Magazine covers tell the story of US politics in 2018

Posted at 8:35 AM, Dec 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-07 10:35:04-05

Politics showed up this year on the covers of all sorts of publications, from tabloids and magazines about tech and business, to pornography (Stormy Daniels covered Penthouse’s May/June issue).

Of all the ways Americans get their news, print is the least popular, according to a Pew survey released this week. Just 7% said it’s their preferred method, but the images created by editorial designers, photographers and cartoonists had a reach larger than just the subscribers who saw their work in their mailboxes or on their doorstep. The images peeked at us from grocery store checkout lines and populated our social media feeds.

This is the story of 2018 as told through nine magazine and newspaper images, and the stories behind them:

Tipping Point

The Week, April 6

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School appeared across the media following the devastating shooting that killed 17 at their school in February. But The Week’s illustrated cover was unique in that it portrayed students taking action.

“It was clear to us that the students were effectively changing the terms of the debate,” Bill Falk, editor in chief of The Week, told Cover/Line. “We decided to evoke the iconic image of rebellious Iraqis pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein, with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre as the statue.”

The cover ran the week of the March For Our Lives protest. Illustrated by Fred Harper, it showed MSD’s Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, along with Naomi Wadler — who at 11 was the youngest speaker at the March For Your Lives protest — toppling the National Rifle Association.

The Making of Robert Mueller

Wired, June

Special counsel Robert Mueller is famously tight-lipped, but before he took on his current role in the Russia investigation, the former FBI director spoke with Garrett Graff for a story later published in Wired about his years serving in Vietnam.

French illustrator Jules Julien was tapped for the cover and Wired asked “for a portrait with drama,” he said. He made two versions; the other was in gray tones, but ultimately the red and blue was more “powerful.” Julien lives in Amsterdam, and said that even there people are following Mueller’s investigation.

“I think that a lot of people know here about Mueller and his investigation,” he told Cover/Line. “Since Trump is your President, not a day goes by without White House news.”

Get Karen McDougal’s Workout

Men’s Journal, September

Attorney Michael Cohen effectively implicated Trump when he said in court earlier this year that he and a media CEO had worked together to squash negative stories about Trump at his request. That CEO is believed to be David Pecker, a longtime friend of Trump’s who heads American Media Inc., which publishes magazines including the National Enquirer and Men’s Journal.

AMI paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for her story about an alleged affair with Trump, which it never published, a practice known as “catch-and-kill.” As part of their deal, though, McDougal was promised magazine covers and a regular health and fitness column. She appeared on the cover of Men’s Journal in September promoting “4 Moves for Stronger Abs”: 1. Top banana, 2. V-up banded row, 3. Pushup with cross reach, and 4. Side plank twist. “Add these to the end of your workout a few times a week,” the magazine suggested.

Delete My Account

Bloomberg Businessweek, March 26

Bloomberg Businessweek was planning on running a cover about Spotify for its March 26 issue, for a story about the streaming service’s Netflix-sized ambitions despite not making any money, and they were going to put Spotify’s “pump-up mix” on the front. Then the New York Times published its story that Cambridge Analytica, a data and political consulting firm that worked with the Trump campaign, had allegedly obtained and misused the personal information of millions of Americans obtained from their Facebook profiles without their permission, and plans changed.

Businessweek’s new cover, of a swarm of cursors pointing up under Facebook’s delete button, was designed by art director Jaclyn Kassler. “Once we found that little ‘Delete My Account’ button, it was game on,” Joel Weber, editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, told Cover/Line.

He called Facebook “probably the biggest story of the year because of how it drew back the curtain on the company and showed how data can be weaponized.” The magazine followed up its “Delete My Account” cover with covers about the data-mining firm Palantir and about Facebook’s reliance on Instagram later in the spring.

Since the Cambridge Analytica revelations, Facebook had the worst single day in stock market history, Pew found 42% of American users said they took a break from it for at least several weeks at some point in the last year, and internal company documents were released by the UK Parliament showing how it took measures to restrict Vine, which it saw as a competitor social network. User growth in the US is flat, and activists, Sen. Mark Warner, and whistleblower Christopher Wylie have called for the company to be broken up or regulated.

