How Barack Obama Got Snared In Portfolio's Crazy-Making

Joanne Lipman, the diva editor of Portfolio, is becoming known for her disastrous cover decisions. The worst, perhaps, involved the president and Annie Leibovitz.

One might call Lipman's tastes erratic. The business magazine editor, said to find business journalism uninteresting, is known around the office for spiking piles and piles of copy, enough even to prompt comparisons to Tina Brown in her fussy Condé Nast heyday.

From the outside, Lipman's impulsiveness is apparent in her curious cover choices. After the outbreak of the worst economic crisis in 70 years, she put a picture of clothier Dov Charney on the front of Portfolio. Next month, amid talk of bank nationalization and CEO immolation, the magazine's cover will feature Sarah Palin.

How Barack Obama Got Snared In Portfolio's Crazy-Making

From inside the publication comes a tragic story involving a cover that never was: Barack Obama, shot by photo legend Annie Leibovitz at Lipman's behest, for the December-January cover. Worried that everyone else would put the president-elect on the cover, Lipman is said to have killed the portrait after it was taken.

So instead of what was believed to be exclusive work from star photographer Leibovitz, of the newly-elected president, timed exquisitely to front-run the inaugural buzz, Portfolio ended up with a concept image of a dead bull on Wall Street; clever, but severely tardy for a meltdown that shifted into overdrive nearly a full financial quarter earlier.

"Clever, but severely tardy" could also be used to summarize much of what has ended up inside the magazine — and to describe whatever Condé Nast chairman Si Newhouse will inevitably have to have done to Portfolio in Lipman's wake.