The New Yorker's Cover Art

The airwaves have been filled with moral posturing to an extraordinary degree as a result of the New Yorker magazine’s cover art depicting Sen. Barack Obama dressed in traditional Muslim garb, fist-bumping his wife, who is sporting an AK-47, standing in the Oval Office with a picture of Osama bin Laden on the wall and an American flag burning in the fireplace. The magazine said they were obviously trying to make fun of the smears directed against Obama and there is no reason to disbelieve them. But, that may be little comfort to the Obama campaign.



Conservatives have been expressing outrage, faux outrage I suspect, but outrage nonetheless. To them, the cover feeds a long-standing narrative of an irresponsible elite press corps, this time biting one of its own. In the short term, I am sure they are delighted to have the Obama campaign on the defensive yet again, instead of talking about the economy. And, that while the kind of person who will believe the smears against Obama may not read the New Yorker, the magazine’s cover has made it onto the blogosphere, the cable television networks, and the pages of USAToday.


Liberals are torn. They are reflexively opposed to censorship of any kind, but they have to see that this incident shows why smears work. In order to defeat the smear, you have to keep addressing it. People who are inclined to believe nonsense are not big consumers of news and information. They may see coverage of the New Yorker’s cover fleetingly. The mute may be on the television, or they get the last half of a news story about it on the radio. Remember, some 10 percent of the nation’s population already does believe that Obama is a Muslim.  


True insiders had to be careful. Unsurprisingly, before criticizing the cover as a mistake, David Gergen was on CNN saying that New Yorker editor David Remnick was a star, whose provocative sense of humor had breathed new life into the magazine, a man who…you expect Gergen intends to have business dealings with in the future. Mind you, I would not mind landing a contract at the New Yorker either, but it is depressing to see the attitudes of a courtier passing for commentary.


So, was the New Yorker wrong? Humor, especially the humor you are deciding to put on the cover of a magazine, must be very accessible. This cover was, upon even a moment’s reflection, an obvious caricature. But, in that moment of reflection, the editors should have recognized the need to find something funnier. Humor needs to be direct, at least when another person’s reputation is at stake.


Michael Sean Winters

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10 years 8 months ago
The New Yorker cover was in poor taste and was inexcusable. I'm not sure what is worse--a cartoon in poor taste or the anchor of a major network--Dan Rather--telling deliberate falsehoods about President Bush. It would be nice to have civility in political discourse.
10 years 8 months ago
Jeff Weiss, on the Dallas Morning News' excellent Religion blog, points out the obvious parallels between The New Yorker's cover and Swift's "A Modes Proposal," which met pretty much the same reception. Behind all this criticism of the cover from folks who ought to know better lies the ancient prejudice of the well-educated: I get the joke, but other folks who are not like me are too stupid to get it. The need to be protected from satire. As for Obamas, not one molecule has been added to or subtracted from his reputation.
10 years 8 months ago
Michael Winters concern over the New Yorker cover would have more credibility if he had equal outrage over all the vile cartoons directed at President Bush.
10 years 8 months ago
The very best line in this entire post is this: "People who are inclined to believe nonsense are not big consumers of news and information." Someone, I believe it was Oliver Wendell Holmes, once said that "The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour on it, the more it will contract." Many people are absolutely convinced that Barak Obama is a closet Muslim, and nothing anyone says or does will make them change their minds. Others are absolutely convinced that John McCain is nothing more than the Second Coming of George W. Bush, and nothing will make them change THEIR minds. This being the case, the New Yorker cover was, at the very least, in poor taste, since it panders to the deep-seated prejudices of much of the population.


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