5 Magazine Covers Controversial Enough to Warrant Apologies

As a magazine editor, it’s vitally important to recognize the power of a striking cover image. It’s the first thing customers see, and goes a long way toward determining whether they pick up the magazine or not.

It’s a hard job to do well, and an easy one to screw up. Yet while most failures on this front are attributable to weak imagery, sometimes they’re just offensive, out-of-line, or outright damaging.

Either way, they’re lots of fun to look at, discuss, and fight about: here are five of the most controversial magazine covers of all time.

1. TIME magazine (January 2, 1939): Adolf Hitler As Man Of the Year


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To be fair, TIME had a point in recognizing Hitler as the person who, “for better or for worse … [had] done the most to influence the events of [1938].” In addition to essentially redrawing Europe’s national borders that year, the Nazi dictator went on to invade Poland, start World War II, and embark on a multi-year effort to exterminate all the Jews on the continent.

2. National Lampoon (January 1973): “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog”


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Most people laughed, but this cover stirred discomfort in some circles with its overtones of animal cruelty.

3. TIME magazine (June 27, 1994): O.J. Simpson - An American Tragedy


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In addition to being one of the most highly publicized trials in history, the O.J. Simpson murder case (in which he was accused of killing then-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman, both white) had significant racial overtones. TIME did not help with this cover, in which they noticeably altered O.J.’s mug shot to make him appear darker and more menacing.

4. The Economist (September 10, 1994): “The trouble with mergers”


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This is just hilarious, but the crudity is undeniable: the image of two camels mating to illustrate what happens when businesses merge drew some fire for this generally high-brow publication.

5. Vogue (April 2008): LeBron James and Giselle Bundchen


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Although it was meant to promote fitness and showcase celebrities with fit bodies, this Vogue cover drew controversy for symbolically linking the hunched, tooth-baring LeBron James and frail Giselle Bundchen with King Kong iconography, drawing on stereotypes of menacing and predatory black men posing a sexual threat to white women.