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

July 13, 2008 |  7:00 pm

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 Politico.com 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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