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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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I think that the comment from "Kim" here was the most telling: "It certainly is the New Yorker's responsibility to consider how their material will be used."

Lemme see here: So, automakers should quit what they're doing because they know some will drive fast and hurt themselves or others. Knive-makers should go out of business for obvious reasons. So should glass-blowers - someone might cut herself. And for goodness sake, baseball- and bat-makers, unite, liquidate, and hide your faces. This is all part of the Hard Left's drive to remove the concept of individual responsibility from American life. Then, the trial lawyers can make a fortune, and government can make decisions for everyone. No wonder the Left loves the government-school system: it produces millions of garden-variety idiots who don't have the sense to find their way to the bathroom. Ah, the better the argument for more, bigger, stronger, and unaccountable government becomes.

The Obama yokels remind me of the Hard Right: self-righteous, rigid, humorless, intolerant "True Believers," in Eric Hoffer's wonderful phrase.

You people need to loosen up and get a life. Be more like Tim Russert and Tony Snow--smart, fun-loving, and genial--and less like Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan--self-important, mean-spirited, and hate-filled. In my book, McCain's not much better than Obama in my book, but at least he's not supported by bazillions of fainting, swooning hate merchants who take themselves far, far, far too seriously and insist on reminding us of that fact daily on-line and everywhere else.

This guy wants to be the President of the United States of America. But there is a problem. He has a very thin resume (and lots of unanswered questions) to qualify him for the highest office. If Barack Hussein Obama does not qualify to apply for FBI Agent position, how in the world does he qualify to be our President? He must answer and not gloss over some serious questions of concern to us, U. S Citizen. Until now Barrack Obama has gotten a FREE PASS from the press. Thanks to the NEW YORKER cover, our serious issues/concerns have been RAISED in this NEW YORKER cover! It is an insult to characterize our concerns as tasteless and incendiary.

Hahaha! First time I've laughed this whole campaign season. This is funny from the first view, and gets funnier the more detail I see. Now let's see those thin skinned Obama-heads get over themselves.

I’m sorry if religious believes of the Obama worshipers will be offended. But couple of days ago Obama compared John McCain to Dr. Phil. Obama knows how to make fun of people. Guess what, somebody made fun of him. Clamp your religious vigor worshipers, this is just a joke.

Its really sad to see that America after so many years of slavery and racism STILL havent learned anything... Still the same racist godless people there is on this earth...
BTW im not an american....


Assuming the New Yorker's editors sincerely believe the general public in this country will "get" the satire as intended, they aren't the elitists so many people think they are. That, ironically, will go unnoticed by many people who think the New Yorker is elitist, because they'll be too busy gleefully forwarding the cartoon along endless email chains with subject lines like "Even liberals think he's a terrorist!", and an attached article purported to have been published with it that will detail all of Obama's "evil deeds." I wish the magazine had considered the bottomless gullibility of the email-forward crowd before publishing this.

I cannot believe the "shocked and outraged" comments I've just read. They basically seem to say that Americans are too dumb to understand satire and that, as a result, every rightwing nut job will parade this cover around as the ultimate truth about Obama and that everyone will believe it. Come on! The only people dumb enough to fall for this seem to be the Obama troops. Not a good mark for a cause.

We get the government we deserve.

If the cover had read, "The lunatic fringe campaign to smear Obama," and the cartoon had been on the inside, I would have no quarrel. On the cover, this is needlessly incendiary, and too easily misinterpreted. I wish the New Yorker had made a different editorial decision, but it's done, so now we get to see how the two campaigns and the media handle this mess. Probably not very well, and at far too great a length.

It really has zionist overtones, sort of the relentless fear- mongering propaganda that zionist love. Yes, AIPAC has way too much influence in the US. And our media is being overtaken by the same. So what is Blitt's background? And what was his real purpose?

whats funny are those that will never understand that they themselves are the perpetrators of reverse racisim. hey this is political satire, if you dont like it don't look at it. or burn the mag. like they did in germany during hitlers time. when it comes down tio it, its the same. think about it.

I thought it was over the top, but not outrageous.

If I was editor of that edition of The New Yorker, I would've asked to see something else.

But Obama's going to have to get used to this. If he's elected president he's going to get four years worth of far worse.

the emperor has no clothes...

All Obama supporters who subscribe to the New Yorker, cancel your subscriptions with me. Maybe that will make the news. Images are powerful and this one interferes with the basis of democracy: an informed electorate at the ballot box. CANCEL NOW.

Those who say Obama supporters should just locate their senses of humor and laugh off this New Yorker cover may not have had much real contact with Americans who reflect the deep-seated racist and xenophobic strands in our culture.
My college-educated father and brother both think the lies this cartoon lampoons are true.
They won't see it as satire at all.
That makes it very unfunny to me.

Lighten up, folks.

The majority of the employees at the New Yorker will probably vote for Obama. This was not an attempt to sabotage his campaign.