Welcome to America

Time, July 2

Getty Images photographer John Moore was photographing Border Patrol agents on June 12 when they stopped a woman from Honduras. She set her young daughter down as she was searched, and Moore snapped a now iconic photo.

“At that moment, the young child broke into tears, and she started wailing,” Moore told NPR. “I took a knee and had very few frames of that moment before it was over.”

It would become one of the defining images of the Trump administration’s practice of separating families at the border, but it was revealed the girl wasn’t among the thousands of children who were separated. That led to criticism on the right, including from Donald Trump Jr., but Time stood by its cover, saying it “captured the stakes of this moment.”

“Ever since I took those pictures, I think about that moment often,” Moore said. “And it’s emotional for me every time.”

The New Dandies

GQ, November

“There are two Americas,” Sen. Ted Cruz told GQ during an interview for its story about the Texas US Senate race: GQ America and Field & Stream America.

Perhaps it was fitting that in a year when patriotism in America dropped, one of the most delightful red, white and blue covers had its own back story, ripe for divisive interpretation. Canadian Ryan Gosling was photographed by Italian Giampaolo Sgura for a magazine Cruz thinks represents just half of the US, to promote a movie that was criticized before most people even saw it because it omitted the planting of the US flag on the moon.

“First Man,” about Neil Armstrong and the mission to land on the moon, might not have featured a scene of the flag being planted, but it had plenty of American flags throughout.

“Certainly I thought it was a very patriotic film, in the sense that I thought we were trying to do justice to real-life heroes and what they accomplished,” director Damien Chazelle told GQ. “But you know, in some ways the thing that I thought was maybe a good thing was that to have this sort of debate about what the moon landing meant.”

Chazelle called the landing a “loaded moment, emotional moment,” and one that “different people from different sides have different sorts of things that were important to them about that moment.”

The Quiet Resistance Inside the Trump Administration

The New York Times, September 5 (digital) and 6 (print)

The day before designer Pablo Delcan went on paternity leave, he made an illustration for a New York Times op-ed that its art department had requested just the night before. “They normally just send me a manuscript of the bare bones of the article,” he told Cover/Line. “In this case, they weren’t able to do that.”

He knew it would be anonymous and written by someone in the White House, but “I didn’t really get the sense it was going to be such a huge story,” he said. In the op-ed, an administration official said Trump aides routinely work against his wishes, but in the interests of the country as they see them.

The op-ed was actually published as the illustration was still being finalized, and seeing the reaction on social media “added a lot of anxiety to the process,” Delcan said. Still, he called it one of the easiest illustrations he’s done with the Times, because the image of a small group of people holding the country back from plunging into the abyss felt “so immediate.”

And because there was no photo of an author to go along with the piece as it played across cable news, the illustration filled that role. “Given that it was an anonymous piece it seemed like the only way people could connect to it visually,” he said.

A Missing Voice

The Washington Post, October 5

The Friday after columnist Jamal Khashoggi went missing, The Washington Post published a blank space in place of his column, on page A23. He hadn’t been seen since entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul three days earlier, and the Post wrote, “Khashoggi’s words should appear in the space above.” US intelligence said last month that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi’s killing. Trump called the murder “terrible” but said Saudi Arabia, the first foreign country he visited after becoming president, “a great ally.”

Welcome to Congress

The New Yorker, November 19

This year’s election was framed in terms of a “blue wave,” but cartoonist Barry Blitt portrayed the midterm results not in terms of red vs. blue, but color vs. black and white, with group of incoming freshmen walking into a colorless Capitol Hill boys’ club.

“In all the rancor and madness of the past few weeks (hell, the past few years), it appears we’ve just lived through a nice moment,” Blitt said in The New Yorker.

Congress is incredibly slow to adjust to demographic realities, but the 116th Congress will be the most diverse, with the most women and most millennials.