At left is the cover of the July issue of the conservative monthly magazine Newsmax. Notice anything collar-looseningly embarrassing about it? Not to worry! Despite featuring the late Tim Russert as the primus inter pares of electoral opinion-makers, Newsmax assures its readers that it had no choice but to run with the graphic as is because the book had already shipped by the time of the "Meet the Press" anchor's passing. Such are the pitfalls of old media publishing cycles. Though it doesn't mean he can't still be a good posthumous marketing tool: "In this Newsmax Special Report, 'The Power and the Glory,' we reveal the media talking heads - people like Russert - who are exerting tremendous influence this election year. Nobody exemplified this media power better than Russert." Fortunately, the press release ran on the Newsmax website, so altering the original clause -"Among the bigmouths who have hijacked our democracy" - was the work of a mere keystroke.
Well, let's face it, it was an extraordinary situation. Several boxes of the July issue had just arrived in our office, and I was sitting in a conference room with our graphics department, discussing some designs I hoped to implement in the months ahead. It was, I think, some four hours since our in-office supply of bound books had appeared here in West Palm Beach, when suddenly word came that Russert had died. An executive editor poked his head into the conference room and made the announcement. Of course I immediately figured it was a bad, somewhat distasteful joke. I think blood quickly drained from my face, Jeff, as I realized this was largely unprecedented - and somewhat spooky - territory. The magazine had already shipped, darnit. It had just shipped, in fact. We could not modify the covers - not the ones going to subs, not the ones traveling to newsstands. The book was on its way to readers ... with Russert on the cover, and nothing could be done to avert an, uh, awkward situation. At least, thank goodness, we were singing Tim Russert's praises, essentially calling him the most influential political pundit/reporter on TV. The next issue of Newsmax (August) will include a paragraph in which we explain to our readers what had happened. And of course we say that Russert's presence will be missed as we move deeper in the presidential election season.
Buy next month's issue to hear all about how we screwed up last month's. It's their biggest scoop yet.
But Newsmax isn't alone in featuring a person on its cover who gave up the ghost just as the issue was hitting newsstands. Parade famously ran an interview on Dec. 21 2007 with Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated on Dec. 27. More chilling was what Bhutto told her questioner Gail Sheehy: ""I am what terrorists most fear, a female political leader fighting to bring modernity to Pakistan. Now they're trying to kill me."
What other inadvertently posthumous cover stars can you think of? (Rolling Stone's legendary naked-Lennon-curled-around-Ono cover was photographed by Annie Leibovitz the morning Lennon was killed, but that only added poignancy to the accompanying story, which of course reflected his death.)