Time magazine did not create this cover featuring South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol

·3 min read

An image purporting to show a Time magazine cover story that describes South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol as "The Executioner" who has started a "ruthless purge" has been shared in multiple Korean-language social media posts. However, the image has been doctored. While Yoon was included in Time's list of the 100 most influential people of 2022, the magazine told AFP that this was not an authentic Time cover.

An image posted to Facebook on May 26, 2022 shows an apparent magazine cover next to an article from the Seoul Economic Daily about Yoon's inclusion in Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people of the year.

Korean-language text superimposed over the image reads: "The real reason why Yoon was selected as one of Time's 100 most influential people."

The purported Time magazine cover, dated May 15, shows a photo of the South Korean president alongside an English-language headline that reads, "The Executioner".

It goes on to say, "The new President of the South Korea (sic), Yoon Seok-yeol, began a ruthless purging" and "By Charlie Cambell".

South Korean politics is highly adversarial, and critics have levelled that Yoon, once South Korea's top prosecutor, may seek to investigate members of the previous government in an act of political revenge. 

Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on Facebook, captured on May 26, 2022

An identical screenshot was shared on Facebook here, here, here and here.

Comments on the misleading posts suggested some users believed the purported cover was genuine. 

One user commented: "What the cover says is so true...this is a scary explanation."

"Yoon has revealed the dark side of Time magazine," read another comment.

The image circulated after Yoon's inclusion on the 2022 TIME100, the magazine's list of the most influential people in the world.

Yoon's entry, authored by Time magazine writer Amy Gunia, refers to his calls for a tougher stance towards North Korea as concerns grow that Pyongyang may be preparing to resume nuclear testing.

It also draws attention to his populist campaign for president, saying he had "inflamed divisions by weaponizing antifeminist rhetoric to gain support".

However, the purported magazine cover has been doctored -- Time did not feature Yoon on a cover.

Inauthentic cover

A spokesperson for Time magazine told AFP that the doctored image "is not an authentic Time cover."

No matching Time cover could be found on the magazine's online database, and no edition of the magazine was published on May 15, 2022 -- the date on the purported cover featuring Yoon.

Time did publish a cover featuring former South Korean president Moon Jae-in on May 15, 2017, for an article titled "The Negotiator" by Charlie Campbell.

There are several similarities -- including the position of the headline, subhead and date -- between the doctored cover featuring Yoon (left) and the 2017 cover featuring Moon (right).

Screenshot comparison of the doctored Time magazine cover (left) and an actual cover from May 15, 2017 (right)

Replaced screenshot

The report from the Seoul Economic Daily, which appears beside the doctored Time cover in the misleading posts, was published here on May 25, 2022.

The report does not feature the doctored Time cover, and instead includes a screenshot of Yoon's entry in the TIME100 list.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the report with the doctored image shared on social media (left) and the Seoul Economic Daily report (right):

Screenshot comparison of the report with the doctored image shared on social media (left) and the original Seoul Economic Daily report (right)

Time chief executive Edward Felsenthal explained that influence was the sole barometer in determining who made it on to the TIME100 list.

"Influence, of course, may be for good or for ill -- a dichotomy never more visible than in this year’s TIME100, which includes both Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky," he wrote.

AFP has previously debunked false Time magazine covers here, here, here and here, and another false claim about the TIME100 list here.

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