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New Yorker Obama Terrorist Cover

The liberal blogs are in a tizzy about the cover of the July 21 New Yorker, an illustration by Barry Blitt which shows the Obamas in terrorist outfits, doing a fist bump with a big portrait of Osama bin Laden over their mantle with an American flag burning in the fireplace:

July 21, 2008 New Yorker:  Barack Obama as Muslim, Michelle Obama as Terrorist, Osama bin Laden over fireplace

Given that this is the liberal New Yorker and that the magazine is aimed at liberal urbanites, it’s rather obvious that this is poking fun at conservatives, not the Obamas.  It’s provocative, sure, but how better to generate buzz and sell extra copies at the newstand?  Quick:  What was the last New Yorker cover that generated any discussion at all? No, I don’t remember, either.

That was essentially Kevin Drum‘s initial reaction, too.  He quickly changed his mind:

Maybe it’s because this kind of satire just doesn’t work, no matter how well it’s done. But mostly it’s because a few minutes thought convinced me it was gutless. If artist Barry Blitt had some real cojones, he would have drawn the same cover but shown it as a gigantic word bubble coming out of John McCain’s mouth — implying, you see, that this is how McCain wants the world to view Obama. But he didn’t. Because that would have been unfair. And McCain would have complained about it. And for some reason, the risk that a failed satire would unfairly defame McCain is somehow seen as worse than the risk that a failed satire would unfairly defame Obama.

HuffPo’s  Rachel Sklar is similarly thoughtful:

Presumably the New Yorker readership is sophisticated enough to get the joke, but still: 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: 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. 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.

As one might expect, some were less nuanced.  Duncan “Atrios” Black takes the cake with, “Shouting ‘n****r’ is ok as long as you mean it ironically.”  John Aravosis gets honorable mention with:

Okay, what do we do about this? I want suggestions. This is what we have to deal with in America, as Democrats. A liberal media that bends over so far backwards to be “fair” that it becomes just as bad as FOX News. A liberal publication like the New Yorker thinks it’s funny to make Mrs. Obama some radical black panther, Barack Obama basically a terrorist (you’ll note that he looks just like Osama bin Laden on the wall), and they’re even burning the American flag in the Oval Office (that’s supposed to be the White House, get it?). They put Osama bin Laden on the wall of the Oval Office. And this is funny? Is the New Yorker so out of touch that they don’t realize that much of America, or at least too much of America, harbors these very concerns about Obama and his wife? I’m sure the New Yorker thinks they’re actually poking holes in the myth by making light of the stereotypes. Yeah, and tell us how this pokes fun at the stereotype? It reinforces it.

Taylor Marsh wonders, “Is the appreciation for political satire dead?”

The only way to combat a myth is to broaden it, hype it, make a satirical target out of it. The cover of The New Yorker does just that, but does it make the further statement? Does it go far enough, instead of simply repeating the smears in another form? Where’s the slap at the smear artists, which is obviously who the artist is mocking? The [Village Voice] Hillary image [featured and discussed in the post] has the same problem. It doesn’t depict the fighter rising from the battle. Is simply repeating wingnut talking points enough or does that provide more fuel for the smears instead of mocking them?

Barack Obama wasted no time in fanning the flames out outrage — and Team McCain joined in:

The Obama campaign quickly condemned the rendering. Spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement: “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.” McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds quickly e-mailed: “We completely agree with the Obama campaign, it’s tasteless and offensive.”

Whether the image is “offensive” is a matter of opinion, I suppose.  Certainly, it’s far less so than any number of editorial cartoons that come out every day.  (Consider the work of Ted Rall, for example.)  But, yeah, it’s probabably “tasteless.” The cover of the New Yorker is simply different than a political cartoon inside a paper.

