10 Controversial Magazine Covers That Shocked The World

Magazines work just like other forms of media, in that they must grab their readers' attention in order to ensure that they can secure a strong and hooked audience. This has always been the case, ever since mass media first surfaced, as moguls tried to sell their products.

In the modern age it has become even more important for the likes of magazines and newspapers to interest their audience more effectively, with the rise of social media and the internet shrinking their market significantly. No longer do people have to rely on daily prints or weekly periodicals to find out what is going on in the world. Instead, they can access a world of information with just a few clicks on a smartphone or computer. So the process of gaining the attention of a reader has become all the more important for magazines.

While newspapers might have thought-provoking or shocking headlines to engage a reader, magazines will often use a striking image on their front cover. These can range from shocking photographs, insensitive cartoons or just downright provocative pictures. Whatever the case, magazines have come up with a variety of controversial front covers over the years, as they battle to catch a reader’s eye. Some are contentious because of the horrifying story that they tell, while others are condemned for their apparent endorsement of divisive figures. Of course, there are also other reasons why a cover could be considered controversial, something that this article will attempt to examine.


10 Life – Vietnam War Cover

The war in Vietnam was something that caused a huge amount of frustration and anger in the U.S., with public opinion hugely divided over the role that American troops were playing in the conflict. The media itself played a large part in informing the public of what exactly was happening in Vietnam, and in stirring the mood of the population. This magazine cover for Life Magazine on November 26, 1965, caused a great deal of controversy through its distinct portrayal of the “blunt reality of war in Vietnam”.

9 Wired – Edward Snowden

****EMBARGOED UNTIL 7AM AUG 13**** This is the cover of the WIRED magazine Sept. 2014 issue. Edward Snowden poses in a Moscow hotel room during an exclusive interview with WIRED magazine for the Sept. 2014 issue. (Photo by Platon)

It’s entirely understandable why a magazine might choose to run a picture of Edward Snowden on their front cover because of the huge impact he had on the world when he leaked thousands of secret NSA documents to the media. But having the man delicately draped in the U.S. flag almost seems like it was designed to offend those who believe that Snowden is a traitor to America for what he has done. Even supporters of the former NSA contractor worried that the cover could cause controversy and weaken their cause.

8 Vanity Fair – Demi Moore

In 1991, Vanity fair featured a photograph of a pregnant Demi Moore, on the front cover of their magazine, causing a huge dividing of opinion. Many argued that it was simply distasteful and wrong for an expectant mother to pose in such a way, while others countered that it was a women’s choice to be photographed like that and to celebrate pregnancy. It has since become rather common for female celebrities to pose naked while pregnant, with many copying the pose and style of the original cover in their own photographs for a variety of magazines. Some of those who have gone on to replicate the cover have included Jessica Simpson and Cindy Crawford.

7 Rolling Stone – Britney Spears


As we all know, Britney Spears has become a sex icon and a huge public figure thanks to her music career. However, the pop star first sprang to fame early in her life, while she was still in her teenage years. She went on to appear on the Rolling Stone cover in lingerie in 1999, aged just 17. This caused a storm over whether it was appropriate for a girl so young to pose in underwear for magazines, especially in such a suggestive way. Many argued that it was making the young girl appear much too sexual for her age.

6 Time – Hitler as Man of the Year

Although the Time 'Man of the Year' is generally seen as a prestigious award that is given as a sort of “Best Person” honor, the magazine has always been careful to point out that it is simply recognition of the person who has had the biggest impact on the world over the past 12 months. In this light, it can understood why they chose Adolf Hitler, in 1938. The German Chancellor had already unified Germany with Austria and set about creating a modern country that would be capable of great power. The cover announcing the winner was still controversial though, and has become even more so over the years because of the atrocities Hitler carried out in the following years.

5 National Lampoon – Dog Threat


The National Lampoon was a humor magazine and as such, had a long history of creating purposely controversial covers that aimed to both shock and entertain readers. Their most famous cover came in January of 1973, when it simply featured a dog with a gun pointed at its head. The accompanying text read “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill this Dog” lead to something of an uproar amongst animal rights groups, despite the obvious joke the magazine was attempting to make. Such is the significance of this particular cover, it has been parodied and copied by all types of publication.

4 Hustler – Women as Meat

Magazines such as Hustler and Playboy, have always attracted criticism for their portrayal of women in their content. Many feel that rather than treating their models like humans, they simply parade them like pieces of meat for men to gawp at. In response to this, Larry Flynt created a cover for Hustler that featured a women being fed into a meat grinder along with the quote, “We will no longer hang women up like pieces of meat.” This caused widespread anger across the country when it hit store shelves in June of 1978, and led to numerous protests against the magazine.


3 Time – O.J. Simpson


Magazines all around the U.S. featured the mugshot of O.J. Simpson following his arrest in 1994. Therefore, when Time featured the same image on June 27, it wasn't all that controversial. What did cause controversy though, was the fact that Time had altered the image significantly. Many believed that the magazine had purposely darkened the mugshot to make Simpson look more dark skinned than he really was and to make him appear far more menacing with deeper shadows and less light. As well as these racial issues, some also felt that the image implied guilt, though Time moved quickly to deny both accusations.

2 The New Yorker – Barack and Michelle Obama

On July 21, 2008, The New Yorker printed a cover for their magazine that featured Barack and Michelle Obama, as the politician ran for president. The magazine proved to be contentious for its depiction of both though. Obama was drawn to appear dressed in a similar way to Osama Bin Laden, whereas racially stereotypical features were exaggerated on Michelle, with her hair being most notably altered. Although The New Yorker claimed that they were simply satirizing the media portrayal of the Obama’s, many people criticized the magazine and the Obama campaign stated that it was both tasteless and insensitive.

1 Rolling Stone – The Bomber


Following the tragedy that occurred at the Boston Marathon in 2013, where two bombs killed three people and seriously injured hundreds more, Rolling Stone magazine featured a picture of one of the two prime suspects on its front cover. The photograph was one that had been shared on the internet after the attack and had originally been posted online by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev himself. The cover attracted widespread anger and criticism, due to the anguish the man had caused. Others felt it wrong that Tsarnaev should feature prominently on a magazine, something that is usually considered an honor, and worried that others may imitate him to get fame and recognition.



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