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Is the New Yorker's Muslim Obama cover incendiary or satire?

There are always at least two sides to everything in politics. The up-side for Barack Obama of the persistent controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's black militancy and racist sermons was that it sure drove home the point to millions of thinking voters that the Illinois senator was attending a Christian church, which countered the even-more persistent online rumors about Obama being Muslim.

Remember the native costume photo that was or was not promulgated by the Hillary Clinton campaign way back when she thought she had a chance to win the nomination? It's still going around online.

But now comes another unwelcome development for Obama's camp.

The satirical cover of the New Yorker magazine for the issue of 7-21-08

The cover of this week's New Yorker magazine depicts Obama in one-piece Muslim garb and headdress fist-bumping his booted, Afro-wearing wife Michelle in camo clothes with an AK-47 and ammo-belt slung over her shoulder beneath a portrait of Osama bin-Laden while the American flag burns in the fireplace -- in the presidential Oval Office.

It's got everything incendiary except a vest bomb. Which is what should telegraph to most people that it's way over-the-top and, therefore, satire.

But politicians don't like satire because it's subject to differing interpretations.

Obama declined comment today, seeking not to elevate its importance. But, in a move that certainly drew more attention to a commercial decision with no hope of changing it, his campaign issued a statement by Bill Burton which Mike Allen of reported as, "“The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

The McCain campaign immediately e-mailed a similar statement from Tucker Bounds: “We completely agree with the Obama campaign, it’s tasteless and offensive.”

Of course, the McCain people must say that, despite some staff no doubt chuckling behind closed doors over their opponent's new challenge. That's the problem with satire. A lot of people won't get the joke. Or won't want to. And will use it for non-humorous purposes, which isn't the New Yorker's fault.

A problem is there's no caption on the cover to ensure that everyone gets the ha-ha-we've-collected-almost-every-cliched-rumor-about-Obama-in-one-place-in-order-to--make-fun-of-them punchline.

So you'll no Mylantadoubt see this image making the internet rounds in coming months by people who don't want to see the satire. And won't include the magazine's press release saying, "“On the cover of the July 21, 2008, issue of The New Yorker, in ‘The Politics of Fear,’ artist Barry Blitt satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the presidential election to derail Barack Obama’s campaign.”

In that issue is a non-satirical piece by Ryan Lizza about Obama's political start in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune respected columnist Clarence Page, an African American, said he found the cover "quite within the normal bounds of journalism."

Little doubt the incendiary magazine cover accomplished its intent of attracting attention on an otherwise slow-news summer Sunday. It'll probably sell more magazines too. And more Mylanta for the Obama offices.

--Andrew Malcolm

(By the way here's the actual article that goes with this satirical/incendiary cover. Warning: It's very long.)

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Definetely satire. Its only offensive to those who can get attention from it.

Leave it to NYC to "ahem" uncover the truth about Obama. Well done. Thank you!

The problem with this "satire" is the form. If it was put in context (let's say, it was on a canvas being painted by Karl Rove or a stereotype of someone who might believe the rumors), now that's satire of the rumor. However, generally when an editorial cartoon dresses up a person (Engelhart over at the Courant comes to mind - Gov. Rell as Snow White, former Gov. Rowland's weathervane beanie), it is meant to satirize the person.

It's one thing to be in the editor's room and have the satire explained to you, and then say, "Well, I get it now, that'll work." It's another when you are reading the paper (which should stand on its own - no paper should require being explained by a press release!). You know how some college newspapers have published horribly out-of-bounds "satires"? I bet it's because the editors rationalize the decision so they don't feel anti-1st-Amendment and so they can use the material their staff creates.

With art, the artist can be snobby and say, "This is the correct interpretation." With the media, the people interpret it, so the editors can't play tricks on the people. Because if the people miss it, and it's not April Fool's Day, the editors don't win anything.

I didn't realize Rupert Murdoch had bought The New Yorker.

That's a satirical comment referring to his 'fair and balanced' Fox News - you think everyone will get it? Or..."A lot of people won't get the joke. Or won't want to. And will use it for non-humorous purposes, which isn't my fault."

