WASHINGTON -- One of the favorite new charges mounted by amateur media critics is that journalists have adopted the "frame" advanced by a politicianís handlers in their coverage. When it comes to Barack Obama, magazines are falling for his tinted lens and posterization technique, as well.
There is little surprise that Time decided to name Obama its "Person of the Year," and the magazine takes its usual pains to make the world-historical case for its choice. But the image the magazine chose for its cover strives for little such distance: Time is decorated, quite literally, with an Obama campaign poster.
"Our cover portrait is by the street artist Shepard Fairey, whose roots are in the skateboarding world and whose early poster of then Senator Obama became the great populist image of the campaign," editor Rick Stengel writes in his opening letter. "With this cover, Fairey has now created a new iconic image of the President-elect -- a rich, multilayered poster that echoes but then expands on his original."
Fairey's art was quickly adopted by Obama's campaign, which sold the posters as part of its fundraising and messaging efforts, and Time's expansion on them is minimal. Fairey's "great populist imageĒ of Obama, which typically appeared over the word "Hope," showed the candidate, lips pursed, gazing pensively to his left. The "new iconic image" commissioned by Time shows the president-elect gazing confidently to his right, head cocked upward. The new Obamaís mouth is agape. (Becoming "Person of the Year" can do that to you.)
Not only has Time abdicated a journalistic opportunity to freshly interpret Obama's significance in visual terms, but it outsourced the work to the campaign itself: the graphic equivalent of headlining an Obama profile "Change We Can Believe In." (In unrelated news, the magazine's Washington bureau chief, Jay Carney, this week announced that he would go work in the Obama White House as a vice-presidential aide.)
Time is not the first magazine to hire an Obama-endorsed imagemaker for a cover. For a special convention issue this summer, Denver's 5280 had Fairey picture Obama (mouth agape, gazing rightward) with Rocky Mountain peaks and city skyline as a backdrop. The current issue of Washington Life has a Fairey-rendered Obama (full toothy smile, gazing leftward) sandwiched between the Capitol and White House.
Those two city magazines may have awakened Time to the marketing possibilities created by turning journalism into Obama merchandise. This is the first issue of the Beltway-centric Washington Life being distributed nationally, while 5280 sold posters of their cover as a collectible while the magazine was still on newsstands.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.