Cover Story

When I first heard about the New Yorker cover flap, I figured I’d take a look at it and find that not a whole lot of people know from satire and dismiss it or chastise the complainers. But I have to tell you, I’ve looked at that cover over and over again, studied it, stared at it from every which way, and I don’t see the satire. Obama and his supporters have a right to be angry.

It’s a great drawing, that much is true. Especially the caricature of Michelle. If only!

But on the cover, without cover language, or without the context of being attached to an article inside, the desired effect is lost. If, as Kelly McBride, head of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute has said, the cartoon’s title, “The Politics of Fear,” appeared on the cover as well, there would have been no problem. Or if the drawing was inside the magazine surrounded by an article giving it context. But alone on the cover without context – and with such a dead-on depiction of the way the Obamas are perceived and/or smeared by right-wing nutjobs – is too dry and removed to qualify as successful satire. The New Yorker is wrong, and I can’t remember such an egregious misstep by the magazine.

I’d still love a poster of it, though.


The cover controversy, by the way, is the best thing the Obama campaign could have hoped for – just the latest example of Barack’s spooky good fortune. Why? First, every media outlet in the land is proclaiming as loudly as they can that the Obamas are not radical Muslims who hate America. If only the media had defended the patriotism of John Kerry and Michael Dukakis as loudly.

More importantly, the controversy draws attention away from the actual article, which reports on an Obama who is, ahem, not exactly what he seems. In Jesse Jackson and failed satire, Obama continues his amazing run of having the right enemies and opponents.


And is the Tribune editorial board trying too hard? The notion that “they” laughed at the cover and the rest of us are idiots is preposterous. I’m quite certain I have a better sense of humor and sharper appreciation of satire than anyone on that board. Their editorial strikes me as calculated – something they had to talk about before determining that they laughed. Or maybe it was a laughter that came after the fact – after reading all about the silly little contretemps. But imagine yourself seeing the cover image for the first time without context. Is it still funny? I think not.


5 responses to “Cover Story

  1. I agree. If the cartoon had the caption “The Politics of Fear” this would be a complete nonstory. I’m genuinely surprised the New Yorker did not realize that without the caption, people would get upset. Does that indicate they think too highly of their readers?

  2. SR,

    The biggest problem with the cover-as-satire argument is that the purported subject of the satire does not appear on the cover. The NYer claims that the cover satirizes the right-wing smears against the Obamas, but it merely depicts those smears.

    Would it be satire of racists to portray the Obamas as long-held racist stereotypes, i.e. tap-dancing, eating watermelon or shining shoes? Application of the New Yorker’s unique theory of satire says yes — but common sense declares otherwise.

    The same applies to the cover in question.

    — SCAM
    so-called “Austin Mayor”

  3. Having published, edited and produced a number of publications over the years, I think the New Yorker will sell way more copies than usual and that their press run reflected those intentions.

  4. I have to say I disagree. I suppose you can debate whether or not the cartoon was well executed, but particularly when it comes to satirical statements, context matters. This was The New Yorker, for goodness sakes. If you know anything at all about this publication, you can’t possibly think TNY was actually trying to say that Obama is a Muslim and his wife a Black Panther.

    Have we really become a nation where satire is no longer possible? Or only permitted if its done by the “right” people? Or only if it’s really really well done?

    Instead, I think this is too much of the MSM assuming the Rubes won’t get it. Even if they’re right, too bad. A publication like TNY shouldn’t have to dumb itself down to make sure everyone gets that something’s a joke.

    As an aside, the McCain-related parody in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was better by at least an order of magnitude, as it’s intent was crystal clear — context or not.

  5. Most irritating was the formerly romantic and popular fist bump, not depicted as terrorist. That’s sickening.

    As a New Yorker, I’ve read TNY for many years. I also occasionally ghostwrite satire for SNL — this cover is *not* satire. It would have been, had they had, say, Rush Limbaugh painting the cover. But without that or a caption, they did it just to increase their dwindling circulation.

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