What they were trying to do (whether successful or not) is riff on this recurring theme we've seen with Obama where the silliest accusations are being thrown around and much ado is made over nothing time and again... Obama fist-bumps his wife instead of kissing or hugging her, how bizarre...
Obama is seen standing with his hands at his side when others have their hands over their hearts during the pledge of allegiance- he's anti-American (rather than having a moment where his mind has wandered...)
His wife makes a comment intending to illustrate how proud she is of her country and phrases it poorly, wow, she must hate America.

The NYer is just trying to take these things to an extreme and make a point. That's satire. This is a big nothing, so lets get on with our lives...

By the way, I'm undecided at this point, no clue who I'm voting for yet...

For him or against him...whatever you have that freedom...but seriously as a "patriotic nation" is this how we treat our potential future leader?? Do the nations we despise go about their own issues as serious as this as light-heartedly? I am sure they do not. For a country who takes pride in being "UNITED" and "FREE," I expect more. Do not get me wrong, I am a white Christian, BUT do we not live in a country of freedom? Are we not all allowed to believe in who and what we feel? I think this cover is the most tasteless way of showing our patriotism. I am a fan of satire...but to an extent...this has gone too far. I remember when this race began it was about the woman and the black man who were running. Why did that take our interest so much? Are they not human as well like the rest of us? Is it such a shock that a woman or black man may have the potential of being our one and only leader. Would either of them really do any worse than the current screw-up occupying the White House? McCain is so stiff you would think rigor mortis had already had set in. Where are the deep-down and dirty cartoons of McCain on his marionette strings? Give me a break. We all enjoy a good laugh...this is unnerving and wrong (is this the response you wanted New Yorker...if so, no need to feel guilty)

The New Yorker has joined the likes of Fox News.

The cover is so over the top how can it be mistaken for anything other than satire?!? Anyone who feels that this is offensive must also feel that the truth about the Obamas is much closer to the image presented than they realize they do. But everyone should feel comfortable about them being drawn like that because its so not true, but it makes for a genius cartoon!

This depicture of Obama is Intentional Slander. I know political figures can not sue, but there should be some exceptions and this is one of them. And I am not an Obama supporter, but slander is slander no matter who you are.

The New Yorker feeding WHITE RACISM.

BOYCOTT the tabloid New Yorker and DONATE, DONATE, DONATE to the OBAMA campaign.

I just loved the comments from: EJB |, Amarissa and DV.
1st off I don't like his choice of "pastors", his connections overseas and most of all his decision to meet with other leaders when he has no business or authority to do so. When he meets with world leaders he is representing the American people and when pulling that kind of stunt he is not working for us but for himself. Maybe he thinks he will get support from other countries and possibly some votes here from it?? Obama - you are not representing us now or possibly ever so keep your ass in the US and don't try to speak for us. We will tell you what we want as you work for us! I think he is already way too arrogant and it will only get worse!
I thought the times cover was hilarious but I still cannot see him being elected as our commander and chief.
I will definitely make sure that I'm voting and not for him!
Too bad all we have is dumb, dumber and dumbest to vote for.

Without a doubt if it were a famous white couple on the cover it WOULD be considered satire.
We all need to quit being so darn sensitive to anything that is said about the races.
Can we imagine if a white person had said what Jesse Jackson said?

If it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck. Need I say more. The truth is finally getting out.

Why do people thing this is aimed at Obama, when its clearly meant top poke fun at the perceptions that some of the American public have of him. Furthermore, they're portrayal is clearly a satirical exaggeration (one would hope, but parts of this nation are scary) of those fears/perceptions.

Fabbo, I am renewing my subscription. To the whiners who object, this is America & we do (still) have free speech. He is just another sleaze bag politician, Mc Cain is not much better. What a miserable choice for American voters.

To me, the cartoon is not making fun of Obama but the small minded people who probably think this cover reflects their bizarre notion of reality. I think it's funny and I think people who think Obama is secretly a terrorist are out of their minds.

sick very sick...shame on you New Yorker

While I understand the direction that the artist was going with this. The downfall of this particular sketch is that it does not convey strongly enough, that it is an outside force dressing them up this way. Most times that I have seem similar satire is when the artist is describing an individual, they are portraying the individuals flaws externally. Not taking the opinions of others and reflecting it on the individual.

Thats my take... Should have been thought through more carefully.

Victor, before you start calling people "retards," you might want to learn how to spell, use punctuation correctly, and construct coherent sentences. Of course, then we would understand what you are saying and your ignorance would be more apparent, so maybe you should stick with the incomprehensible verbal mishmash. And by the way, I hear the Flat Earth Society has openings for new members. (pun alert) Victor exemplifies a point I made in an earlier post, which is that the right wingnuts won't get the satire in the cover.

The real tragedy is that we can no longer poke fun at ourselves without our attempts to do so being seen as attacks on the foundations of pour society.
Our recent history has been so full of "politically correct" discussions that anything with more of an edge is viewed as offensive and tasteless.
These are unquestionably difficult times and we are faced with serious and complex issues, but sugar coating and masking the issues has not proven to be the answer.
Sometimes people need to be shaken up, and satire can often perform that job better than anything else.

