2016 election

How DID That ‘New York Times Magazine’ Hillary Clinton Cover Come About?

Trashing female candidates—even prospective ones—is nothing new. But we’ve come to expect more from the Grey Lady.

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I am still trying to figure out how The New York Times Magazine’s staff conceived of yesterday’s cover art for Amy Chozick’s “Planet Hillary” feature (January 26). Yes, of course I read “How Our Hillary Clinton Cover Came About” on the New York Times website—and though they do these making-of pieces regularly, I can only assume that this one was written in part to extinguish the firestorm, not stoke it. Mission not accomplished. Because they appear to have closed the comments section after only 42 comments. (No stomach for further criticism?) I’m sure some folks thought the cover was just hunky dory—and of course the Times was suffering a bit of blowback for treating Hillary as a shoo-in for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

It could have been worse I suppose. In her delightfully gossipy piece, Chozick compares the Clintons to an “Arkansas tumbleweed, collecting friends and devotees from Bill Clinton’s kindergarten class to Yale Law School to Little Rock to the White House to the Senate and beyond.” Chozick compares Hillary to an onion: “There’s still something at the center that’s aching for the rest to be peeled away.” Yikes.

But I digress. Had I been able comment in time, before the Times’ bouncers closed the gates, I’d be echoing what many of the commenters were enraged about: that the cover was demeaning, cruel, stupid, misogynistic. Add to that that they pulled a classic rat-finkery move, trying to wiggle away from these accusations by suggesting that a woman is partially to blame for the mess they’d gotten themselves into. In this case, the editors who claim to have been “in constant conversation about our cover” with “one of our deputy editors” Lauren Kern. It is Kern whom we have to thank for those knee-slapper cover-lines.

If you haven’t seen the cover, Planet Hillary is floating in space. Is she, as planets are, orbited by moons and stars and other planets? Well, not quite.  

We do have the-Friends-of-Bill Black Hole, a place in space from which nothing can escape. The Patti Solis Doyle Vortex, another life-sucking force. The Obama Quant Supernova—an exploding star, naturally. The Katzenberg comet, never a happy omen, potentially deadly. Ohhh, and let us not miss Huma’s Dark Matter (creepy nonluminous matter that astronomers only hypothesize exists). Message: Hillary is just orbited and tugged at by agents of chaos and destruction, material that exceeds the comprehension of ordinary mortals. No, wait, there is the Chelsea Quasar, a very bright light far, far away, and The Arkansas Cluster (sounds rashy) and the Super-PAC Nebula, a cloud of gas and light! Eww …the only good thing about the cover lines is that anyone afflicted with even the most minor myopia will find them unreadable.

It must be said that the interior art, a cosmic centerfold with a photograph of Clinton’s face—“Madam Secretary of the Universe”—at the center, the swirling constellations of supporters, frenemies, and co-workers is are more successful and illuminating. 

I imagine they chose not to go with this image because the magazine’s Sarah Palin cover presented her decapitated head floating in space. (Boy, don’t like what a woman has to say, just chop off her head!) No, I envision the art department meeting going more like this.


Okay, everyone, here’s the idea for the next cover: Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, celebrated U.S. Senator, first Lady of the United States.

Human Space Meatball. I mean, Human Space Planet. I mean, Planet Hillary! Get it? Hillary Clinton is a planet. She’s got this gravitational pull … but can she make the stars align? 

I know what you’re thinking: Usually when we feature a serious political figure on the cover we present an image that communicates a level of respect, seriousness, hell, dignity. Whether it’s a president, vice-president, or bully GOP Governor Chris Christie, or He-man-woman-hating GOP cover-boys Senators Mark Rubio and Scott Brown, or kooky bitter old crank John McCain, or that incorrigible rascal, Newt Gingrich. 

But this is Hillary Clinton. Possible 2016 presidential candidate. Brilliant attorney. Women’s rights activist. Let’s have some fun with it!

Here is the visual: Just her head. A big, hairless ball. We could go for a headband. A cheeky ring of Saturn gag? But remember the headband fracas of 2011? Last thing we need is the feminists getting their Spanx in a twist.

(You can bet there are already a bunch of women’s studies majors with minors in conspiracy theory at Smith getting ready to pitch a red tent in protest that we didn’t make Hillary the moon. Even though everybody knows it’s the man in the moon. Hill comes close but no cigar.)

Let’s not make the art look too slick. Make it look like a kid with his arm in a cast had cut it out with safety scissors. Like maybe one of the Romney kids did it while riding on the campaign tour bus. Maybe he was making a dartboard for Mother’s Day.

Let’s have fun with it!

Speaking of gravity, do I need to mention that this cover solves the problem of what to do with her body? The woman is what, leaning on 70? No one wants to see that.

Focus on the face. Blow it up. Make it orange—not Boehner orange, more of a Silly Putty peach color. Pockmark “the skin,” let me see some craters, some fissures. Make sure to give her some big old bags under the eyes (bet she wishes she could swap those for Jupiter’s red spot!) and wrinkles—“ravines” around her mouth. Oh, and we’ve got to do the droopy eyelid thing. Because this is a PLANET. A barren, irradiated planet with a case of intergalactic pink eye.

I know powerful women make people powerfully uncomfortable, particularly women “of a certain age.” If the culture can’t sexualize them, or objectify them—make their power familiar and containable—they must ridicule them.

Now is that funny, or what?

Maybe in a galaxy far, far away.


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