On Today: Newsweek Editor Denies Palin Cover Was Sexist

NBC's Matt Lauer invited on Newsweek managing editor Dan Klaidman, on Wednesday's Today, to answer Sarah Palin's charge that the magazine's recent cover photo of her, in a jogging outfit, was "sexist," but Klaidman denied the accusation as he claimed: "Well, what it really represented was what the story was about, and that's what our mission is. I mean, look, since she's been on the national stage, there have been these questions about her gravitas, about her seriousness." The photo – which was a reprint of a Runners World cover – was, as Palin noted "taken out of context," and intended to diminish her as a political figure, something that even Lauer, to his credit, noticed as seen in the following exchange with Klaidman and his other guest, the Daily Beast's editor-in-chief Tina Brown: [audio available here]

MATT LAUER: But on this week, as she's launching this book that, that she wants to use to kind of establish herself and perhaps as a run for 2012, why that image? Why do you think that represented what she's all about at this point in time?

DAN KLAIDMAN: Well, what it really represented was what the story was about, and that's what our mission is. I mean, look, since she's been on the national stage, there have been these questions about her gravitas, about her seriousness. And, and look, you know, frankly, you know, Sarah Palin has cultivated, to some extent, this image of the sort of down-home, folksy, outdoorsy woman. And I'm not suggesting it's not authentic, but there is a sense in which she, she understands that it resonates politically.

LAUER: Tina, let me ask you a question that's probably impossible to answer, but do you imagine that there was a meeting somewhere at Newsweek with these smart people, where there were a few chuckles as they chose this photo and said, you know what, for all she's trying to do, this is gonna cut her off at the knees a little bit?

TINA BROWN: Well, I certainly hope so.

LAUER: You hope that was the case?

BROWN: No, I don't think that. I actually think that Sarah Palin has as much right to criticize how to be an editor of Newsweek, as she did to run as Vice President.

The following is the full segment as it was aired on the November 18, Today show:

MATT LAUER: Tina Brown is editor-in-chief of the Web site The Daily Beast, Dan Klaidman is the managing editor for Newsweek magazine. Good morning to both of you.

TINA BROWN, THE DAILY BEAST: Good morning.

DAN KLAIDMAN, NEWSWEEK: Good morning.

LAUER: Dan, let me start with you. Here's what Sarah Palin says about the cover photo on your magazine, "It's sexist and a wee bit degrading." She wrote on her Facebook page, quote, "This newsmagazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant, rather than the relevant," adding, "The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh so expected by now." Go ahead what's your reaction?

KLAIDMAN: Oh I don't think so. Look, you know, what we try to do every week is try to pick the most interesting picture, evocative picture to illustrate the themes of the cover story and that's the criteria we use every week.

[On screen headline: "Rogue Runner, Palin Blasts Newsweek Cover As 'Sexist'"]

LAUER: But on this week, as she's launching this book that, that she wants to use to kind of establish herself and perhaps as a run for 2012, why that image? Why do you think that represented what she's all about at this point in time?

KLAIDMAN: Well, what it really represented was what the story was about, and that's what our mission is. I mean, look, since she's been on the national stage, there have been these questions about her gravitas, about her seriousness. And, and look, you know, frankly, you know, Sarah Palin has cultivated, to some extent, this image of the sort of down-home, folksy, outdoorsy woman. And I'm not suggesting it's not authentic, but there is a sense in which she, she understands that it resonates politically.

LAUER: Tina, let me ask you a question that's probably impossible to answer, but do you imagine that there was a meeting somewhere at Newsweek with these smart people, where there were a few chuckles as they chose this photo and said, you know what, for all she's trying to do, this is gonna cut her off at the knees a little bit?

BROWN: Well, I certainly hope so.

LAUER: You hope that was the case?

BROWN: No, I don't think that. I actually think that Sarah Palin has as much right to criticize how to be an editor of Newsweek, as she did to run as Vice President. You know this is, just, she, she posed for that picture. It's you know, nobody cried sexist when we saw Bill Clinton in his running shorts in 1994 or when there was a Newsweek cover of Eliot Spitzer with an arrow towards his crotch saying "Brain," you know? I mean this was just her in her sporty clothes, and she's a runner. She's certainly running at the moment.

LAUER: Well it does raise a question, Tina does, you know, if, if you were doing a cover story on Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton, would you have looked for some out-of-the-box photo or would you have had her take a picture that was specifically for the cover of the magazine?

KLAIDMAN: Well, look, you know, this, this is a side of Sarah Palin that is real, you know? And, and you know frankly, she's a Rorschach test. And there a lot of people who would see that image and say, "You know, that's Sarah Palin, that's why she connects with people, there's that authenticity." And it's, I don't think this is an image that is taken out of context, especially when you consider what the point of the story was, which raised these questions about her seriousness.

LAUER: Go ahead, Tina.

BROWN: Well you know, what I did find interesting about this whole, so far, the publicity rollout, is that actually, Sarah Palin, in a way, has really become much more appealing on both Oprah and Barbara Walters' interviews, because she really has gone back to being herself which is, not really remotely interested in politics, as far as I could see. I mean in these, in these interviews, she really didn't show any desire to get back to the quote, you know policy message, such as there might be. She really was quite happy to play it as a celebrity talk show guest and she did a fabulous job at that. And I did actually feel on, on the Oprah interview that the one really true thing she said was when she said, You know I thought, I certainly wasn't upset about the media knowing about Willow's, about Bristol's pregnancy," she said, "I was more worried about whether they'd know that I had a D on my college course 22 years ago, and I think she spoke a lot of truth on that.

LAUER: Let me ask one last question. Either of you can weigh in on this. I have a feeling you're gonna want to do it more than Dan is. But this Levi Johnston thing. And I don't want to get into the whole Playgirl thing, but it occurs to me that, that there is nothing good that can come out of Sarah Palin even addressing this issue, other than to say he is the son, he is the father of my grandchild, and then ignore the situation. Would you agree with that?

BROWN: Well, I mean what is divine about Sarah Palin is the way she that always says, "I'm not gonna talk about that," and then she proceeds to do so.

LAUER: And does.

BROWN: But it was a kind of a great moment, in a way, when she did little sly shaft of him about the porn. And so I kind of liked her for that in a way.

LAUER: But do you, should she be doing this?

KLAIDMAN: Look it depends on what her true ambition is? If her true ambition is to be a leader in the Republican Party - no. What she ought to be doing is going to the Council On Foreign Relations or the Detroit Economic Club and giving serious, substantive speeches. Instead she goes around and she [is] sort of enveloped in this, in this soap opera atmosphere, this circus atmosphere. It's not helpful if she wants to be considered serious.

LAUER: Dan Klaidman, Tina Brown, nice to have you both here. Thanks very much. We'll talk more about this.

KLAIDMAN: Thank you.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.