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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.)

Comments () | Archives (330)

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When will they make a cover showing McCain using a walker and wearing a hospital gown open in the back, with his millionaire, junkie wife stealing drugs from her charity?

The New Yorker should be ashamed of itself. It's a wonderful magazine I read each week, but as an Obama supporter I must protest this "satire" which feeds the prejudices of a large number of voters. It is unfair.

The reaction of Obamamaniacs to this cover art is a preview of what's to come should Obama be elected: if you disagree with Obama, shut up. If you want to poke fun at Obama, it's not funny. If you say anything not approved of by his handlers or his party, don't say it.

Obamamaniacs have no objectivity. And no humor. Which is why they can't see that their candidate is not even the same person who ran for his party's nomination. It's all just about winning now. Could it be that they're afraid of loosening up, because they just might see things about their candidate they don't like?

Actually, I thought this cover was timid. A picture of Obama fist-pumping Cheney, with a photo of Reagan over the mantle and copy of the Constitution in the fireplace ... now that would've been biting!


It's just satire. American political cartoons are notorious for being hard-hitting, since wayyyy back when America started.

Why should Obama be immune--he IS a politician. Gimme a break, all those cartoons of Hillary were insane, and none of you seemed to care then. Ah well.

The weird thing about this cover is that it sort of...cuts close to some truths....

Anyway, read the article inside to learn about what an opportunistic ruthless politician Obama is.

It's 15 pages. Wow.

I think the cover's funny. So was the cover of Cheney blowing on his gun after shooting Harry Whittington in the face.

Satire is often tasteless. That's part of what makes it funny.

I suppose by the New Yorker's logic depictiing the Obamas as Little Black Sambo and a crack whore would be harmless satire, too. Good satire never requires explanation -- something which the editor of the New Yorker is busy doing as fast as he can. Their feeble attempt at satire is a blatant racial slur. I am saddened that a magazine I respect so much would exercise such offensive misjudgment.

I swear this country is filled with over sensitive idiots, it's a cartoon!!!

Hmmm. Remember the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammed? So, have we sunk so low in America that we are so incensed and outraged about a cartoon? Wow. This was a great opportunity for both Obama and McCain to show the world that we believe in and honor the freedom of the press. This is a free speech issue. It doesn't matter if you or I appreciate the satire or disagree with the decision to publish this particular cover. We have free press in the US and I for one am glad we do.

Intended or not, this is a hate-engendering image that has a subconscious influence, just as America's depictions of the Japanese during WWII did.

Ha =]
Frankly, I think that the appropriate response from the Obama campaign would have been something like "Yup, that's us" with a smile and a chuckle. The public arena in America is in dire need of a sense of humor. I mean, I laughed when I saw it and nobody explained it to me, and I'm a damn foreigner. Don't tell me that some smelly person from the Middle East can take a joke better than a good honest American.
Marc Trius (Leningrad, Haifa, Minneapolis)

There's a lot of education left and Obama may have to further participate. His middle name, Hussein, is among the most common in the Muslim world; Hussein is actually as ubiquitous as John or Thomas (Tom to the rest of us). Hussein was part of the founding family of Islam, just as the names of th Apostles are still among our most common. Just as widespread in the Western world are the Old Testament names, used by Jews, Christians, and non-believers as the gold standard in authenticity.

Not every Hussein is a militant anti-American dictator; just as not every Jesse (the father of biblical David) is a racist hate-monger like the late Helms, not every Timothy (a significant saint) is a terrorist (McVeigh).

This short speech needs to be made - preferably by John McCain who shares a name both with Jesus' original Gang of Twelve and with our local mensroom (the John).

The New Yorker is a magazine for intellectuals, or at least for brainy people. So, it is too easy to say that this is a satire because, in fact, in may be a satire on a satire.

Now, pray tell, what is that? By this, I mean, it may be the true opinion of the artist (perhaps a disgruntled Hillary supporter), who revealed his true feelings, but disguised it as a satire, and the real satire is that brainy people will dismiss it as a single satire, but those who don't see either satire (the majority of people) will see it as an anti-Obama piece which is exactly what the artist intended. And, those, like me who think it is a satire on a satire will also get the message.

Yes, it's far fetched, but not impossible.

Please write to the New Yorker to protest this cover, if you find it offensive or even simply in very bad taste.

