Rachael Ray vs. Good Housekeeping: Bad Journalism or Something More?

goodhousekeeping_july2010.jpgBy now you may have read that perky celebrity chef Rachael Ray isn’t so thrilled with being a cover girl. Not for any other magazine than her own, that is. So when Good Housekeeping magazine sprung the surprise that she was the face of its July 2010 issue, well, let’s just say she wasn’t so perky anymore.

Critics seem to chalk up Rachael Ray’s blood-boiling reaction to greed or a melodramatic attempt by one or both magazines to spur on some extra sales. Is it possible? Sure, but it sounds as if the skeptical reading public is just building walls to protect themselves from potentially being duped.

At the heart of this debate is the use of unauthorized images and recycled quotes to piece together a “current” Good Housekeeping cover story, which calls up some serious ethical journalistic dilemmas. For one, the images came from a photo shoot specifically done for Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine. And the cobbled together quotes from previous interviews? Let’s just say a college student failed my journalism course for doing the same thing.

Looking at this issue from a marketing perspective, I can fully understand Rachael Ray’s flat-out refusal to be the cover girl for what could be considered a competitor. As the face of her own self-titled magazine every month, she is her brand, and she’s made it quite successful with 1.7 million subscribers per issue to her credit.

So why run the risk of confusing–and perhaps disappointing–fans and would-be readers by plastering her face on anything but her own popular publication? Just think how you’d react if the packaging of your Diet Coke contained another low-calorie soda.

There is another piece to this debate that is more important than marketing and maybe even more sacred than journalism, and that is the seeming abandonment of common courtesy. If Rachael Ray shot down Good Housekeeping’s cover request, why didn’t the ladies’ magazine accept her position and aim a little lower?

A consensual interview with the chef whose name is synonymous with 30-minute meals would have been no less powerful or entertaining if her mug wasn’t the first thing you saw when you picked up the magazine. If Good Housekeeping were really only trying to capture Rachael Ray’s personality and passion for cooking, would it matter whether her face was plastered on the cover?

And if Good Housekeeping weren’t a lifestyle news publication, I could perhaps be a little more forgiving. But because common courtesy, ethics, empathy–whatever you want to call the moral compass directing the coverage–seems to be absent, I’m afraid this is about something much more serious than bad journalism.

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Michelle Ryan

About Michelle Ryan

Michelle Ryan is obsessed with good food, great shoes and Alabama football way down South in Savannah, Georgia. She hasn’t met a kitchen gadget she hasn’t at least thought about buying (trying them is another story) and devotes her time to Bikram Yoga, baking and trying to overcome long-held finicky eating habits.