I do, however, think it will achieve its desired effects.  First and foremost, it’s already generating more buzz than any issue in the magazine’s recent history.  More importantly, though, it will lead to a round of discussion of the “Obama is a Muslim” nonsense on the various talking heads shows.  This, in turn, will force Republican operatives to state, over and over, that they don’t think Obama is a Muslim, a terrorist, an America hater, and so forth.  That’s probably the only way this silly meme goes away.

Memeorandum has tons more reactions: QandO, Top of the Ticket, HorsesAss.Org, Pajamas Media, American Power, Ketchup and Caviar, Taylor Marsh, BLACKFIVE, Blue Girl, Red State, Polimom Says, Macsmind, Gateway Pundit, Riehl World View, The Plank, The Page, Roger L. Simon, Althouse, JammieWearingFool, Doug Ross, The Strata-Sphere, The Volokh Conspiracy, Moonbattery, The Daily Dish, Blog of the Moderate Left, AMERICAblog News, Feministe, Wake up America, Pensito Review, The Raw Story, Michelle Obama Watch, Buck Naked Politics, Newshoggers.com, Ben Smith’s Blogs, The Corner, NO QUARTER, Scripting News, THE ASTUTE BLOGGERS, Flopping Aces, TalkLeft, The Confluence, FOX Embeds, Eunomia, The Sundries Shack, Sister Toldjah, TBogg, Pandagon, Macsmind and Viking Pundit

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. John Cole says:

    I honestly do not see the big deal. This is pretty standard fare for political cartoons/cover art, and was quite clearly poking fun at all the nonsense being spread about Obama. If I had seen the cover before I had seen everyone’s reaction at memeorandum, I would have predicted that everyone would have gotten the joke and liked the cover. I see it as a pretty clean swipe at those people spreading the fear-mongering.

    I guess I just do not get the reaction.

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  2. Will D. says:

    Reminds me of when FoxNews kept saying ‘It’s probably not a good idea for anyone to use Barack’s middle name HUSSEIN’… Well they kept saying it over and over in the guise of questioning if it was proper or not, by that time- “PERCEPTION CREATED and MISSION ACCOMPLISHED”. Despite the New Yorker’s attempt at addressing Obama’s media distortion by the right wing media, this has a similar overtone to it. “RE-ENFORCEMENT of already created DISTORTION”. This is very much the same.

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  3. just me says:

    They want to sell their magazine.

    Looks like it worked.

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  4. Anon says:

    I’m in the Obama camp, and I also don’t see this as a big deal.

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  5. DaveD says:

    Is the Angela Davis look for Michelle part of the satire?

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  6. James Joyner says:

    test comment

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  7. [...] –James Joyner: I do, however, think it will achieve its desired effects. First and foremost, it’s already generating more buzz than any issue in the magazine’s recent history. More importantly, though, it will lead to a round of discussion of the “Obama is a Muslim” nonsense on the various talking heads shows. This, in turn, will force Republican operatives to state, over and over, that they don’t think Obama is a Muslim, a terrorist, an America hater, and so forth. That’s probably the only way this silly meme goes away. [...]

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  8. Michael says:

    The thing about satire is that it has to go all the way, not just part way. If you don’t take it far enough, so far that it’s extremity itself makes the unfunny content funny, then it’s still offensive. And that is the point, the satire isn’t in the content itself, but in the extremity of the content.

    In my opinion, the New Yorker didn’t cross that threshold with this cover.

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  9. Michael says:

    Thanks, James, for fixing the comments.

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  10. Mike P says:

    James,
    As you say, New Yorker readers will already get the joke here (such as it is), but the cover provides no context as to the joke…you have to know that it’s a joke, otherwise you will have people looking at it and taking it at face value. That, of course, is why people are angry about it…it doesn’t go over the top with the joke, it actually is a visual confirmation in a liberal publication of the most deranged rumors floating around about Obama.

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  11. Arnold Vega says:

    Kevin Drum’s “…a gigantic word bubble coming out of John McCain’s mouth”

    What a pathetic attempt to link this cartoon to McCain. Why not just acknowledge what millions of people already think.

