Eric M. Appleman   DEMOCRACY IN ACTION   P.O. Box 19007   Washington, DC 20036-9007
ph.: (202) 462-0145    e-mail: action (at) gwu (dot) edu

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION proposes an exhibit on Magazine Cover Portrayal of President George W. Bush: The First Term and the Re-Election Campaign to be held in the lead up to Inauguration Day, January 20, 2005.  An parallel exhibit on Magazine Cover Portrayal of the Race for the 2004 Democratic Nomination is also possible.  DEMOCRACY IN ACTION is seeking a secure space or gallery to host the exhibit.

Starting in 2001 DEMOCRACY IN ACTION has gathered Bush and 2004 campaign related covers on national magazines, including major (Time, Newsweek and US News &World Report), midsize (The Economist), and smaller (World) newsmagazines, opinion magazines (The Nation, New Republic, National Review, Weekly Standard, American Prospect and Washington Monthly), and more specialized political magazines (National Journal and CQ Weekly).  In addition, relevant covers were obtained from a number of magazines that do not have a consistent political focus as well as from some overseas magazines.  All told there are over 300 covers.  These include favorable, unfavorable, and neutral portrayals, photos and illustrations, good art and bad art, essentially any covers we could find with Bush and with the campaign.  The Bush covers will be arranged in chronological blocks by year; the campaign covers by candidate and theme.

As President Bush approaches the end of his first term it is appropriate to consider how our impressions of him have changed over time.  This exhibit will encourage viewers think about portrayals of Bush through the medium of the magazine cover.  The types of images used, the choice of words, and the interaction of the words and the image on a magazine cover combine to create an specific impression which in turn contributes to our broader view. 

September 11, 2001 was a defining moment in the Bush presidency.  Time in its Sept. 24, 2001 issue chose to feature the famous image of Bush standing atop WTC rubble speaking into a bullhorn.1  After Republican successes in the Nov. 2002 midterm elections Newsweek pictured Bush as "Top Gun," The Economist proclaimed "By George," and Time featured Bush and Karl Rove ("How They Aced Their Midterms").  The Republican Convention in New York generated many covers, one of the more memorable of which was the Sept. 6, 2004 issue of Newsweek ("No Excuses") featuring a photo of Bush by Charles Ommanney.2  In fall 2004 there were more than a dozen different covers pairing Bush and his Democratic opponent Sen. John Kerry.  Bush's successful re-election generated a rash of favorable covers (for example Time's "Four More Years" and Business Week's "Triumph!").  Finally, mention should be made of the few covers that include President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush (Newsweek's Dec. 3, 2001 issue and the Feb. 2002 and Aug. 2004 issues of Ladies' Home Journal.)

Bush's critics have had their say, for example, in The New Republic's May 21, 2001 issue "He's Lying" or its June 2, 2003 issue "He's Still Lying."  The American Prospect's May 2003 issue even labeled Bush "The Most Dangerous President Ever."  One expects such views from opinion magazines, but newsmagazines have also weighed in with some critical portrayals (Time's July 21, 2003 "Untruth & Consequences" or its Oct. 6, 2003 "Mission NOT Accomplished" or The Economist's April 3, 2004 "Better ways to attack Bush").

In terms of the campaign for the Democratic nomination, Governor Howard Dean dominated covers in the second half of 2003 and January 2004.  During the primary period when the race for the nomination(s) is ongoing, making the cover of one of the big weeklies can be a big plus for a candidate as he or she strives to achieve credibility.  Dean was seen as such a frontrunner that The Economist even paired him opposite Bush on its Jan. 3, 2004 issue "America's angry election year."  From February 2004 onwards, as Senator John Kerry swept contest after contest, he achieved a slew of covers, mostly positive.  Newsweek's Feb. 23, 2004 cover "Their Wars" appears to be the first cover that matched up Kerry, then the likely Democratic nominee, and Bush.  There were also large number of covers around the time of Kerry's selection of Senator John Edwards as his running mate and several weeks later around the Democratic National Convention.
In addition to the candidates, magazines highlighted various campaign-related themes during the election cycle.  The media itself came under attention at several points (for example Newsweek's Dec. 29, 2003 issue featuring the Daily Show's Jon Stewart, several covers highlighting CBS anchor Dan Rather's memo problem, and a New York Times Magazine look at bloggers).   The Washington Post Magazine put a non-voter on its cover.   The integrity of the voting process also garnered a bit of notice.