Let's see...racial stereotyping, angry black woman, flag on the fire, Osama on the wall... I think we have the
Repubs campaign summarized. And the MSM will provide lots of free publicity while it staunchly defends the first amendment (especially if it sells magazines), right Clarence. Wrong! LA Times, sterling member of the MSM that you are, The New Yorker is responsible!

The Cartoonist is childish, The editor a fool. It equates no better than the Danish attempts at lampooning Mohammed.

This picture is not a satire. It is very plainly a blatant attempt to sell this rag disguised as a responsible, intelligent magazine publication. But, it is also an outright attack on the character of an individual who, as far as I can tell, has done nothing to deserve the attack. Let me add that it is a cowardly attack; the writers and the artist, like a group of adolescent bullies sling this garbage into the public realm and them rush to hide under the coat of Mr. Freedom of the Press, and Mrs. Just Kidding it's a Satire. The written piece might be a good one, but I cannot excuse the lead up cover. It is disgusting.
Why do I say it is not satire? To attack the candidate is one thing. To attack his wife (who is not running for anything) is inexcusable. I can imagine the near unbearable restraint it took to not include the children as some snide commentary. Then let's look at what's burning in the fireplace. Has the candidate ever done anything as deplorable as this act? I can remember a lot of loyal Americans doing the same thing during the Vietnam Years and being lauded for it at the time. No, this piece is not satire, let alone art. This cover is thinly veiled hatred and the magazine bears full responsibility for approving it.

It's refreshign to see the media do something besides swoon. in the end BHO doesn't need to worry, the boys at newsweek and time won't let this msm "standards" infraction go unanswered. Joe Klien and the others will come devotedly to his defense.

'we completely agree with the obama campaign, it’s tasteless and offensive.'
...and no doubt comments like these show that on both sides of the ostentatious 'party divide,' the neocon/neolib mobsters are not only chuckling, but outright mocking the people they believe to be their property and stupid voting livestock: the winking undertone of the comment of course being, that same can be said about the neocon campaign: it's also 'tasteless and offensive' - and you can be sure their 'democrat', or neodem counterpart in turn also 'completely agree' with that, and the neocon campaign, both following the same agenda...
so it's time for serious and fundamental change. with the legitimate republican candidate for PRESIDENT, RON PAUL - to stop forever hoping for...wake up, start being change, reclaim the constitution for the people, return the country to the constitution, and to integrity.

JESSE JACKSON made them do it.

Deep down inside some Dems must Really hate Obama.

Anyone with functioning brain cells can tell immediately that this is actually a pro-Obama cartoon, so the complaints by the Obama supporters are bizarre.

I am also mystified as to why the Obama campaign would find it "tasteless" or "offensive" to ridicule those who are slandering Obama?

This photograph confirms my suspicions about the Obamas.

I've made my decision. I'm voting McCain in 2008.

The cover is mildly funny and clearly not to be taken seriously. The uproar, hurt feelings, and worries from the Obama camp that most Americans won't understand that this is a joke are laughable. This confirms it for me; the majority of Americans, for whatever reason, have problems understanding irony, satire or any humor more sophisticated than pies in faces and slipping on a banana peel.

Satire? No. That will be the phony pretext used to get it by the public. The definition of satire that I have at hand (Oxford American Dictionary) says it's "the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues." What is Obama's "stupidity" or "vice" that is being exaggerated or exposed? Not being pro-Israel?

It should be made clear as a point of obvious fact that this is yet another instance of a person in power using his position to advance his personal religious cause. It's become a taboo worse than any other to admit it, so you won't see this stated anywhere in the press media: Since Sen. Obama is deemed to be not unquestioningly pro-Israel and is poised to be the next President of the United States, expect every Jew in power to launch an ugly, relentless, no-holds-barred attack on the candidate. The editor of the New Yorker David Remnick is of course Jewish, so he will use his magazine as a weapon for Israel. Note that he's following right in line with the others, e.g., Sen. Lieberman attacking Obama earlier. Even the liberal attorney Alan Dershowitz suddenly defended torture a few years back against the forces that threatened Israel. Mark my words, it will be okay in the press to label Obama a Muslim (even though he is not), but it will forbidden to call out that those people making the statements are Jews and pro-Israel (even though they are).

