Monday, January 7, 2008

Parade Magazine, 10 Days Behind the Story?

Few people realize it, but Parade Magazine, the large-format supplement to your mother’s Sunday newspaper, is the the most widely circulated publication in the United States, with a circulation of 32 million and a readership of 71 million. And while Parade is most often a trusted source for celebrity gossip and Franklin Mint promotions, we were dumbfounded when we saw this past Sunday’s issue:

You’re reading that headline correctly. The cover and the associated article discuss the late Benazir Bhutto’s election prospects in the present tense, errantly describing her as alive and probing the consequences her success in the now much delayed election would have for Pakistan and the United States.

Indeed, the article’s call outs prove eerily prophetic, quoting Bhutto in large Heveltica print: “We must be out on the streets, or the terrorists win.” (p8)

Randy Siegel, Parade’s publisher, points out that the magazine went to press on Dec. 21 (a stunning 15 days before distribution) and was already on its way to the 400 newspapers that distribute it when Bhutto was killed in a Dec. 27 shooting and bombing attack at a campaign rally in her country.

The online version of the story was updated, Siegel said, but it was too late to change the magazine. He said the only option other than running the outdated article would have been asking newspapers not to distribute the magazine at all. An option Siegel insists was dismissed because "We decided that this was an important interview to share with the American people." Certainly not because of the enormous associated loss in advertising revenue...

Several of the hundreds of newspapers that carry Parade, including The Washington Post, ran editor's notes on the front page or elsewhere explaining that the magazine had gone to press before Bhutto's death. One wonders why Parade didn’t print its own note or insert explaining the editorial lapse. They had 10 days, after all. This lack of agility demonstrated by Parade is astounding, especially when compared to rapid editorial reversals the newsweeklies Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report regularly accomplish.

At best, readers caught the error and knew enough to temper the article’s rhetorical questions with the grim certainty of Bhutto’s assassination. At worst, Americans confused and under informed about the situation in Pakistan and the Muslim world will be plunged into further misunderstanding. In the mean, I expect most Americans will realize it was just a bad – if not embarrassing – editorial decision.

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