In general, a magazine cover combines an illustration or a photograph and a few carefully chosen words.  It is designed to catch your eye, pique your curiosity and hopefully get you to stop, pick up a copy of the magazine and buy it.  By the time a weekly magazine hits the newsstands or arrives in the mail, a whole week's worth of events has passed by.  Accordingly, magazines must seek to provide something different than the daily paper, often by highlighting broader themes and currents.  Even if the cover doesn't cause us to stop and buy a copy of the magazine, we may view it in the newsstand window as we rush by in the morning to catch the Metro and again in the evening as we head for home.  Copies of magazines may grace our living room tables or office reception areas for weeks or even months, thereby influencing our impressions of the individuals and events depicted.

Once a magazine's editors have determined the topic they want to put on the cover, they must decide how to present that idea.  Options include a straight photograph with text, a photograph that is given special treatment (for example, by applying one of the many filters available in Adobe (R) Photoshop or other effects), a photomontage, a photo illustration, a drawing or painting, or even a text only cover.  Typically it is the responsibility of the art director to obtain an appropriate photograph or illustration, while keeping within the budget.  If the decision is to use an illustration, the art director may have one or two artists in mind, and then it becomes a question of availability.  Starting with the concept presented by the art director the artist may come up with an idea of his or her own or add some details or touches that improve upon the concept.

As you view the exhibit consider why the editors chose to use an illustration or a photo for a particular cover?  Do covers of opinion magazines differ from the covers of more objective news magazines?  Is the cover particularly intriguing, creative, or thought provoking or is it a fairly standard, more generic headshot? 

Logistics and Specifics
Eric M. Appleman (GW, Poli. Comm. '93) organized a similar exhibit "Cover-ing the Campaign" at the George Washington University following the 2000 campaign.  He runs the DEMOCRACY IN ACTION P2004 website (address above).  DEMOCRACY IN ACTION P2004 and the predecessor P2000 are hosted on the George Washington University server but not formally affiliated with GW; the aim is to provide a framework for citizens to follow the campaign.  Appleman gathered many of the magazine covers in personal visits to the various publishers' DC offices during the course of the past three years.  Without their assistance this project would not have been possible.  DEMOCRACY IN ACTION is looking for a sponsor or sponsors who can help with a secure space to house the exhibit and assistance in mounting it.

All but a few of the covers are in 9"X11 1/2" Mylar 3-hole punched sleeves. (Most of the covers are 8"x10 3/4."  A very few  larger covers are not in Mylar-NYT Magazine is 9 1/4" x 11 1/2" and Rolling Stone is 10" x 12").  In the exhibit on the 2000 campaign the covers were organized in three blocks--Bush, Gore and Post-Election--of about sixty each (4 columns, 15 rows) pinned directly to the sheetrock wall.  As that direct approach may not be possible, a good alternative is to clip the covers in their Mylar sleeves to strings or wires run in parallel rows.  Alternatively they could be pinned to large sheets of foam core or to a soft backing.  The exhibit should be in a gallery or relatively secure space (possibly behind plexiglass or in an exhibit case or window) to prevent theft.  It would be possible to use only part of the material, for example a Bush-only exhibit or a road to the Democratic nomination exhibit.  Coinciding with the exhibit, it would be interesting to organize a lecture or seminar with some of the people who develop these covers.

To help or offer suggestions please contact Eric M. Appleman at the coordinates above.

1. The two other major newsweeklies took a different approach for the Sept. 24, 2001 issues.  Newsweek ran a photo of firemen raising the flag amid rubble and the caption "God Bless America."  USN&WR ran a photo of WTC wreckage and the caption "Under Siege."
2.  The Charles Ommanney photo on the cover of the Sept. 6, 2004 issue of Newsweek generated varied responses from readers.  In the Sept. 20 letters, Bruce Wallin of Pacific Palisades, California wrote, "Your Sept. 6 cover was perfect.  You somehow managed to capture in one photograph, the fearless leader Bush's supporters adore and the cocky dunce his detractors revile."  However Robert Shive of St. Charles, Missouri had a different opinion.  "It's hared to imagine a more unflattering picture than your cover photo of George W. Bush," he wrote.


-Dec. 2004 rev.