Newsweek magazine on Monday continued to display its unmatched penchant for creating hashtag-friendly cover designs -- only this time, its intentions may have backfired.
Following a tumultuous week in which violent protests against an anti-Muslim video have spread throughout the Middle East and beyond, Newsweek sounded off on the issue with its latest cover story, which features a crowd of bearded protesters under the headline, "Muslim Rage: How I Survived It, How We Can End It."
Then, just to make sure everyone was paying attention, the magazine tweeted the hashtag #muslimrage and invited Twitter users to discuss the made-to-be-controversial cover.
But Tina Brown and other Daily Beast-Newsweek staffers might have been surprised to find that the overwhelming majority of tweets marked with that hashtag were not praising their story. While plenty of #muslimrage posts were pouring in as of Monday afternoon -- about 20 tweets per minute at last count -- most were random, often sarcastic anecdotes of displeasure expressed by everyday Muslims. As Mashable pointed out, many users were simply making fun of the hashtag -- and the Newsweek cover itself. Indeed, the cover has already inspired at least one parody.
One user, for instance, experienced "Muslim rage" after he ran out of chutney, while another joked that she had Muslim rage because her camel got a flat tire. Some posts were more serious in nature, like the tweet from University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole, a widely quoted Middle East expert who expressed outrage over news outlets that refer to Iran incorrectly as an Arab nation.
Judging from these early reactions, Newsweek's latest pot-stirrer is not packing the same punch as some of its more controversial recent efforts. Last month, the magazine touched off an online firestorm after it published an anti-Obama cover story by the conservative Harvard economist Niall Ferguson titled, "Hit the Road, Barack." The issue was among the top-selling magazines of the last three years, according to a report in Adweek. Meanwhile, the national buzz it generated helped push the Daily Beast's August Web traffic to more than 15 million unique visitors, according to a giddy internal memo by Tina Brown that was later posted on Mediabistro's Fishbowl blog.
Brown, whose Daily Beast website merged with Newsweek in 2010, has done her best to keep the struggling newsweekly relevant. One of her most notable recent success stories -- in terms of generating chatter -- was the headline-grabbing May 21 issue, which declared Barack Obama America's "First Gay President."
While "Muslim Rage" may not reach similar levels of clamor, it is still managing to ruffle more than a few feathers. The feature story by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Muslim-turned-atheist who recounts her own personal tale of Muslim rage, has already attracted more than 500 user comments -- not to mention a scathing op-ed in the Daily Telegraph. Ali is best known as the screenwriter of "Submission," the 2004 Dutch movie that led to the assassination of its director, Theo van Gogh. (She is also married to fellow Newsweek provocateur Ferguson.) Rob Crilly, the Telegraph's Pakistan correspondent, harshly criticized Ali's piece, calling it "a sickening piece of shock journalism that cheapens a once great magazine."
Maybe Crilly would feel better if he stopped by Twitter and searched for a certain hashtag.
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