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Published: Friday, 7/1/2011

COMMENTARY

Newsweek takes tacky up a notch

BY KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK
In this magazine cover image released by Newsweek, a computer-generated image of Princess Diana is shown with the Duchess of Cambridge on the cover of the July 4, 2011 issue of Newsweek magazine. In this magazine cover image released by Newsweek, a computer-generated image of Princess Diana is shown with the Duchess of Cambridge on the cover of the July 4, 2011 issue of Newsweek magazine.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

As far as family photos go, I've seen worse than what Newsweek published on its July 4 cover, a photo illustration resurrecting a now 50-year-old Princess Diana walking alongside her new daughter-in-law, Kate Middleton. (Kate, in the computer-created image doesn't even appear to be upset by the living-dead Diana. Now that's impressive.)

I've had my fair share of bad pictures, too, as my head shot testifies. But at least those unfortunate images are of my own doing, or, rather, nature's. To quote actor Paul Benedict as the thick-spectacled, looks-challenged hotel clerk in This is Spinal Tap, "I'm just as God made me, sir."

The genesis of the piece is that Diana would have turned 50 Friday. But the zombie-Diana pictures, which accompany a four-page spread postulating what the former princess' life would have been like if she hadn't died in a Paris car crash in 1997, are too much. That's not all. There's even a faux Diana Facebook page, as well as Twitter postings, and another illustration of her holding an iPhone. At least it's the new white version of the phone, proving again that Diana remained on top of fashion trends.

The collective laugh you hear, by the way, is from the editors at Time magazine and other news publications. At least Newsweek didn't darken Diana to make her appear sullen or even menacing, as Time did with its cover of O.J. Simpson in 1994. (Right back at ya, Time.)

The Diana article was written by Tina Brown, Newsweek's editor-in-chief. Brown also wrote a book about her friend, The Diana Chronicles, which she mentions once in the magazine piece in the interest of full disclosure, credibility, and, perhaps, to boost the book's sales.

Vanity project aside, there's nothing technically wrong with what Brown and Newsweek did. No laws were broken and no animals were harmed. But it is undeniably creepy. It's also ... tacky. That's bad tacky as in an avocado-green leisure suit and not good tacky as in Graceland.

OK, so why did Newsweek do it?

The answer, of course, is money. Newsweek's decision-makers knew the issue would generate controversy, and controversy means a spike in sales. It worked. I'm a former subscriber to the magazine and I bought my first Newsweek in years yesterday, which set me back $4.76 before tax. I suspect there are many others who have or will follow suit.

But is it wise for a magazine that's built a solid reputation of covering and reporting the news to instead make the news, and in this way?

Frankly, speculating on a life that never was is far beneath what this news magazine is -- or was. "Diana at 50: If She Were Here Now" is an exercise in creative writing, all gussied up because it appears in a mainstream media publication and not some grocery-store rag. But at its essence, this is the kind of story that tabloids invent during slow weeks of celebrity gossip, as in "JFK is Still Alive and Living With Marilyn Monroe on a Secret Government Island."

And since when did Newsweek take over for the defunct Weekly World News? And when can we expect cover stories about Bat Boy?

Follow Kirk Baird on his blog, toledoblade.com/ cultureshock or on Twitter, @bladepopculture.



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