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  12. Obama’s Terrorist Cover Story Controversy…

    Notice the demonization of conservatives at Daily Kos: Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell are “slaves”? Joseph Lieberman and his wife are “JDL terrorists”? And John McCain’s a “Nazi fire-bomber”?…

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  13. Bithead says:

    What a pathetic attempt to link this cartoon to McCain. Why not just acknowledge what millions of people already think.

    What an irony that suppsoedly the artist was trying to do just that, Arnold.

    In the end, the reason any humor, particularly satire, works, is because there’s a grain of truth at the center of it. The level of anger coming from Camp Obama and their supporters on this thing indicates they think so, too.

    That should make any Obama supoprter very uncomfortable indeed.

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  14. Derrick says:

    Arnold,

    Maybe your right that the McCain part of Kevin’s alternative might be wrong, but what about say an image of Rove or just and elephant. I’m not deeply offended but I don’t think that the message is explicit enough to be good satire.

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  15. Wayne says:

    My question is since Obama’s ears stick out further than Bush’s does when are we going to see Obama with enlarge ears and chimp cartoons? How about one similar to those depicting Condelisa Rice or are those things all of the sudden out of bounds?

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  16. [...] James Joyner has a pretty good round-up of coverage, and concludes: More importantly, though, it will lead to a [...]

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  17. Michael says:

    the reason any humor, particularly satire, works, is because there’s a grain of truth at the center of it. The level of anger coming from Camp Obama and their supporters on this thing indicates they think so, too.

    In this case, the “grain of truth” is that some people believe what the image depicts, not that the image itself contains any truth.

    That will make some Obama supporters uncomfortable, yes, but not in the way you were suggesting.

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  18. Michael says:

    My question is since Obama’s ears stick out further than Bush’s does when are we going to see Obama with enlarge ears and chimp cartoons?

    The chimp characteristics were more a result of Bush’s nose and mouth, not his ears. Obama’s nose and mouth aren’t nearly as chimp-like.

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  19. Wayne says:

    Michael
    I’m not sure if I agree with your assessment. It has been shown that it is easy to take still shots of someone speaking and make them look like a chimp. Regardless I settle for ears as large as Obama head with ridicules looking expressions.

    Are you claiming that Obama had nothing to do with Muslims in the past or they haven’t identified themselves as being part of the Black community? How about being ashamed of being an American which the burning of the flag often represents? Remember Michael comments about being the first time she was proud to be an American? Their fist pump is famous. Obama shares names with many terrorist.

    Have those things been overstated and overblown? I would say yes but to say the image itself doesn’t contain a grain of truth is wrong.

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  20. Michael says:

    Are you claiming that Obama had nothing to do with Muslims

    They have about as much to do with Muslims as I do.

    How about being ashamed of being an American which the burning of the flag often represents?

    Not being proud of something isn’t the same as being ashamed of it, a point I tried unsuccessfully to get across when this accusation was originally brought up.

    Obama shares names with many terrorist.

    Which? Barack, Hussein or Obama?

    So far the only “truth” you’ve successfully associated with the picture itself is the fact that the Obamas are black, and their fist-bump, neither of which I find offensive.

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  21. Bithead says:

    In this case, the “grain of truth” is that some people believe what the image depicts, not that the image itself contains any truth

    I think an argument can be made for both. His wife’s leftoist-radical-anti-Americanism has been fairly well documented, in both her own statements and in terms of those the AObamas have assocaited themselves with over the years and whom they still maintain relationships with.

    Sorry, Mike but a lot of the images they now complain about were ones created by they, themselves.

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  22. Michael says:

    His wife’s leftoist-radical-anti-Americanism has been fairly well documented

    I’m pretty sure that’s not the case in the world the rest of us occupy.

    those the AObamas have assocaited themselves with over the years and whom they still maintain relationships with.

