ML Critical Paper 1

MCOM 202

Farah Saffaf

American University of Beirut















This paper is criticizing The Economist  magazine cover titled “Hit Him Hard” and its related story. The story talks about the Syrian President’s alleged use of chemical weapons, and the reaction Mr. Obama should do in response. The writer is stressing on the fact that Assad should be punished for his use of chemical weapons by the American forces and their allies. The paper criticizes the writer’s point of view and tries to emphasize the badly chosen words used. I try to analyze the cover photo from all aspects in an effort to understand why this picture was chosen over many others. I back my arguments with what we have learnt and read in this course about news and images. I will validate my case with my own ideology regarding what is happening in Syria, since it is my homeland. In the end, I present a different image for the cover of The Economist magazine in light of what I think should appear, describing how different readers would respond. I also makeup a new headline that describes the cover image and the related story.

The Story and its Image

            The Economist magazine has always been paying attention to what is happening in Syria, a few of its cover photos evolving around it. The August 31st issue of The Economist is mainly concerned about the Syrian crises, showing the face of the Syrian President Assad with the title “Hit Him Hard”. The related story explains the picture and the title. (“Hit Him Hard” 2013)

The Cover

            The cover image portrays Assad in a wanted sort of way, since he is a wanted man in large parts of the world. It captures the attention immediately with the strong title written on top of it. It conveys the message that was still debatable at the time, whether Obama will decide on bombing Syria or not, and to what extent. The cover shot is a zoom in on Assad’s face, which is a bit transparent, revealing victims of the chemical attack in shrouds behind. The results of whether Assad is to blame about the chemical attack is yet to be revealed.(see Appendix)

The photo is synergistic, containing informational, graphical and emotional elements all together. The head shot of Assad identifies his looks to those who don’t know his appearance. The graphical aspect is conveyed in the action made by Assad towards the victims, killing them using chemical weapons. The emotional aspect is clearly understood from the background picture.(see Appendix)

This image was chosen in an effort to encourage the readers to think seriously about the necessity of foreign intervention in Syria. A clueless viewer, having no background about the story, will probably not care about the subject, maybe preferring that nothing happens. A more educated viewer (knows more about Syrian issue) might feel more emotional when seeing the image, feeling eager to support the hit. On the other hand, the Arab viewer, specifically the Syrian, might think that this photo is meaningless, since Assad has been killing his people for the past 2 and a half years, why hit him now?

According to (Sontag, 1977), “the quality of feeling, including moral outrage, that people can muster in response to photographs of the oppressed, the exploited, the starving, and the massacred also depends on the degree of their familiarity with these images”. The degree of familiarity with the image dedicates the degree of the reaction towards the image. As a Syrian, I am familiar with these images, but this image stirred mixed emotions in me. Emotions of sympathy for the victims, emotions of hatred for Assad and emotions of disgust at what we have become. I also experienced emotions of surprise at the fact that Assad should be “hit hard” only because he “used” chemical weapons, not because of all the other ways he killed his people.

The Story

            The cover photo only gives a glimpse of what the related story is all about. The writer is encouraging Obama to hit the Syrian President by delivering an “ultimatum”. What is surprising is that the report which confirms Assad’s use of chemical weapons is yet to surface, but the writer is assuming that it is confirmed. On the other hand, let us consider that it is confirmed, why is the future of the Syrian people manipulated by the Americans? Why is the so called “red line” only concerned about using chemical weapons and not other weapons? No country has the right to intervene in another country’s business whenever it finds it suitable. (“Hit Him Hard”, 2013)

The western intervention in Syria will only escalate the crises there, since it is not aimed at changing the regime, only punishing Assad. A lot of civilian lives will be lost in the process, aren’t the lives lost in the past two or more years enough?

An Alternative Image

            If I were to change the cover of The Economist magazine I would use an image that combines more graphical and emotional aspects. I would cut the magazine cover in half, showing on one side a picture of the Syrian President with his wife and kids. On the other half a picture of a family killed by weapons other than chemical weapons, in an effort not to confirm what is still not confirmed.

A random viewer, with no background of the story, might feel sorry for the victims and be surprised at how those two families live in the same country. A Syrian viewer pro the Syrian regime might find this image hurtful and meaningless, since this viewer considers all what the media has to say about the Syrian President is made up. On the other hand, another viewer of the same background might change his mind about his views after seeing a photo of victims from his own country being killed mercilessly. Another viewer against the regime might think that Assad had crossed the line a long time ago. This image might awaken feelings of disgust at the sight of Assad’s family living in peace, while other unfortunate families are dying in the same country.

A Title Swap

            The title I would choose is “Red Line”, written in red broken bricks. This title conveys mockery and contempt at Obama’s “threatening words” to Assad. Since the “red line” is used in the magazine article, to use it as a title won’t be surprising. I find this title to be very strong and interesting, very much in connection with the ideas conveyed in the article. Some readers might find it annoying, others might like the ridicule embedded in it.


(2013, August 31). Hit Him Hard. The Economist. Retrieved from

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. Penguin Books


the economist 

the alternative economist 2