It is sad that too many people who comment on blog are content to sound as if they just threw off their sheets

Posted by: Sam W | July 14, 2008 at 04:42 AM --->



What fun! This is the best New Yorker cover I've seen in years. Thank God real satire is alive and well after all the dumbing down and mindless political correctness Americans have been subjected to.

For the Obama supporters who are apparently new to electoral process, this is a political campaign, not a love-in. The gloves have been off for some time. Those with delicate sensibilities should avert their eyes.

The most ironic part of this manufactured "controversy" is that the appalled multitudes are as eager to sacrifice our constitutional right to free speech as Obama just did last week when he signed onto the new FISA legislation.

Maybe instead of wasting their time misinterpreting cartoons, voters should be paying attention to what the candidates are actually doing.

...As" Afro-Latino" nothing wrong with political satire!!! Most this people cry about nothing(...)

It's a mark of elitism to suppose that "ordinary Americans" will see the New Yorker cover as anything but satire. "Ordinary Americans" aren't as dumb as snobby New Yorkers think we are. Of course, it may also still be tasteless and offensive. Satire usually is. Just ask Jonathan Swift, who satirized the plight of the Irish in the 18th century by modestly proposing that the Irish sell their children to the British to be eaten by them.

Even better than writing a letter to the New Yorker (only a few will be published) or canceling your subscription (what other magazine will you read instead?), do as I'm doing. I'm sending my issue back to them unopened. That way they know I didn't read it, or, more importantly, didn't see the ads.

The attacks on this cover art are astounding. I can't believe I supported this candidate...I was angry after his sudden "move to the center" on the FISA vote, but this is too much. Don't like the cover? Too bad. We have something called the First Amendment in this country. I don't care if you don't have a sense of humor, but a limited knowledge of the Constitution? I want my donation to the Obama campaign back NOW.

don't know if this is satire or not, and don't care to get on either side of the argument. whatever it is, however, it is worth noting that it is also an ugly piece of crap.

Agree with Michael in post below; satirical cartoons almost always portray the target of the satire. To expect the general public to see the subtlety of satirizing an 'image' of a person is probably too much to ask of 90% of the population. I agree with the intention, but in practice it's a bad idea.

Well! I must say that I'm shocked, shocked mind you that the New Yorker would publish an article about this quasi-african 'man' running for president. It's ridiculous to think that Americans would actually vote for this benighted creature! He's the perfect example of affirmative-action. He's always been handed everything without having to do a shred of work to get it. I'm sure his "law degree" would be considered "honorary" if it weren't for the fact that he is extremely "high yellow" in complexion. And that woman he calls his "wife". Oh dear Lord, pass those flapjacks and cut the bacon on that one! She's a nice cross of Butterfly McQueen with an oil well. That hair!
Those beady little evil-filled eyes. Oh my heart! To think of a creature like that in any house, but, The White House - Oh surely not. Americans must come to their senses and stop these caricatures from going any farther with this foolish campaign for the presidency!

Oh, those crazy Dutch cartoonists!
First with the turban bomb, now with the Obama terrorist.
Can't we take a joke?

some questions just cant be asked like are you sure tech stocks will go higher,are you sure that mortage is right,are you sure we are not getting screwed on energy,its never wrong to ask a question,whats wrong is not asking it,,,,,popular culture is dangerious,the blind leading the blind,since when did popular culture know whats good ,please goodbuy osama/obama/

Anyone intelligent enough to read the New Yorker should get what the cover is saying, especially any who know anything about it.

Of course, the dueling problems now are that yet another cooked up controversy will expose millions of the unwashed masses to only the cover, as I'm sure Fox News salivates over yet another story it doesn't have to work for and yet another chance to make Obama look bad. And we'll have yet another pointless debate about the limits of free speech.

It is, as controversies go, however, a lot more interesting than lapel pins. A lot.

It seems a shame that 1) we now have a system of politics whereby it is common practice to portray the opponents negatively (in any way possible) rather than focusing on their ideas, their merits and their ability to lead the country to a better place; and 2) it is more important to rough up the candidates in the press than to evaluate their merits or lack of them.

I don't know why the press -- in all forms -- continues to support this "let's not investigate what's important, but focus on the rumor, negativity and personality" attitude.

The scandal mongering, unsubstantiated "factual" press needs to take a hard look at itself. Maybe there would be some real satire resulting from that...

Perhaps the NYC'ers next cover will be of John McCain angrily dropping bombs over Bagdad while with his wife hands out free beer to alcoholics? Sure, I get the sattire ... but so what. My subscription to this magazine is hereby cancelled forever.

Dumb. Just plain dumb on the part of the New Yorker which once had an adult for an editor, but two children later we have this cover that makes Mad look adult.

The political antagonism toward Mr. Obama in the front of the book was quite evident while Mrs. Clinton was in the race.

Yes, it's satire. But no, it's not funny.

There are already too many dumb Americans who believe that Obama is a Muslim and his wife is a terrorist. This will just confirm those beliefs.

And unfortunately, in this country, the dumb people can vote, too.

Mr. McDonough, The New Yorker is a magazine, not a book.

I will never buy this Magazine again. Ever.

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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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