Time cover of terrified child at Boston Marathon is disturbing media trend

Time's tablet-only Boston Marathon cover shows a bloodied and terrified child in the arms of a police officer. The controversy sparked is not unfamiliar to modern Time covers that have used children in provocative ways.

TIME's cover on breast feeding compared with Louis Glanzman's illustration for a cover story about Robert Kennedy's assassination in 1968 — both provocative subjects, only one, the newer one, has a controversial cover. Did TIME's recent tablet-only cover of a bloodied boy go too far? He thinks so.

In the '60s Louis Glanzman, now 91, known for his illustrations in the Pippi Longstocking books, painted more than 80 covers for Time magazine. But, now, he and his wife Fran have given up on the publication because of its cover choices which they consider “sad and unfortunate.” While Mr. Glanzman’s covers are in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, current covers are causing an outcry from readers for placing children in provocative, horrific, or sensational settings.

“Lou always looks at those new covers for Time and says, ‘It’s a new world and I’m not part of it,’” said his wife Fran in a phone interview from their home in Medford, N.J. She explained that Mr. Glanzman is very ill and in bed, “The family is very worried about him right now.” Their family includes four adult daughters and 10 grandchildren.

This week Time's choice of photo has sparked controversy with the cover shot of a terrified little boy, one side of his head drenched in blood, as he is whisked from the bombing by a first responder. The headline reads “Tragedy in Boston.” As The Huffington Post aptly pointed out, “people recoil at the sight of children in peril, and some will inevitably wonder why the magazine chose the picture it did.”

My objection is that I think this cover choice works against our national spiritual and emotional recovery by sowing the seeds of fear. Therefore, this cover choice gives the terrorists exactly what they wanted by visually and spiritually impacting us right down to our children.

Mrs. Glanzman spoke about her recent conversations with her spouse on the topic of how news presentation has changed to become more sensational and gory. “At least with Lou’s covers you could always show them to the kids,” Mrs. Glanzman said. “Now, with what’s on there, well … I don’t know.”

While he stopped doing news decades ago and has become known in recent years for his biblically themed illustrations for churches and the book Soul Sisters: Women in Scripture Speak to Women Today, by Edwina Gateley, Time is still one of his first loves.

I know that Time covers are something dear to him because I know Lou. 

We did a children’s book together called "Dreamcatchers" that he illustrated. He is a tiny, wisp of a man, with a baldpate and tufty white hair on the sides of his head, eyes sharp and twinkling with mischief and a cigarillo in a short holder always at hand.

We launched that book at The National Arts Club (NAC) in Manhattan and Barnes and Noble in Union Square the night before the 911 attacks hit the city. The NAC was holding an exhibition of his private collection of his Time cover art and other paintings and sketches of JFK. Lou and I had chosen not to keep our extra day in the city because he was very tired and 9/11 is my wedding anniversary and I wanted to be with my hubby.

I remember when the Time cover image of the towers exploding came out the next week that Lou was moved. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he and his wife find the use of children in crisis as cover fodder to be “sad.”

“Lou would be the first to tell you how much things have changed in the way the news is illustrated and covers are done nowadays,” said his wife. “He just shakes his head when he sees what’s going on.”

When Time covered the assassination of Robert Kennedy in its June 14, 1968, issue, they bypassed using a widely circulated photo of Mr. Kennedy on the floor on the Ambassador Hotel mortally wounded, and instead ran a portrait of the senator illustrated by Lou. 

Lou used to tell me about how Time got his covers. They would tell him the topic and he would research it, read their stories thoroughly and then paint the cover art on canvas. For a cover story on John F. Kennedy he was flown to The White House and sat in the Oval Office to sketch the president. Some of those sketches and preliminary cover paintings were on display at our NAC event.

Lou would always paint three versions for each Time cover to give the editor plenty of options. Then a helicopter would fly in from New York to a little local air strip near his home.

He told me how he never knew which they had chosen until he went to the news stand to get a copy. None of the 80 covers he painted were of children nursing at age 6 with a bare-breasted mom mugging for the camera (the illustration of a cover story on attachment parenting published May 21), or of a child in torment, blood, and ruin (the Boston marathon bombing issue released today).

Perhaps if the editors took as much time to think about their cover choices as Lou took to paint his covers they would realize there is something more important than the impact an image has on sales. This week’s image in particular impacted America’s ability to recover from the violence.

You can sell news products with class, objectivity, accuracy, and stunning images that do not stun us into the fetal position through horror. There is a line between poignant and prurient that the visual images of Boston Marathon and other tragedies have crossed.

As parents, grandparents, and consumers we should listen to experts like David Schonfeld, chief pediatrician at St. Christopher's Hospital for ChildrenPhiladelphia, a member of the Sandy Hook Commission on School Crises, who said of this trend in reporting: “I don’t understand why they run the same images over and over consecutively, forensically on the news and online. We just don’t need those images in our heads.”

We don’t need those images in our heads, or on our covers. We don’t need to exploit the pain of our children in a way that lines pockets and makes terror mongers smile with satisfaction.

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