Here Are Time Magazine’s Most Controversial Covers

September 25, 2020


In the modern era, an image is worth much more than a thousand words. However, some magazines have discovered that having a controversial magazine cover is a surefire way for a magazine to grab attention. One of these magazines is Time.

Time magazine is arguably popular for its annual covers, particularly ‘The Person Of The Year.’ Part of the Magazine’s fame may also be due to its willingness to court controversy. Here are Time’s most controversial covers.

2010 Cover Featuring Aisha

The cover of the 2010 issue of Time magazine features a photo of Aisha. Aisha’s nose and ears had been cut off – with the approval of a Taliban commander – by her abusive husband. She cannot read or write and had never heard of Time magazine. Aisha posed for the picture and said she wants the world to see the effect of terrorism. However, critics say the cover was being used to justify the American occupation of Afghanistan.

1994 Cover of O.J. Simpson

There was a barrage of criticism about Time magazine’s cover portrait of O. J. Simpson in the 1994 Cover. The photo manipulation of OJ’s mugshot rendered his blackness both unequivocal and menacing. By darkening Simpson’s features, the Magazine had emphasized his skin color.

The mug shot, representing a public trial already plagued by racial animosity, caused a major public outrage. The Magazine later pulled the issue and circulated a new copy featuring an unaltered photo of Simpson. In July 1994, Time’s James Gains had to issue a public apology and clarification.

1966, Cover ‘Is God Dead?’

On Good Friday in April 1966, Time magazine published what may be the most famous cover in its celebrated history. For the first Time, TIME published the magazine cover without a photograph or drawing. Instead, the Magazine asked, “Is God Dead?” in bold red letters on a jet black background.

Time’s 1966 cover article about new approaches to thinking about God caused an uproar. The issue sold more copies than any in two decades and prompted a record 3,000 angry replies. The National Review responded by asking whether TIME was, in fact, the dead one. Others decided to ignore and choose to spend their time shopping for the best massage chairs.

Adolf Hitler

It’s hard to think of Adolf Hitler as a thing of flesh and viscera and bone and blood. But Adolf Hitler was named ‘Man of the Year’ by Time magazine in 1938. The publication claimed to pick Hitler by analyzing how much media coverage he had in the media. However, Time magazine also clarifies that this doesn’t mean that the chosen person is always a hero.

Joseph Stalin

After choosing Stalin as “Person of the Year” in 1939, Time magazine chose him again in 1942. Stalin was named for single-handedly “switching the power balance of Europe. That’s after Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Adolf Hitler and the two dictators agreed to carve up Eastern Europe. Time magazine also praised Stalin for the Soviet Union’s rapid collectivization. The second cover of Stalin was after World War II when he brought Russia back from the brink of total defeat. However, Stalin had also presided over famines and mass executions.

Richard Nixon

Time magazine named Richard Nixon’ Person of the Year’ in 1971 and 1972. At the time, this was seen as a sensible choice. After all, Nixon was president of the US and was just about to be re-elected. However, historians have since questioned Time magazine’s choice. Most of the criticism has to do with the Watergate Scandal.

Ayatollah Khomeini

In 1979, Time Magazine named Ayatollah Khomeini ‘Person of the Year.’ Khomeini was the leader of the Iranian revolution that had overthrown the American-backed monarchy. During the revolution, Americans were held hostage at the US embassy in Tehran. Therefore, the choice of Khomeini received backlash from Time’s American readers.

Donald Trump

In 2016, Time named Donald Trump as ‘Person of the Year.’ Trump had just been elected as president of the United States, defeating Hillary Clinton in a hotly contested election. Although Trump had dominated the news during the preceding year, Trump’s choice sparked national and global outrage. That’s because many people viewed Trump as a racist who promoted white supremacy and far-right ideologies.


TIME’s choices for Person of the Year are often controversial. These covers can serve as object lessons for what to do and what not to do in the magazine industry.