    And which secret societies would whose be?

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  23. mannning says:

    Have a big laugh, and then later mull over the residual content displayed…

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  24. anjin-san says:

    The average New Yorker reader is sophisticated enough to see the parody. A lot of other folks are not.

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  25. Wayne says:

    “Obama shares names with many terrorist.
    Which? Barack, Hussein or Obama?’

    Here are some with Hussein name not to mention a close proximately of Hussain which three of the 911 hijackers were. There are many Barack based names as well. Obama is a common name which is shared by terrorist as well.
    http://www.sec.state.ma.us/sct/sctter/teridx.htm
    Of course many of these names are share by many in the Middle East and Africa states that are associated with terrorism. As unfair as it may be these names are associated with terrorism and I surprise you would deny this.

    Not being proud of the U.S. means Michael was either ashamed or indifferent. Neither is good but most would take her speech as ashamed. Also Obama bashed the U.S. citizens in his second language speech.

    I wasn’t aware that your father was Muslim. I grew up in a Catholic community with Catholic family members. For me to say that all that had absolutely no influence on me would be asinine. Does that mean I’m a Catholic now or follow the Popes every word? No. But many of the Christian values are instilled in me and not necessary by the Church but by the people I associated with.

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  26. Bill says:

    I agree that the outrage is overdone and overwrought, although I respect the views of those like Kevin Drum who realized that he was being slightly humorous in objecting. There’s no accounting for your own accounting, I guess.

    What bothers me more is the trivialization of terrorism. For example, I’ve worked on a film called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” This documentary (which of course I highly recommend and have linked with my name) is very careful not to make Muslim seem like a “smear” and in fact many of the interviews are with moderate Muslims (and some former Muslims, to be sure).

    I’ll tell you what’s offensive: Making fun of the worldview that is concerned about Islamic terrorism, and I would say smearing all who think the issue matters as being an ignoramuses who must believe the Obamas are Muslim terrorists.

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  27. Michael says:

    Here are some with Hussein name not to mention a close proximately of Hussain which three of the 911 hijackers were. There are many Barack based names as well. Obama is a common name which is shared by terrorist as well.

    He also shares names with philosophers, artists, peace makers and more. The fact that he has a common name doesn’t associate him with terrorists. Eating white bread doesn’t make you a serial killer, no matter how many serial killers ate white bread.

    Of course many of these names are share by many in the Middle East and Africa states that are associated with terrorism.

    They’re also very common in states not associated with terrorism, including some of our most important allies in the region.

    Not being proud of the U.S. means Michael was either ashamed or indifferent. Neither is good but most would take her speech as ashamed.

    I took her speech to mean indifferent, I guess its all about what you’re looking to find.

    I wasn’t aware that your father was Muslim.

    He wasn’t, nor was Obama’s father, he was an atheist. Not that it mattered, he wasn’t raised by his father anyway.

    I grew up in a Catholic community with Catholic family members.

    And Obama grew up in a secular community with secular family members. I’m less than terrified that he might harbor secular values.

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  28. Bithead says:

    I’m pretty sure that’s not the case in the world the rest of us occupy.

    I strongly advise researching the matter before speaking further.

    And which secret societies would whose be?

    No ‘secret society’ involved. Ever hear of Bill Ayers, as an example?

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  29. Michael says:

    No ‘secret society’ involved. Ever hear of Bill Ayers, as an example?

    You mean the Distinguished Professor of Education from the University of Illinois? I hadn’t realized that he and Obama had much of a relationship.

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  30. davod says:

    Ayres

    “You mean the Distinguished Professor of Education from the University of Illinois? I hadn’t realized that he and Obama had much of a relationship”

    For an Obamite blog watcher I thought you would know a lttle bit more about his past.

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  31. Bithead says:

    I suspect it’s a matter of admitting it, actually.

    Do the word “Bomb the pentegon” mean anything to you?

