.
As for how the story got suggested, I suggested it after the election. Ann Coulter [it seemed to me] had epitomized the way politics was discussed last year during the election. It was slash-and-burn, on both sides. Her side won, rather decisively, and it seemed the right time to figure out who was this force behind the way our political dialogue was being conducted. Ann Coulter is the person who is shaping the tone of this dialogue in many ways, and I thought it was time to examine her.
BM: One of the criticisms that people have made is that Time has bottom line considerations [that go into] who it puts on the cover, and choosing to put Coulter on the cover reflected either a pursuit of conservative readers or a desire to just put a hot woman on the cover, which is pretty much what the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz said. And let me read you something from Eric Alterman, and just ask you to respond: “Time’s cover story/whitewash of Ann Coulter … will make it impossible for serious people to accept what the magazine reports at face value ever again. It is as if Time had contracted a journalistic venereal disease from Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly and is now seeking to lower itself to their level in pursuit of their ideologically-obsessed audiences.”
JC:Well, this is just absurd. A few weeks ago, we put Jeffrey Sachs’ book on how to end poverty on the cover. I mean, is that going to be a huge seller for conservatives? We did a piece on television indecency that basically concluded that the FCC had gone too far in regulating television. That was on the cover recently. I don’t pick the covers, unfortunately — I don’t have that much power here — but we did Michael Moore on the cover last summer, we’ve done, over the years, incredibly flattering covers on Hillary Clinton, on both of the Clintons, multiple times. We did Ann Coulter because she’s an interesting figure. I could not care less what conservatives or liberals think of Time magazine’s covers, and if people read my work over the years — I’ve been a journalist for ten years — and if you read that body of work I think you’ll see that I’m not trying to kiss up to conservatives. And if you look at Time magazine, even over the last month, this idea that we’re kissing up to conservatives is wrong.
Plus, who are their sources for this? Did Alterman do any reporting before he made this assertion? I think a pertinent thing about Alterman is that he has said publicly that he will not engage Ann Coulter in debate. He won’t go on television with her. So his solution to Ann Coulter is to act as though she doesn’t exist … I don’t agree with that approach to people that we don’t necessarily like. I think you engage those people in open debate, you get those people to talk about their ideas, and then you weigh those ideas. And my story does that. My story is very fair about her.