The most recent issue of Newsweek features on the cover stereotypically angry Arab men, presumably from inside a recent anti-American protest, with the headline "MUSLIM RAGE." The pushback against the cover was immediate and strong. Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, described the cover in an interview with Politico as "extremely unhelpful" and "playing to Islamophobic stereotypes."
Want to discuss our latest cover? Let's hear it with the hashtag: #MuslimRage.
-- Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 17, 2012
This has led to some genuinely humorous responses that effectively illuminate the problem with Newsweek's cover story on their own, but the situation is deeper than that.
Last month, the blogosphere and fact-checkers directed a furor at Newsweek over Niall Ferguson's error-riddled cover story. The salient point of that outrage is not the myriad factual misstatements by Ferguson, but rather that Newsweek does not fact-check. Craig Silverman at Poynter reported that Newsweek claims that the elimination of fact-checkers in 1996 was not a budgetary move. Still, Silverman adds that fact checkers are "viewed as a luxury" in the magazine industry. Meanwhile, Newsweek's financial problems are well-known.
Yet the issue featuring Ferguson's mess of an article still ended up reportedly as one of Newsweek's best-selling issues since 2010. The current cover confirms the lesson Newsweek learned: there's an audience for right-wing misinformation, no matter what anyone says (even if that person works for Newsweek). This cover had been widely criticized even before Newsweek doubled down.
And it's no wonder: Newsweek's cover isn't meant to inform a conversation, it's meant as shock value to that plays to what a certain percentage of people think they know. There's profit in that, but the snake oil business isn't a long term growth industry for a reason.
The news media are shifting. It's not just Newsweek that has shrinking budgets and is cutting staff. New web-based platforms are emerging while traditional platforms like magazines and newspapers are fading. As news budgets shrink and the choice is between conservative misinformation that sells on one hand or cutting even more jobs on the other, how many news editors will be able to resist cheap trolling?
It's not enough to call out Newsweek's awful cover. Newsweek is a symptom of a larger problem, and it's not going away.