Magazine's 'satirical' cover stirs controversy

July 14, 2008 4:27:59 PM PDT
Both presidential candidates are blasting a controversial New Yorker magazine cover. The cartoon shows Senator Barrack Obama dressed as a Muslim extremist and his wife as a terrorist.

Senator Obama calls it tasteless and Republican Senator John McCain says the cover is inappropriate.

The New Yorker magazine claims they didn't mean any harm; the cartoon was meant to poke fun at Senator Obama's critics.

The New Yorker is a highly-regarded liberal-leaning literary magazine that is apparently trying, in this case, to make fun of all the myths and misconceptions about the Obamas by putting them together in one satirical cartoon on the cover of the latest issue. But the initial reaction from the movers and shakers in the political world is thumbs down, not funny, not clever, not effective as political satire, and probably damaging to the Obama campaign by reinforcing the worst caricatures of Barack and Michelle Obama.

Barack Obama's name, his bi-racial, cross-cultural background and his outspoken wife have sparked so many rumors, including one commentator's suggestion that a fist-bump at a rally in Minnesota last month might be a terrorist gesture.

The campaign had to launch a "fight the smears" Web site recently to set the record straight.

But now a cartoonist has put all of the rumors, smears and slurs in one cartoon on the cover of the latest New Yorker magazine depicting Barack Obama as a turbaned Muslim extremist who burns American flags in a White House fireplace and fist bumps his gun-toting terrorist wife while Osama bin Laden looks down from a picture on the wall.

"The intent of the cover is to satirize the vicious rumors and attacks about the Obamas that have been floating around in the blogosphere," said David Remnick. New Yorker editor.

The New Yorker claims to be confronting the rumors with satire. But the Obama campaign calls the cover "tasteless and offensive." And his allies agree.

"If there is humor in there, I did not see it. What I saw were the worst of the false stereotypes that have been circulated about Barack Obama and Michelle," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, (D) Evanston.

"It is not funny. It is not provocative. It is not interesting. I can tell you what Rahm Emanuel's going to do. I am not buying The New Yorker magazine. I am done," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, (D) Chicago.

Even Obama's harshest critic, McCain, agrees the New Yorker's out of line on this one.

"I just saw the picture on television and it is totally inappropriate," he said. "Frankly, I would understand if Senator Obama and his supporters find it offensive."

There was similar reaction Monday from the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist at the Chicago Sun-Times, Jack Higgins, who's made a career out of lampooning politicians but not, he says, by reinforcing stereotypes that are blatantly false.

The best cartoons, according to Higgins, spin the truth to get a laugh. And they do it subtly not, he says, by smashing the inkwell with a sledgehammer.

Chicago's most famous cartoonist says most publications would've rejected the drawing.

"A cartoon is, an editorial but with pictures. We can't write an editorial unless we have facts. Without the facts, there's no story," said Higgins.

Politicians from Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, to Barack Obama, have been skewered by the Sun-Times award-winning cartoonist.

Higgins says Barack and Michelle Obama fist-bumping in Minnesota June 3 is fair game because it actually happened. But the fist-bump on the cover of the New Yorker features Barack Obama in Muslim garb and Michelle Obama in Black Panther attire - in other words, no truth and no subtlety, according to Higgins.

"What you have to do, is have something a ring of truth in it and allows us to laugh," said Higgins. "I don't think it is funny. And i make fun of all of these guys and don't see the humor in it."

"Satire always comes with some risk and the chance of some people not understanding it," said Remnick.

"It is sad this newspaper would publish a cartoon that is so tasteless and destructive," said Senator Dick Durbin, (D) Illinois.

"I can't understand why a reputable magazine would decide to absolutely play out this horrible image," Schakowsky said.

"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," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton. "But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

Already the cover was generating controversy on the Internet.

The Huffington Post, a left-leaning blog, said: "Anyone who's tried to paint Obama as a Muslim, anyone who's tried to portray Michelle as angry or a secret revolutionary out to get Whitey, anyone who has questioned their patriotism -- well, here's your image."

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On the Web: www.newyorker.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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