Aw, c'mon, are we going to get into the same frenzy as the so-called muslim fanatics do every time they see a cartoon they don't like? This is America and satire is our best form of FREE SPEECH.
Lighten up, Obamamaniacs - and just shut up McCainiacs!

Racism is as American as apple pie. I'm saddened that such a tasteless image is going to be given so much publicity. I'll never read the New Yorker again.

Standing alone, it is probably incendiary. In context with the accompanying article, it is probably satire.

With America's "fast food" news for info, many will never read the article and, instead, use the cover to promote their own ill-informed opinions, either pro or con Obama.

Who really cares? It is too late. Articles such as what is inside this magazine should have been printed during the primaries. People should have been given slow cooked, full course buffets of information with which to make their choice. Now the choice of the 2 is abysmal. The campaign is dull. A boring tale of two men with lots of sound and fury about nothing. A stumbling, mumbling press that has been made the biggest loser of all.

I think the New Yorker is full of it! Why is THIS caricature of Obama acceptable? I doubt seriously that The New Yorker would have the cajones to offer a cover of Obama swinging from a tree in Georgia at the end of a rope surrounded by caricatures of McCain, Phil Gramm, Bush and Cheney. There is the rub! Until the New Yorker offers a similar slam against McCain I say they are tasteless, right wing bastards.

But isn't satire supposed to be clever? This cover fails that test.

- Daniel N.

What the new yorker should be showing and explaining is the enron loophole and the deregulation of the mortgage industry promoted byGramm and his wife wendy but the public's eyes will glaze over if the need to think about anything substantive.Better to address this cover which has no impact on americans whatsoever.

The satire is too smart for most people. It's bad enough that Obama sounds so much like Osama. Now this image will be misinterpreted by a lot of people who don't like Obama in the first place. They will say "See the rumors ARE true! It's on the cover of that "Liberal rag" the New Yorker!" Bottomline is people who are supporters of Obama will see it as Satire. It's another story if they will like it or not. My guess is they will not like it one bit. But hey it sells magazines - does it not?

With Obama, who really knows?

"Hey look how smart we are. We're smart enough to make fun of something that others are making fun of. That's a double super duper secret backwards joke that only smart people who read The New Yorker are smart enough to get. Get it?

And we're so smart we can do it without explaining it. And because we're so smart... it's certainly not racist... smart people like us can't be racist.

Just look at our monacle! We've got a monacle for chrissake! So we can pretty much do or say anything and it's clever...

again, not racist."

-The New Yorker

America is tired of this kind of elitist dumbing down of the political discussion. This isn't clever, it's just the brand of cocktail party circuit humor that appeals to the sorts of columnists they have inside... columnists who are writing about how Obama is dangerous because he's been at the same conference as an academic who thinks AIPAC has too much power over America... an assertion of fact in my opinion by the way.

It shows how out of touch The New Yorker, it's readers, and the people who edit the rag really are... and it hints at their real beliefs and their real political and cultural agenda.

They'd better be careful, lest average Americans catch on to what they're really about and take steps to reject them and what they stand for.

Just confirms to me exactly why I would never even visit New York, let alone live there.

I really fail to see the humor in that rag they call a magazine.

I am truly disgusted that they could publish such a thing about a future POTUS.

Shame on you!!!

I realize the New Yorker's market, is more to a thinking audience, thus, the intended market will *get* it.
But, I do think they were a bit irresponsible, as they knew how it will be used by the Right-Wing.
Some sort of tag-line would've been appropriate, suggesting its meaning, to those less inclined to thought - - probably a majority of Americans, sadly.

Niave and reckless on the part of New Yorker - they should and probably do know better - but knew they'd get publicity from doing it.

Who the heck cares! Is this important? No! Why is the media so fixated on trivial, irrelevant nonsense?

Tasteless, offensive and plain stupid. It is feeding a stereotype that is completely off base.

