Political Positions You’ll Love!: Cosmo And The Changing Face Of Journalism

“I don’t read cosmo for politics. You’re not the nytimes.” — @MercedezGossard

“Cosmo covering US politics?! Definitely is entertainment now…” — @AnitaSharma

“Cosmo, stick to your sex articles. Politics isn’t your thing. Lol.” — @KatLady97

One doesn’t have to descend too far into the nine layers of Twitter before stumbling across sentiments like the ones above.

This past December, when Teen Vogue printed its now infamous scorched-earth-op-ed “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,” in which writer Lauren Duca took the (then) President-Elect to task for systematic falsehoods and attempts to delegitimize the press, the article sparked a debate about much more than its unabashed contents. While outlets like Slate and The Atlantic lauded Duca and Teen Vogue for this relevant piece of journalism from a somewhat surprising source, an equally vocal camp—one that, in some cases, crossed party lines—mocked the credibility of political journalism from a women’s magazine.

That same camp, as seen above, once again turned up to the party last week in response to Cosmopolitan’s breaking news story that Kellyanne Conway did not misspeak, as she claimed, in regards to the Bowling Green Massacre. In an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball last week, she used the example to defend President Trump’s Muslim Ban.

“I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre,” she said. “Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.”

While the world briefly scratched its head and wondered how it had collectively forgotten an entire massacre, fact checkers quickly revealed that the world was not, in fact, suffering from a shared and selective amnesia. No one could remember the Bowling Green Massacre because it had never actually taken place.

When confronted, Kellyanne Conway immediately backpedalled, Tweeting that the error had been an “honest mistake” and stating in an interview with Fox News that she “misspoke.”

Enter Cosmo, rolling up with the receipts. In an interview with Kellyanne Conway on January 29th, Conway referred to the massacre again. “…Two Iraqi nationals came to this country, joined ISIS, traveled back to the Middle East to get trained and refine their terrorism skills and come back here and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre of taking innocent soldiers’ lives away.”

In the original interview, Cosmopolitan did not publish the quote as they admittedly had no idea what she was talking about. When her claims of a fictional Bowling Green Massacre went viral, however, they published a follow-up article with Conway’s on the record quote — thus, catching the Counselor to the President in a blatant lie.

Do publications like Cosmopolitan and Teen Vogue represent the changing face of journalism under the Trump administration? Yes. They target a demographic of soon-to-be and new voters who will, in a few years, represent a sizeable voting body. (Cosmopolitan boasts a 2017 monthly readership profile of 17,133,000 adults, 14,449,000 of whom are women.) And in the case of Cosmopolitan, this political engagement has been part of a branding shift that’s been in the works for longer than simply a lead-up to last year’s election.

Cosmopolitan is no stranger to reinvention. Founded in 1886, the magazine’s first iteration was something co-founder Paul Schlicht called a “first-class family magazine,” with “a department devoted exclusively to the concerns of women, with articles on fashions, on household decoration, on cooking, and the care and management of children, etc.” It would later become a frontrunner in the fiction market, publishing works by Rudyard Kipling, Edith Wharton, and Jack London; it was even the U.S. publication responsible for serializing H.G. Wells’ The War Of The Worlds.

In 1905, when Cosmo was purchased by William Randolph Hearst, it briefly delved into investigative journalism, publishing articles with titles like “The Growth of Caste in America” (March 1907), and“At the Throat of the Republic” (December 1907 – March 1908). This direction more or less ended in 1965 when Helen Gurley Brown stepped into a role as chief editor, reinventing Cosmo as a publication targeting the modern, sexually liberated woman. It has become, in succeeding decades, increasingly sexually explicit.

However, the focus has begun to shift in the last couple of years. And while Cosmo’s transition into political op-eds has been something of a slow burn, Trump’s criticism of mainstream media has re-opened the floor for debate on journalism: who gets to do it, and the slippery nature of truth.

Here’s a history of highlights in Cosmpolitan’s transition into the world of politics, a journey that has led to their current niche as resident feminist fact checkers (in excellent heels):

June 2013 – Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles publically states her interest in a new direction, as reported by Politico. “I really want Cosmo as a magazine to be more involved in political issues. We’re the biggest read magazine—literally—in the world and I think it’s very important that we stay on top of political issues that impact young women: health care, gun violence, the wage gap, how do we close it. These are all issues that I’m personally passionate about.”

September 2014Cosmo moves to endorse political candidates for the first time in its history, as also covered by Politico. Joanna Coles shared in an interview, “What we’re trying to say is, ‘Think about the issues that are important to you, and if you want to have a voice, then you need to use your voice. It’s all very well to sit back and complain, but you don’t have a right to complain if you don’t use your vote.’”

June 2015 – Joanna Coles tells CNN that her magazine engages in “Liberal Cheerleading.” Said Coles, “We have a rooted interest in them being part of the political process. We leave it to them if they want to vote for Hillary. Would we like to see more female candidates running? Of course we would. I think the political system would be better off. It’s really early in the campaign to say whether or not they would be better off with Hillary because we don’t know all the candidates, and we haven’t seen what Hillary stands for yet.”

March 2016Cosmo hires Republican Meghan McCain, daughter of Republican Sen. John McCain, as a contributing columnist, in a move that no doubt was meant to offer a more balanced voice from both ends of the political spectrum. However, certain issues cross party lines, and the political climate was a breeding ground for non-partisan concerns; her first article? “Donald Trump is Destroying My Party.”

September 2016Cosmo again makes waves, this time for its interview with Ivanka Trump over her father’s childcare and paternity leave plan. The Trump administration has been notorious in its evasion of direct questions; when Ivanka Trump became intentionally vague, writer Prachi Gupta did not back down from persistent follow-ups on the plan’s ramifications for same-sex marriage, as well as Trump’s 2004 comments about pregnancy being an inconvenience for business. When pressed, Ivanka became increasingly agitated and evasive, eventually abruptly ending the telephone interview. Cosmopolitan made the bold call to publish the transcript.

Today, political pieces are no longer the exception on Cosmopolitan, but the norm; the magazine’s website posts numerous politically focused articles daily. Sure, the magazine is still covering fashion and yes, sex advice, but now it’s a publication that promotes the concerns of women in all regards, and for this it should be respected – not mocked. Cosmo isn’t the editorial equivalent of a little girl playing dress-up, however the opposite party will attempt to belittle its work and attempt to usher it back into the proverbial kitchen.

Don’t Underestimate Cosmo” began the headline of a Vox article in 2016. And as Twitter user @netw3rk has pointed out, the tables for women’s magazines have turned.

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Meghan Greeley
Meghan Greeley is an actor and writer originally from Newfoundland. She has performed in films that have screened at festivals around the world, including Cannes, Karlovy Vary, the Utah Indie Film Festival, the Montreal World Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival. As a writer, her works have been published in The Stockholm Review, Metatron, Riddlefence, Nelson Publications, and the Breakwater Book of Contemporary Newfoundland Drama. She is a winner of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival’s Playwriting Contest and first place winner of the Sparks Literary Festival’s Poetry Competition. She currently resides in Toronto.