You people sound like the Muslim extremists who were calling for heads to roll after the Muhammad cartoons were printed in a newspaper in Holland.
Scary...they are you.

You people only accept free speech if it's coming from your own mouths.
Looks like another case of liberal moonbattery.

Truly SAD!

I think it's clever and well-done. I agree that some sort of tagline would have been a good idea, but the style is in keeping with decades of New Yorker art/comics that didn't need a tagline. Readers (note, I said "readers") were expected to look and look again, and think about what they were seeing.

The majority of the comments here, however, demonstrate why it's an unfortunate "joke" for the Obama campaign. It seems the vast majority of the American public are unable or unwilling to just plain too ignorant to think this one through.

We have here comments from people who say they'll never read that paper again. Um, what paper? The New Yorker is a magazine. I'm guessing those commenters never read "that paper" in the first place.

We have comments here from people who are shocked and appalled that anybody would publish such an image of the future President. Huh. It's a tradition that goes back a very long time and is actually one of the cool hallmarks of a free society, where we can examine our leaders and their opponents publicly and critically. That's that "freedom" you keep waving your little flag about.

And we have comments here from people who think it's racist. But... the point is that these are the tactics being used against Obama, and yes, those tactics include an appeal to racism among voters, not to mention emotion-charged, knee-jerk reactions to anything in any way "foreign" to middle America. The artist is shining a wry light on those ugly tactics. It it racist to talk about racism???

So, unfortunately, the artwork will only help spread fear among ignorant voters, when its intent was to point a finger at the ridiculous range of ugly tactics (and STUPID rumors that nevertheless spread) being used. It was drawn for the New Yorker's audience, which used to get such things, or at least was willing to pursue an intelligent discussion about them.

nice MYLANTA commercial

The New Yorker, like most print media, is suffering from irrelevancy and the progress of time. They are getting the attention they want because frankly most people wouldn't buy the darn thing...

If we had a n Asian candidate, I have no doubt the New Yorker would draw up a grotesque cartoon of a pointy headed yellow slant-eyed creature eating a rat. This goes beyond satire, and beyond good taste. I just think about all the ignorant people who already think anyone from the middle east has terrorist ties.

The New Yorker is not what you would call a mainline magazine. A very few people will read it. Most Americans don't read that much and many do not read anything at all, other than local sports pages.

However, a picture is worth a thousand words. Millions will see the cover, without ever holding an issue of the New Yorker. Those who don't read that much are the most likely to be influenced negatively by the image.

I do not personally like Obama and would never vote for him, or Hillary. I am a McCain person. Having said that, the cover is a low blow, effective, but a low blow.

Reminds me of when Fox kept saying 'It's probably not a good idea for anyone to use Barack's middle name HUSSEIN'... Well they kept saying it over and over in the guise of questioning if it was proper or not, by that time- "PERCEPTION CREATED and MISSION ACCOMPLISHED". Despite the New Yorker's attempt at addressing Obama's media distortion by the right wing media, this has a similar overtone to it. "ENFORCEMENT of already created DISTORTION". This is very much the same.

The New Yorker is not doing itself justice or it's readers. By making racist charicatures, it has positioned itself as a magazine that does not speak to the real issues....The Real Issues in case people have forgotten are: The ending of the Iraq War, the basic economy---recession or all right; the amount of foreclosures; the higher and higher prices of gasoline and food; the drop in the prices of homes; unemployment; job eliminations; corporate bankruptcies, Bears and Stearns/Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac and the California Bank Indy/something.....

What is it? You can't write about the issues or you do not want the public to know about it publishers of the New Yorker...... After all, if the media was really doing the job, then there would not be polls saying a candidate is Muslim......

The American public can be gullible but we are not stupid. Stick with the issues...there is plenty to write about during this campaign.

The problem with the "mainstream" media like New Yorker and Don Imus is that for their "little world," blacks simply "do not exist" and do not read or listen to their publications. Note that in "their" world certain minorities DO exist and they think before they speak. Just imagine if the New Yorker had a Cover Page drawing of an obese "US Politician" man with an oversize nose and a Star of David on his lapel and a mezzuzah on his doorway and the US Flag in the fire and the Israeli flag waving. What would happen? The editor would be fired. Abe Foxman would demand and get reparations. Charles Schumer would hold Confressional hearings. That's all that would happen.