This is why from time to time I hate American culture. We all ended up here from some where in the world either by boat, plane or connected land mass. But some how the master races, Hebrews , Whites or Orientals or anyone other than native peoples and African based races outside of Africa, get in there heads that they can produce the most insensitive policies and messages in such opportune and historical moments as if in a vacuum of some sort and call it freedom or a Right. I guess if I depict Yitzhak Rabin in Nazi garb, or Pres. Washington in a compromised position with an American slave, or depict Hiroshima victims as 1930 American Chinese caricatures. It would be considered Free Press, Huh. Lets show Hitler or Ahmadinejad in the form of the crucified Jesus on the cross, savior of the world. Wanna read that article. Care to depict the Pope in some way on a cover of a mag of some sort. Can you say R Kelly. DISGUSTING, SHAMEFUL, LURID, SHAME…SHAME….SHAME. The bottom line is that the abuse, though so artfully rapped in the Bill of Rights and freedom demeans the people. The New Yorker is Garbage and if you disagree imagine your ideal or moment that means something to you personally or your rank and file displayed this way so contrary to reality and see if you can enjoy such blissful detachment from the moment, a moment, some great monumental moment that means a lot to others of greater number, need as to historical, personal and truly national importance. Oh yeah I would never intentionally depict the people, groups or organization mentioned above in such a shabby fashion. Just wanna make a point!!!!

This is inexcusable. Distasteful and repugnant don't begin to convey the magnitude (or the nature) of the offense here. This cover is obviously designed to sabotage a legitimate and very worthy candidate by adding energy and credibility to the most loathsome expressions of our national political life. It contains no allusion whatever to Obama's right wing detractors. That is impossible for anyone to miss.

If seems that, "Bills & Jesses Monsters of the ID" have taken control of the Editors of the New Yorker. But with that said. If you can't take the heat then get out of the Kitchen. Both campaigns are going to see a lot more of this

VJ Machiavelli

I don't even have words to describe my feelings about the cover ov the New Yorker, I can only tell you very simply I will never read this paper again.

P.S. To think that one black person feels this is within the limits of being ok, is a major mistake for both the New Yorker and the token black respected columnist. LIke I said, never again. I hope it was worth the many copies and bad press your about to encounter.



Beyond funny. I laughed out loud. After Sen. Obama's spineless performance this week... this strikes me as quite mild. He should be on the cover as the coward he is. That vote this week took away any consideration many democrats had for him being a " man of his word ".
He should be a wolf on the cover hiding under sheeps clothing would be a more accurate depiction of the Sen. who spins and spins and rarely keeps his word or votes with the integrity he so vigorously defends.

Very funny satire! :-O

This is the most disgusting thing Ive ever seen, and this is WAY under the belt!

Clearly satire, of course. To you and me. But there are some who will view that cover as confirmation of the nastier rumors that have been flying around about the candidate.

In one effect its basically a soft push that benefits the Republican whisper campaign.

That said, I in no way condemn it or anything, I just understand why the Obama campaign would want to speak out on the subject.

He's a terrorist, people. A terrorist!!!

"Of course, the McCain people must say that, despite some staff no doubt chuckling behind closed doors over their opponent's new challenge. " - Andrew Malcolm

Apparently Andrew Malcolm is a mind reader. He knows what McCain's staff is doing behind closed doors. How does tripe like this poorly written blog make it in a national newspaper like this?

"A lot of people won't get the joke. Or won't want to. And will use it for non-humorous purposes, which isn't the New Yorker's fault."

It certainly is the New Yorker's responsibility to consider how their material will be used. And that cover is irresponsible, because it will have the effect of propagating all the misinformation about Sen. Obama.

Racism and ignorance are synonymous! There is no shortage of racism in America. Many brave people, including African Americans fought, sacrificed and died for
the freedoms that too many insidious ingrates display little respect!

We expect this type of racism from Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly and many insidious people on the Right, the ugly Americans, but the New Yorker is supposed to be more cerebral! Shame, Shame!


Yo, Daniel:

Yup: Satire should be "clever"; it should also be subtle.

That cover is neither.

The folk at New Yorker blew it (A High School newspaper could do better.)


Nick F.

Magazine editor from Manhattan: "Come on, this is satire!"
Average American from Nebraska: "What's satire?"

Satire sometimes seems a lost art. It's nice to see evidence to the contrary on the cover of the New Yorker. Here's one Obama supporter who couldn't resist a good laugh over it. I think the Senator was wise to decline comment. The campaign brass should have followed suit.

