Marie Claire has debuted a new Chrissy Teigen cover story that, among other things, is meant to promote her new recipe and cooking website, Cravings. That it reads something like a promotional fluff piece isn’t surprising in the realm of glossy magazine covers, which often feature celebrities with brands to promote. What was surprising, though, was a strange disclaimer at the end of the piece, which noted that the author, Alyse Whitney, had accepted a job at Cravings after singing Teigen’s praises in the profile, and writing such effusive phrases as “The queen of the Internet is going offline to build a better future for her kids—and the rest of us.”
On Twitter Tuesday, Whitney revealed that while writing the story over the span of three weeks, journalist and subject went from an “emotional three-hour zoom” to Teigen “emailing me a job offer.” While a somewhat expected example of the modern celebrity profiling industry, the announcement was complicated by an earlier tweet from Whitney, who, on August 17, announced she’d been hired by Teigen to head up Cravings as its managing editor. Her new job offer came, according to her tweets, almost a full month before the Marie Claire story went to print.
So why did Marie Claire still publish the story, if it knew that its credibility could be compromised by a writer accepting an offer from her subject before the story went to print? A diminutive editor’s note at the bottom of the profile online reads: “After this story was filed, Alyse Whitney joined Chrissy Teigen’s editorial team as managing editor at Cravings.” It’s currently unclear if this same disclosure appears in print, as the physical issues are on stands September 10. But since the editor’s note makes clear that Marie Claire was aware the writer of this profile had been hired by the profile’s subject after it had been filed, there was some window of time between filing and publication when Marie Claire could have pulled the story based on conflict-of-interest concerns. (Reps for Marie Claire did not respond to Jezebel’s request for comment by publication time.)
Beyond the question of journalistic ethics, the story’s florid descriptions of Teigen, cravings, and her various projects, calls into question whether the cover story counts as spon. With the changing nature of celebrity in the digital age, the FTC has long struggled to cope where sponsored content now exists across many ephemeral social media sites, in many ephemeral forms, despite laws it has set in place. But accepted guidelines and codes of conduct across journalism constitute a murkier area, like the clear flagging of affiliate content—which is to say, content a publication receives revenue for based on reader click-throughs or purchases—or branded “advertorials.” Marie Claire’s Chrissy Teigen profile partly reads like the latter. That is: sections of it reads like a press release for Cravings, espousing how it’s “dedicated to supporting and raising the voices of women—100 percent women, actually.” Or the “inclusivity rider” built into her brand’s partnership with Hulu.”
This quandary is only deeper by the way Whitney’s piece effuses over Teigen’s commitment to racial justice, her mission to put women in positions of power, giddily acknowledging her sometimes controversial online persona. Or how she’s in therapy now, avoiding online, and acknowledging her perceived privilege. All of these are necessary components of modern print celebrity profiles, favoring an uncontroversial editorial approach to the rich and powerful and famous, often appearing to place concerns of access to people like Teigen over the perceived journalistic duty to push back on subjects.
Should Teigen and Whitney’s words in this profile ring true, then Cravings has some solidified plan around workplace equity. Incredible! Coupled with mass layoffs across the industry, and an increasingly fraught job market, can Whitney really be blamed for seeking shelter under Teigen? I don’t think so. However, upon accepting this job, it’s a matter of ethics that both Whitney and Marie Claire should have attempted to kill the piece.
Besides the proliferation of branded and sponsored content across “women’s media brands” like Marie Claire, the disclaimer at the profile’s end is insufficient at best, and an attempt to bury the connection between Whitney and Teigen at worst. In not killing the piece, they have now put Whitney, a freelancer who announced she left Bon Appétit in June, in the crosshairs, as it could be read that she accepted a job offer from her profile subject—which she did, to be fair—without the knowledge of her editors or the publication who commissioned the profile. And worst of all, Marie Claire is flirting with an ever-decreasing line between credible journalistic outlets and banal, all-too-obvious sponcon.