The annals of bad publication timing

Time isn’t always a friend to those of us in publishing and journalism. In this high-speed news environment, a lot can change between the time a story is written and when it appears in print: It can be scooped, overtaken by events, or even contradicted by them. I experienced this myself last December when I ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Time isn't always a friend to those of us in publishing and journalism. In this high-speed news environment, a lot can change between the time a story is written and when it appears in print: It can be scooped, overtaken by events, or even contradicted by them. I experienced this myself last December when I included the global backlash to full-body airport scanners on FP's list of "stories you missed" shortly before it became the biggest story in America. (I maintain that I was just a little too prescient.)

This year seems to be a particularly bad one for poorly timed publication. The latest victim is Washingtonian magazine, which has been getting a lot of grief for publishing a glowing profile of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, which unfortunately hit newsstands just days after he was arrested on charges of sexual assault. (You can read a heavily updated version of the piece here.)

To be fair to Washingtonian, Strauss-Kahn's past offenses with women and the extent of sexual harassment at the IMF weren't well known until this month, at least in the United States. This was just bad timing.

Time isn’t always a friend to those of us in publishing and journalism. In this high-speed news environment, a lot can change between the time a story is written and when it appears in print: It can be scooped, overtaken by events, or even contradicted by them. I experienced this myself last December when I included the global backlash to full-body airport scanners on FP‘s list of "stories you missed" shortly before it became the biggest story in America. (I maintain that I was just a little too prescient.)

This year seems to be a particularly bad one for poorly timed publication. The latest victim is Washingtonian magazine, which has been getting a lot of grief for publishing a glowing profile of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, which unfortunately hit newsstands just days after he was arrested on charges of sexual assault. (You can read a heavily updated version of the piece here.)

To be fair to Washingtonian, Strauss-Kahn’s past offenses with women and the extent of sexual harassment at the IMF weren’t well known until this month, at least in the United States. This was just bad timing.

Vogue can’t use this excuse for its puff piece on Syria’s first lady, Asma Assad. First of all, the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere were already well under way by the time Vogue went to print with the piece, which describes the "Rose of the Desert" as the "freshest and most magnetic of first ladies," endowed with "[d]ark-brown eyes, wavy chin-length brown hair, long neck, an energetic grace." Second, an uncritical profile of the family of one of the Middle East’s most brutal dictators was probably not a good idea even before people started marching in the streets. The piece has since been taken down.

Sometimes, even if the pieces aren’t embarrassing themselves, the presentation can be poorly timed. The editors of the Weekly Standard probably stand by the arguments by Reuel Marc Gerecht, William Kristol, and Lee Smith in the May 9 "leading from behind" package. But the fact that this cover ran the week Obama ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden doesn’t really do much to help them make their case.

But the example that truly combines a terrible argument, a terrible title, and really terrible timing is probably birther-in-chief Jerome Corsi’s Where’s the Birth Certificate?, which was published by WorldNet Daily books on May 17 after months of hype on Drudge Report and Fox News and less than one month after President Obama released his birth certificate.

Corsi’s still at it of course and is apparently advising Donald Trump, but he may want to consider a new title for the second edition of the book. Where’s the Birth Certificate is currently selling for about half off the cover price on Amazon, but I would expect that to fall fast.

 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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