Of course it's a joke... a terribly racist and offensive joke. I understand what The New Yorker is trying to do, they've just failed miserably at it. The average reader of the magazine will understand the point, the average FOX or CNN viewer that sees the image plastered across their TV screens repeatedly over the next week, purposely referenced out of context by sensationalist members of the TV media, will not. It will have a much different effect on the majority of those who view it than The New Yorker intends.

The people who laughed deserve to burn in Hell. Whats funny about it? Be a real man instead a punk, to the guys who thought that cover was funny. Your mommas boys, and it will come and punch you in that feminine ass of yours- wake up racist. And I'm a Jew.

In the above comments, "He's a terrorist people, a terrorist, and "Leave it to NYC to "ahem" uncover the truth about Obama. Well done. Thank you!" we can see the ultimate stupidity in publishing this "satire". People who made the above comments are stupid enough to believe it, and unfortunately, the New Yorker also may have a few readers who don't get it, even if the majority elite do get it. This is a dangerous picture in many ways. It"s tasteless and the satire is missed without the explanation and how many of us have read the explanation? The fact that this newpaper is publishing this may give hope to explain what the satire is supposed to be, but to the average American citizen, who is not all that informed, the magazine leaves the wrong message, and a picture states a thousand words so that the explanation will never be read anyway. Not the best choice you've made "New Yorker".

The New Yorker has attempted for years to be contoversal - the Tina Brown influence and the the lame Art Spiegelman student level covers; both ideas and execution.

well, i have yet to read the article. nonetheless i think the cover is a hilarious parody of a notion that has been promulgated through the media for months. it's a real laugh that anyone could seriously think that Michelle and Barak are Un-American. the new yorker has created another classic cover - one of the best ever!.

Some folks can't take a joke about their hero--the Obamessiah. It is satire and it is funny with a lot of truth to it. He has been sold as a black version of Paris Hilton in an empty suit. The man has never had a real job or made a tough decision in his life. He is not fit to be a Senator--much less President. HaHo!

I am shocked and outraged at the incendiary nature of the cover on the New Yorker of Barack and Michelle Obama. I am canceling my subscription immediately. It has the possibility of placing their lives in great danger.

Let's's the knuckledragging wingnuts who are being satirized. That won't be so obvious to them. Will someone please tell them? 'Cause they will use this "satire" of their fear-mongering and smear-mongering against the Obamas until the cows come home. They'll even enhance it over and over and over again, turn into an all-occasion smear.

Hey, New Yorker, ever hear the word "backfire"? In case you haven't noticed, wingnuts aren't into nuance.

Dumb, destructive move.

well what did they expect?! The Osama-Obama coincidence is ironically comical, but less comical is the fact the the leader of Iraq's surname is El Talibani. So we have the leaders of 2 countries with VERY similar last names to their most hated enemies. Conspiracy theories on the back of a post-card, please....

'mmmm, thats good satire'

I have two comments from two different perspectives...

1. Accepting the magazine cover as a work of satire, its one of the worst, most ambiguous illustration I have seen in recent memory. So hiding behind the "satire" rational doesnt necessarily work.

2. Everything displayed in that magazine cover has traction, and Obama has had to spend countless hours separating himself from a perception associated with the things displayed in the illustration. So clearly the cover is doing him no favors. He's screwed.

It’s about time Teflon is striped from the campaign. Thanks

Have the humorless people here figured out that the artist is lampooning conservatives more than he is Obama?

I don't think it's repugnant or offensive, just not that funny.

Odd. I don't remember so much uproar when Condaleeza Rice was portrayed as little more than a street-walker by the L.A. Weekly.

Frankly, this cover depicts a no more shocking betrayal than the one Obama has already perpetrated on his supporters on the left. He's already shown his true colors as a right-winger. If he were a crazy fundamentalist, too, it wouldn't surprise me at all.

what has the Mylanta bottle got to do with the article? no description about Mylanta or nuffin'!

(If you'd read the entire item, Jimbo, you'd know.)

Only illiterate dumb-as-cows un-American hatemongers will look at this cover and think it actually confirms their weird racist paranoid delusions about Obama.

Unfortunately - looking at the polls for George W McCain - that's about 41% of Americans.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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