[15 July 2008]
For the record, the presidential campaigns for Barack Obama and John McCain are agreed that the latest cover of The New Yorker magazine is “tasteless and offensive.”
The satirical image that fronts this week’s edition depicts Obama in Muslim garb and his wife, Michelle, as an assault rifle-toting Black Panther look-alike. The two exchange a connubial fist bump in the Oval Office as an American flag burns in a fireplace beneath a portrait of Osama bin Laden.
The image by cartoonist Barry Blitt, titled “The Politics of Fear,” is meant to caricature the use of scare tactics and misinformation against Obama, The New Yorker assured readers in a statement Monday.
But for the Obama campaign and its supporters, the joke has fallen flat.
“Oh, lordy,” said Suffolk County Legis. Jon Cooper, D-Lloyd Harbor, Obama’s Long Island campaign chairman, upon viewing the magazine cover online. “I think I have a pretty good sense of humor and I think I’m pretty fair-minded, but this is just beyond the pale. ... It’s not funny.”
The images aim to lampoon falsehoods that have circulated persistently on the Internet and in some right-wing media even after the Obama campaign set up a Web site to debunk them. Among them: that Obama is a closet Muslim who was educated in radical madrassas abroad and won’t salute the flag, and that Michelle is an unpatriotic militant who ranted against “whitey” at a public forum. Just weeks ago, a Fox News analyst speculated on air that Obama and his wife might have exchanged a “terrorist fist jab” at one event.
“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,” Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton told The Associated Press. “But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.”
The timing of the cover is awkward, coming on the eve of a trip to the Middle East in which Obama is to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and hopes to shore up his credentials with American Jews who have been skeptical about whether he is a true friend of Israel.
“What possessed them to do this?” bemoaned New York Democratic consultant George Arzt, echoing the chorus of lament in the liberal blogosphere since The New Yorker issue came out. “It feeds all the rumor-mongering that is going on just under the radar.”
The irony is that Obama has spent the last couple of weeks contending with a rising tide of complaint among his left-liberal base that he has abandoned them in a shift to the political center, and ditched his lofty primary-season promise to change the tone of presidential politics. Indeed, the magazine profiles Obama’s formative years in Chicago, concluding that far from being the anti-establishment revolutionary satirized on its cover, Obama has succeeded by mastering the conventional, hardball political game.
But there was little hand-wringing in the blogosphere about Obama’s own rightward moves Monday.
“This is going to upset a lot of people, probably for the same reason it’s going to delight a lot of other people, namely those on the right,” lamented the liberal Huffington Post about the cover. “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.”