I've heard and seen this before with women's fashion magazines, but for a news magazine?

Wow, a new low, IMO


It is something many of us who have hit middle age would appreciate: a photograph where our head sits on a younger, trimmer body.

Newsweek bestowed this photographic favor on domestic diva Martha Stewart who graces the cover of the magazine’s March 7 issue. When Newsweek hit newsstands, Ms. Stewart was still in prison. But on the cover there she was, smiling radiantly, dressed preppily, her svelte body framed by gold curtains.

Lynn Staley, assistant managing editor of Newsweek, told National Public Radio that, “It was not our intention to deceive; it was our intention to amuse.”

Newsweek disclosed that the cover was a photo illustration – or composite – on page 3 of the magazine in a credit line. It’s an area of the magazine normally of interest only to the cover photographer’s mother.

When NPR asked if she had any regrets, Newsweek’s Ms. Staley said, “I think that, you know, we have to be a little careful. I mean, maybe the worst thing I could say is that we were possibly just a little too successful here.”

Actually, the worst thing that could be said was the news business needs to be especially careful not to look like it plays fast and loose with the truth – photographic or otherwise. Inside the journalism fraternity we have our own rules and understandings. In that context, labeling the cover a “photo illustration” removes any question that Newsweek was trying to lie.

But clearly many readers were misled. The Monitor’s own policy on computerized photo editing specifies that, “Everything in the Monitor must be precisely what it appears to be. Photographs that have been altered for illustration purposes should be clearly labeled.”

Newspaper conventions differ from those of magazines. But it would have been better for Newsweek to have disclosed on the cover that what readers were seeing was an altered picture of the soon to be sprung Martha.

Of course, most of the pictures we see of the famous are altered in another way, with various surgical enhancements and reductions. If you watched last Sunday’s Academy Awards, you got an eyeful of that.

Those of us who are plunging through life without surgically improved bodies can’t fail to appreciate what modern photographic editing makes possible. As I work at my computer munching on a Hershey bar, it’s nice to know that in the next Cook family portrait, my thinning white hair and multiple chins can be sitting atop Brad Pitt’s body.