Galvanising intensity or the look of lunacy? Right-wing livid over Michele Bachmann portrait

It seems likely that she will come top of the crucial Republican straw poll in Iowa this Saturday

Hand-wringing has broken out across the American politiscape over the cover of the latest edition of Newsweek, which features a portrait of the Tea Party-adored presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann that might lead some voters to conclude that the congresswoman would be better off in a padded cell than the Oval Office.

No one could fault the magazine on its timing. It seems likely that in spite of her radical conservative views, Ms Bachmann will come top of the crucial Republican straw poll that is set for this Saturday in Iowa, the Midwestern state that will kick off the nomination process with state-wide caucus voting next February.

Struck by a blitz of criticism, Newsweek editor Tina Brown defended the choice of photograph, even if it shows Ms Bachmann wearing a decidedly startled expression. Or, as New York Magazine put it, the kind of look "you might see on the face of a serial killer who just spotted a new victim".

"Michele Bachmann's intensity is galvanising voters in Iowa right now and Newsweek's cover captures that," Ms Brown contended in a brief statement. The Daily Beast, her weekly's online sister, posted outtakes from the same event where they photographed Ms Bachmann in Iowa, saying, "Many of the photographs taken for the feature showed Bachmann with similar intensity."

A glance at the other pictures, some of which appear on the inside pages of Newsweek, nonetheless confirms what everyone suspected: none make the candidate look quite as zany as the one on the cover.

Right-wing bloggers, including Michelle Malkin, are incensed. She accused Newsweek of using "bottom-of-the-barrel moonbat photo clichés about conservative female public figures". The National Organisation for Women (NOW) joined the criticism.

"Surely this has never been done to a man," NOW director Terry O'Neill said. "What they are saying of a woman who is a serious contender for president of the United States of America... They are casting her as a nut job."