Should have added that this issue came up on CBS's Face the Nation, and one of the guests called it child pornography. I found that a bit strong myself, with a caveat...
I think this falls in a carefully crafted gray zone, obviously intended to be provocative. While I don't think this falls easily under the "child pornography" tent, I do believe the child is being exploited - not so much sexually but manipulated to sell a magazine by doing something which - when he looks back on it in a few years, may find embarrassing. When I was 12, I hated when an earlier picture of me naked in the bathtub got circulated within the family. I couldn't imagine the issues I'd have had if someone splashed a picture of me with my mom's breast in my mouth on the cover of a national magazine.
You also have to consider the cultural and social context, which is very different for a child in the US than, say, for a child in a developing third world nation.
Similar themes to CSA do come to mind. Can a child truly give consent for participating in such a pose? Is there a lack of sensitivity for this child by asking the three-year-old to do this? For me, part of the damaging dynamic of CSA was that an adult made decisions for me to participate in something I had no true understanding of, leaving me to reconcile it when I got older. And in a broader sense, does it speak to a general sensitivity deficit towards children - perhaps similar in a way to the lack of sensitivity and response in a lot of institutionalized cases of CSA (church, Penn State, etc.)? For me, these are questions begged yet unanswered.
Any reaction scenario has certainly been carefully run by the publication's attorneys before this cover hit the presses. Yet some types of manipulation and exploitation - no matter how discordant they may hit upon our sensibilities, defy enforcement and are instead only guilty of the non-prosecutable crime of exceptionally poor taste.
Eirik (aka Eric)"Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned."Mark Twain