Great Job New Yorker, I love it!!! Sign me up for a years subscription.

I like the The New Yorker even more now.
and I will never stop reading it.

Get Over It People it's just a cartoon.

Some of us are smart enough to realize the what goes around comes around. A child that kicks another child-gets kicked back and runs crying to Mama is a brat. Stop acting like brats Democrats.

For years we have seen cartoons of G.W. Bush, his wife,and various members of his staff. I heard no moral outcry from our esteemed 'left' over those. Now a cartoon of Obama and his wife seems to awaken the moral sensitivity of these same hypocrites. You sound like the Muslim equivalent of those who issued the death sentence on Solomon Rushti and Theo Van Gogh. Just another political cartoon by a free press -- get over it.

If I understand exactly what the artist wants me to then I am insightful and enlightened. That mechanism isn't working so well this election cycle (Look how well the Clinton's were understood) As an adult I gain insight into what the artist is trying to convey. A disclaimer would be helpful to suggest this is not another slam against Muslims. But the operative word here may be a child I may miss the meaning entirely and take it literally. We have a mixed voting public.

Satire? I get it... not funny.
Incendiary? Most definitely.
New Yorker mag intent?: Lost respect as a source of reliable content? & Lost readers? Definitely Yes!
Fueling ignorant right-wing opinions? Definitely.
Smeared (fringed on slander/libel) of the image of a very viable presidential candidate; providing no accompanying satirical commentary under the picture? Stupidly done.

The New Yorker has softly expressed it's views and the views of many
Americans in what can be labeled as only satire when the backlash of the
caricature arises.

Yet the reality of Barrack Hussein Obama being in the White House spells trouble
for the American people.

It will eventually undermine everything that America stands for. He sees the
Presidency as a PRIZE.

Typical Politician, Tells you everything you want to hear.
His patrioitism is without a doubt questionable, as well as his motives!

His relationship with Louis Farrackhan is absolutely disturbing &
one that has been kept quietly in the background, but none the less still REAL.

We can only wonder what the true relationship with Israel will be, given
the fact that Barrack Hussein Obama wants to be friendly with HAMAS, etc.
even though he has stated that "Israel is our FRIEND."
Will he also want to negotiate with Bin Laden?

Wake up America! I know that this time around the pickin's are slim
again for President, but this is certainly not the best choice.

With this being said the question remains....

Satire or Vision of thing to come during his 1st
four years?

Finally the New Yorker Magazine got it right.

A psychologist will tell you that even satire, even failed satire like this, comes from genuine emotions and motives, however unconscious. It's hard to blame people for being un-self-aware, but you would think that at the New Yorker, there would be adults in charge, somewhere.

This doesn't surprise me in the least. I mean a New York magazine bashing Obama and Hillary being from New York and all as the home grown favorite. I will bet 10 to 1 Bill and Hillary are clandestinely responsible for the idea as she has only "suspended" her silly campign mind you.

There is a reason intelligent people read and will continue to read the New Yorker. Satire always is easier to swallow when seasoned with humor. The cover with Obama is just one more brilliant cartoon that pokes fun at what everyone who's honest with themselves knows to be true.

Tee hee hee. The irony here is that the liberals at the New Yorker consider the cartoon to be so outrageous that any person of any political persuasion would immediately recognize it as humor. But the fact is that there is already a perception out there that the cartoon "Oh, look how the conservatives portray our heroes, isn't that so preposterous that it's funny!" holds some deep seated truths about the magical couple that liberals ignore.

Isn't it interesting that one of the most liberal magazines creates this cover and story and many are attempting to lay blame for this trash at the feet of John McCain, Karl Rove, Rupert Murdoch, et al.

Satrie is only permitted when applied to Conservatives.

This depiction is strictly satire. Have we become so sensitive that satire should not be employed anymore ? What happened to appreciating different forms of expression? McCain and Obama should take a deep breath see this for what it is.

I used to like to read the jokes. I will never glance in the direction of that magazine again.

Quiet simply, the upcoming cover of the New Yorker that depicts Senator Barack Obama and Michelle Obama is not satire. Its pure and simple racism.

New Yorker, deed your coffers with the publicity. And send America two steps back with your despicable actions.

Everybody who was involved with the decision to approve that cover should really consider resigning and apologizing to the New Yorker's readership, all Americans and citizens of the world.

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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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