October 9, 2000

Open letter to Supermarket CEOs re offensive magazine covers at checkouts, October 2000


New York (9 October 2000) — Many supermarkets through the U.S. place overly sexualized magazines, notably Cosmopolitan and Glamour, in their checkout aisles, over the objections of concerned parents and others. Morality in Media President Robert W. Peters has, since June 1999, been writing letters to chief executives of supermarkets across the U.S., urging the CEOs to re-examine this policy. The following is the tenth letter in that series, sent in October 2000:

An Open Letter to Supermarket CEOs

Dear Sirs and Madams:

“Movie studios may have to defend their use of sex and violence to sell flicks, but…women’s magazines usually skip the violence and go straight for the sex, and the new issues ofCosmopolitan and Glamour this week are no exception” (“On the Newsstand,” N.Y. Post, October 2, 2000).

During the uproar over the revelation that entertainment media are targeting children for products deemed unsuitable for children, I was asked whether it was feasible to shield children from ads for products intended for adults. My answer was both “No” and “Yes:” No, if the goal is to shield minors from all such ads; Yes, if the goal is to significantly reduce exposure.

For example, ads for R-rated films will reach far fewer children if aired after 10 p.m. during a news program than at 8 p.m. during a popular teen show. Similarly, trailers for R-rated films will presumably reach fewer children if shown before the exhibition of an R-rated film than a G or PG-rated film.

Perhaps I am wrong, but if entertainment companies had been boldly advertising “adult” products at supermarket checkouts, that practice would also have been noted in the FTC’s recent report. The presence of CosmoGIRL at supermarket checkouts in New York City is an indication that checkouts are a good place to reach teens.

Instead, some women’s magazines use their front covers to promote X-rated articles and then pay to ensure that the covers are prominently displayed at supermarket checkouts, where even children old enough to read are exposed day-after-day. Even Helen Gurley Brown, former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, reportedly does “wax concerned over the heightened level of raunch at women’s magazines” (Brian Steinberg, “Amid an Exodus of Magazine Editors,” Wall Street Journal, 28 August 2000). And well she should be with cover lines like these on the October and September 2000 issues of Cosmo magazine:

“SEX-RATED: How Sin-sational Are You? Learn the Secret Ways to Be a Bad, Bad Girl in Bed and We Guarantee He’ll Feel Sooo Good” (Cosmo, October 2000)”Free! Cosmo’s Naughty Note Cards: Tuck One in His Briefcase or Drawer and He’ll Be Weak-Kneed With Desire All Day” (Cosmo, October 2000)

“Cosmo’s Kama Sutra 3: You Begged for More. Our New Batch (13!) Is Sooo Intense and Tantalizing, He’ll Want to Tattoo Your Name on His Chest” (Cosmo, September 2000)

“The Morning After: How to Squash His Post-Nooky Paranoia” (Cosmo, September 2000)

I read recently that I am now a “senior citizen” (at age 51), but I can still remember male friends in senior high school joking privately among other male friends about “nooky” (defined in Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition (1988) as:  “[Vulgar Slang] sexual intercourse”.

But never in their wildest moments would they have used such a term in front of young children or, for that matter, in front of their sisters, parents or grandparents. But in year 2000, many “mainstream” supermarkets apparently think nothing of it.

I am not an ACLU-style First Amendment “absolutist.” I don’t think our nation’s founding fathers intended the First Amendment to strip government of its historic power to maintain a decent society, protect public morality and protect children from vulgar, lewd, pornographic, or excessively violent “entertainment.”

But the best way to head off government regulation is for truly responsible companies to behave that way.

Supermarkets can’t force Cosmo to join the world of decent, morally uplifting magazines. But they can refuse to allow their checkouts to be used for the open display of “smut” — defined in Webster’s as: “3 pornographic or indecent talk, writing, etc.”

Common decency requires nothing less.


Robert Peters
President, Morality in Media

P.S. We realize that many supermarkets have taken steps to address the display problem. To you we again say, Thank You.


MORALITY IN MEDIA is a nonprofit national interfaith organization, with headquarters in New York City, working through constitutional means to curb traffic in obscenity and to uphold standards of decency in the mainstream media.

Author: MIM   10/09/2000

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