Reading the Pictures: What's Wrong With TIME's X-ed Bin Laden Cover

05/03/2011 12:21 pm ET | Updated Jul 03, 2011
  • Michael Shaw Publisher of the visual politics and media literacy site, Reading The Pictures.


1. Laying it on a little thick, aren't you?

They're painting the "X" extra heavy. Like Osama bin Laden was twice as bad as Hitler was?

2. If you're al Qaeda, you get it between the eyes.

3. But  here's what's really wrong. In 1945 when they did the first X-out, Hitler had been the scourge of the planet. There was absolutely no ambiguity surrounding his elimination. Fast forward 58 years. The X-out returns, not to realistically portray any equivalency with Hitler so much as enable the Bush Administration's own blood lust in targeting Iraq and Saddam Hussein for being a bully, a convenient target and a convenient stand-in for bin Laden. Recall, also, after the U.S. caught Hussein alive, how the cover validates the actions of a kangaroo court and a hasty, ugly hanging at the expense of a legitimate and potentially international trial.

Now, jump ahead a mere three more years and the X-out is cheapened still further, this time to help showcase the administration's killing of the highly (if poorly) built up,  supposed al Qaeda mastermind, and Bush administration Anbar poster boy, Abu al-Zarqawi.

I doubt I would have any qualms at all if TIME had X-ed Hitler, left it alone alone for 66 years, then X-ed bin Laden. But after X-ing out three Muslims over the past eight years, today's cover (apart from the question whether bin Laden was even in Hitler's class) speaks more to targeted assassination -- and racism.


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Illustration (on last two covers, at least): Tim O'Brien.  Cover dates: May 20, 2011 (bin Laden);  June 19, 2006 (Abu al-Zarqawi); April 21, 2003 (Saddam Hussein); May 7, 1945 (Hitler)