Breaking: Some Not Finding ‘New Yorker’ Cartoon Very Funny

obama new yorker cover
Photo: Image courtesy of the New Yorker

Here's one thing to keep in mind about this week's controversial New Yorker cover: A Pew poll released last week shows that 12 percent of Americans still think Barack Obama is a Muslim (and one percent think he's Jewish, but never mind that). Said cover, a cartoon by Barry Blitt titled "The Politics of Fear," depicts many of the offensive rumors used against Barack and Michelle Obama: The Democratic nominee is shown in the Oval Office wearing a turban and giving a "terrorist fist-jab" to his Afroed, machine-gun-toting wife. Above the fireplace, which contains a burning American flag, hangs a portrait of Osama bin Laden. Provocative stuff, clearly. So provocative that the backlash which began before the issue even hit the stands compelled New Yorker editor David Remnick to defend himself, Blitt, and the magazine in an interview with the Huffington Post. Remnick says that he didn't run the cover "just to get attention" but because he "thought it had something to say." It's "not a satire about Obama–it's a satire about the distortions and misconceptions and prejudices about Obama," Remnick explains. But while most people get that the magazine is skewering and not endorsing the smears depicted in the cartoon, many worry that not everyone will reach that conclusion.

• Eve Fairbanks finds the cover "more dull than provocative — a collection of the most obvious smear narratives about Obama, lumped together and mediocrely illustrated." She also worries that a "reader would have to have a fairly sophisticated understanding" of the magazine's "ethos" to understand the "intended ironic distance." [Stump/New Republic]

• Rachel Sklar believes that, "[p]resumably the New Yorker readership is sophisticated enough to get the joke," but the cover is upsetting a lot of people because "it's got all the scare tactics and misinformation that has so far been used to derail Barack Obama's campaign — all in one handy illustration." [Eat the Press/HuffPo]

• Andrew Sullivan thinks "the notion that most Americans are incapable of seeing that [it is satire] strikes me as excessively paranoid and a little condescending." [Atlantic]

• Isaac Chotiner wonders why the Obama campaign is picking a fight and "thereby assuring that the story will have legs." It would've been wiser for them not to "make a stink" at all. [Plank/New Republic]

• Seth Leibsohn point out that the "scare tactics" that the cover seeks to satirize didn't come from McCain but Clinton (remember the Drudge Report's photo of Obama in Muslim garb?). [Corner/National Review]

• Michael Scherer credits The New Yorker's "guts" and advises that we all "breathe deep." He also reprints a portion of William Rehnquist's opinion in Hustler Magazine and Larry C. Flynt v. Jerry Falwell, which explains the value of political cartoons in political discourse. [Swampland/Time]

• Ben Smith, who says the message is "obviously satire," remains "a little on the fence," wondering whether the outrage is appropriate, or part of a "new, pro-Obama PC." [Politico]

• Kevin Drum says his first reaction was that the cover was "kinda funny, a clever way of mocking all the conservative BS that's been circulating about the Obamas." But after reflecting on it, he decides it was more "gutless," because Blitt didn't portray the smears as coming from John McCain. [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Taylor Marsh doesn't think the cartoon goes far enough, since it's "simply repeating the smears in another form" rather than taking a "slap at the smear artists, which is obviously who the artist is mocking." She doubts the magazine would ever run a similar cover of a decrepit McCain drooling in a wheelchair being pushed by his young trophy wife. [Taylor Marsh]

• Trey Ellis "bridle[s] at any and all PC constraints," but says "dressing up perhaps the next President of the United States as the new millennium equivalent of Adolph Hitler is just gross and dumb." The intent would have been clearer if the image was contained within a thought bubble belonging to Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney; in fact, "[a]nything would have been better than what they did." [HuffPo]

• Jake Tapper asks you to imagine "what the reaction would be were it the Weekly Standard or the National Review putting such an illustration on their covers." [Political Punch/ABC News]

• Byron York says the McCain campaign is in an "awkward place": They have gone on record condemning it, but privately "some McCain types admit they find the cover funny." And it's certainly not a bad thing "when a national magazine, in an effort to take a shot at Fox News and talk radio, portrays your opponent like this." [Corner/National Review]

• Ed Morrissey contends that although it's obvious the cover is satire, it's just as obvious that "the editors of the New Yorker showed very poor judgment in approving" it. In fact, the cover "shouldn’t just offend the Obamas, but also conservatives who have a number of substantial issues with Barack Obama." [Hot Air]

• Marc Ambinder reasons that "if the cover art didn't hit home, we wouldn't be talking about it," and therefore it has "served its artistic purpose." It's doubtful that the cartoon will "reconfirm or relegitimize prejudice[s]" of New Yorker readers or watchers of political TV. [Atlantic]

• Chuck Todd and friends call the cover this week's "shiny metal object" distracting from real issues. It also says something about the state of the magazine industry that The New Yorker ran this "overly provocative" cover to get attention. [First Read/MSNBC] —Dan Amira

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.