How do you solve a problem like Jon Meacham?

Hell freezes over: I agree with Sarah Palin. Newsweek's out of context short-shorts cover was sexist

Published November 18, 2009 12:18AM (EST)

I mentioned it in passing yesterday, but Newsweek's Jon Meacham gets America's Top Clueless Male award for taking a photo Sarah Palin shot for Runner's World, and using it on a serious news story about her role in the GOP. Palin denounced the photo selection as "sexist and degrading" on her Facebook page, and she's right.

Criticized by right and left -- even my friend Markos Moulitsas thinks Newsweek went too far; Media Matters has been blasting Newsweek all day -- Meacham told Politico: "We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover, which is what we always try to do. We apply the same test to photographs of any public figure, male or female: does the image convey what we are saying? That is a gender-neutral standard."

Really, Jon Meacham? Did you really want to say that? OK, then, let's deconstruct the cover entirely. The photo of the lovely, bare-legged Palin is paired with the headline: "How do you solve a problem like Sarah?" For those too young to recognize the reference, it's from a "Sound of Music" song, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" about a young novice who is too cute and flighty to be a nun ("she's a flibbertyjibbit, a will o' the wisp, a clown!"). That's a great way to describe our first GOP vice-presidential nominee. Not sexist at all. (The "how do you solve a problem like" cliché is typically applied to women, although I'm proud of once asking "How do you solve a problem like Joe Lieberman?" who is certainly a clown.) Oh yes, Jon Meacham, your answer is proof-positive that there was no sexism to your imagery. Fail.

A few liberals are trying to suggest that Palin has nothing to whine about since she willingly posed for the picture, but that's silly: What she wore to a Runners' World shoot is different from what she'd wear for Newsweek. I've heard people defend the photo because Palin uses her sexuality as part of her political appeal, and I think that's also unfair. She didn't campaign in daisy dukes and crop-tops; she's a good-looking woman who wore flattering but professional jackets and skirts. Of course her looks are part of her appeal -- I don't think the gulf between men and women who "approve" of Palin (yup, she's more popular with men, go figure!) is about her policy ideas -- but attractive women are damned whatever they do with their looks. And let's be clear -- this wasn't an article about Palin's sex appeal, or the role of her gender in the campaign -- this was an article about her political assets and flaws. The out-of-context photo was, in fact, "sexist and degrading," as Palin says.

That's about all the time I have to spend feeling sympathy for Sarah Palin: I detest her political ideas and her divisive approach to politics. But I call out sexism when I see it. Jon Meacham used a nice pair of women's legs to sell his political magazine this week, reducing a powerful, ambitious woman to her shapely body parts, and that's sexism. (On Twitter, the Washington Independent's Dave Weigel linked to this alleged video of a Newsweek editorial meeting.)  It's nice to see a lot of men and women on the right and left agree about something for a change. Maybe we can agree to get rid of the Stupak amendment! Nah, I didn't think so. 

By Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Media Criticism Sarah Palin