Obama Camp Doesn't Do Satire

New Yorker Cover Prompts Scolding, Finger-Wagging

By Published on .

Well at least it got people talking. This week's cover of The New Yorker features a cartoon by Barry Blitt in which he tried to encapsulate all of the extreme insinuations about Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. He's really a Muslim? Check. She's the next coming of the Black Panthers? Check. Terrorist Fist Bump? Check. They will burn the American Flag in the Oval Office? Check. OK, so maybe no one had explicitly stated that last one anywhere, but the cover is a political cartoon trying to make a point, so a little exaggeration is to be expected.

Or maybe not. Many seem willing to take the illustration at face value, believing somehow that the New Yorker was the one accusing Barack Obama and his wife of these rumors.

Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton told Politico: "The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

Sen. John McCain's camp was quick to agree (a shrewd move if for no other reason than to try and fend off a similar treatment down the line).

Over at Huffington Post, Rachel Sklar got David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, to explain his decision to publish the cartoon:
Obviously I wouldn't have run a cover just to get attention -- I ran the cover because I thought it had something to say. What I think it does is hold up a mirror to the prejudice and dark imaginings about Barack Obama's -- both Obamas' -- past, and their politics. I can't speak for anyone else's interpretations, all I can say is that it combines a number of images that have been propagated, not by everyone on the right but by some, about Obama's supposed "lack of patriotism" or his being "soft on terrorism" or the idiotic notion that somehow Michelle Obama is the second coming of the Weathermen or most violent Black Panthers. That somehow all this is going to come to the Oval Office.

The idea that we would publish a cover saying these things literally, I think, is just not in the vocabulary of what we do and who we are. ... We've run many many satirical political covers. Ask the Bush administration how many.
Read here for Barry Blitt's explanation of the image.

Indeed, for a brief retrospective of The New Yorker and Barry Blitt's past joint endeavors, breeze on over to MediaBistro Fishbowl New York. There you can see how they've lampooned the Bush administration, and bolster an argument for the idea that there are no sacred cows in journalism.

Free speech means the freedom to discuss difficult ideas and issues in public. False accusations don't have a chance to go away unless they are brought out into the open and the feasibility of those smears is judged credible or not. Rather than deploring the cover, the Obama campaign should use it as an opportunity to address head-on the more outrageous insinuations for what they are. But maybe Obama is none too happy with The New Yorker deciding to use the image on the same issue that features an article examining his early days as a politician in Chicago that depicts him, as -- surprise! -- a politician willing to do what politicians have always done: align themselves with those who can help them advance through the ranks and drop those who hold them back.

The Obama campaign has been eager to drop the impression that his is a naïve campaign. One way to further that would be to acknowledge that anyone running for office shouldn't get a free ride from the press just because they're likable.
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