    (I suspect I’ve tripped a filter or three over at Langley with that one)

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  32. Michael says:

    For an Obamite blog watcher I thought you would know a lttle bit more about his past.

    Yeah, I know about his past. The thing is, the US justice system declared him innocent, he is currently a respected and productive member of society, and I see nothing wrong with anybody associating with him in a philanthropic, anti-poverty program.

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  33. Wayne says:

    From what I read, Obama’s father was many things including at one time an atheist and at another time a Muslim. Yes we have both said his Obama’s names are common names in certain part of the world. Those names however for most U.S. citizens bring up images of terrorist not philosophers. Is this right? No but it is fact. I couldn’t care less if he is or is not Muslim or what his names are. The discussion has been if the image contains any resemblance of truth not if any of it should matter.

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  34. Michael says:

    The discussion has been if the image contains any resemblance of truth not if any of it should matter.

    Those names however for most U.S. citizens bring up images of terrorist not philosophers. Is this right? No

    And you seem to agree with me, that the “truth” is that some Americans believe the depiction, not that the depiction itself contains truth.

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  35. Wayne says:

    Both, I’m sure there are a few that would agree with the overstatement of the cartoon but most would just acknowledge the grain of truth which there is. For example the Obamas like many on the left like to bash the U.S. Does this necessary mean they hate the U.S.? Some but most at least I hope are just concentrating on the negative instead of the positive. Do Obama share names of terrorist? Yes. Do people associate those names with terrorist? Yes. So it is both perception and a grain of reality. It would be similar to if John McCain was name Charles Mason.

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  36. Michael says:

    For example the Obamas like many on the left like to bash the U.S.

    Either you’ve been hearing things I haven’t, or we’ve got wildly different ideas about what the word “bash” means.

    It would be similar to if John McCain was name Charles Mason.

    If he were, and the New Yorker published cover art depicting him as a murderous cult leader, it would be just as offensive and tasteless, and again there would be no truth in the depiction itself. However, I doubt people would think he’s associated with murderous cults to the extent that they think Obama is associated with terrorists, because Charles Manson isn’t a “foreign” name.

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  37. mannning says:

    Mulling is finished. Obama and spouse should be given the benefit of the doubt, unless and until either of them slips up–again.

    One more chance, but no vote.

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  38. Wayne says:

    I concur that the New Yorker cover was tasteless. I wonder if you condemn the many tasteless and offensive cartoons of Bush and members of his administration or the left nickname for him of “the Shrub”.

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  39. Michael says:

    I wonder if you condemn the many tasteless and offensive cartoons of Bush and members of his administration or the left nickname for him of “the Shrub”.

    I’ve never actually verbally condemned a cartoon of Bush, because a) I don’t view that many and b) when I do see them I’m usually alone. That said, the vast majority of political cartoons are decidedly unfunny, but still manage not to cross the line into tasteless & offensive territory.

    I never liked “the Shrub”, “Commander in Chimp” or anything else like that, one of the many reason I don’t even bother to look at comments at dKos anymore. Heck, I even hate it when people say “Preznit”, but maybe I’m just uncool. I generally use either “the President” or “Bush”, sometimes “GW” if I think I need to make a distinction between father and son.

    I may think he’s the worst President of my lifetime, but I’ll still afford him the same respect I’d give to the average guy on the street.

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  40. Its up to you New Yorker! New Yorker!…

    The real story is the reaction to the cover by Obama, his campaign and his supporters. As always, the tone is set at the top, with staff and supporters taking their cues from the leadership. Obama’s reaction:…

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  41. renderns says:

    poor drawing and lousy idea. cheap and not funny at all

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  42. anjin-san says:

    the Obamas like many on the left like to bash the U.S

    Trying to be honest about our shortcomings as well as our virtues is hardly “bashing”…

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  43. “I do, however, think it will achieve its desired effects.”…

    From Outside the Beltway: I do, however, think it will achieve its desired effe…

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