the frequency a kenny chung blog

Take a look at the latest covers of TIME Magazine:

TIME Magazine Lil Kim Jong Un Jeremy Lin Linsanity
The different covers of the Feb 27, 2012 edition of TIME Magazine (click to enlarge)

This piqued my interest for several reasons. The first was obviously that “Lil’ Kim” is the most clever headline that anyone could have come up with for that cover story. Seriously, take note, ESPN. You can make a pun about an Asian person without resorting to “accidental” racial slurs.

But more importantly, one of the topics making its way around media circles is how TIME Magazine “dumbs down” covers for the US audience. It’s been inferred that their editors don’t believe Americans care about worldly issues like overseas uprisings or the European economy. Jon Stewart summed it up perfectly on this Daily Show segment.

So it’s very interesting to me that for the February 27 issue of TIME, it’s the Asian version that has a different cover from the rest. When I first saw the spread above, I thought for sure it was the US version that would have the LINSANITY! cover. After all, Jeremy Lin is one of the biggest stories and personalities of the year so far. My thought process then moved onto thinking that maybe TIME had done the ol’ American switcheroo one too many times and realized the error of their ways, so they left the Kim Jong Un cover on (with a very America-centric reference to hip hop artist Lil Kim).

But once you start peeling the layers of the onion even deeper, you realize that maybe there was some self-censorship at play in the Asian version. After all, any article about Kim Jong Un is bound to mention his late father in a less than desirable light. I’m not sure if they even get TIME Magazine in North Korea, but I’m sure their potential version of TIME (even if heavily edited) doesn’t include stories about bears mourning for the Dear Leader. And I would suppose that some governments would take offense to the American view of Asian diplomacy (or lack thereof).

Then I remembered something I had read online about how the Chinese media doesn’t know how to cover the Jeremy Lin story. Its citizens know who he is, but covering his background is a bit tricky due to the fact that he’s from Taiwan (whose independence the Chinese government doesn’t recognize) and because he openly talks about his Christian faith (which is a big no-no). So, clearly not the greatest cover story choice either. Was TIME Magazine just choosing what it believed to the lesser of two evils? The backlash from a Jeremy Lin story from the Chinese government would definitely be a lot less harsh than that of a potentially defamatory Kim Jong Un article in North Korea.

I wanted some expert opinions on the matter, so I Tweeted at NPR’s On The Media.  Their response was that TIME was probably trying to cater to the Asian audience who’s going Linsane at the moment. Am I just paranoid or did I just overlook Occam’s Razor? Because money as a motivator is typically the simplest explanation.

In either case, a good media study up for debate.

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