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July 14, 2008

Michelle and Barack Obama: The New Yorker Magazine Cover – Smear or Satire?


  The July 21, 2008 cover of The New Yorker Magazine has a cartoon of Michelle Obama as a afro-wearing, gun toting militant and Barack Obama is depicted dressed wearing traditional Muslim garb.  They were greeting each other with a “fist bump”, with an American flag burning in the fireplace, and a portrait of Osama Bin Laden on the wall of the Oval Office – the image was drawn by Barry Blitt.

I have been on the road so I didn’t see the cover of the magazine until late today.  Earlier when my sister described the cover to me I redundantly kept asking her, “The New Yorker magazine?” “The New Yorker had that image on their cover?”  “Are you sure it was the New Yorker?”  I couldn’t believe The New Yorker would use such a distasteful cartoon.  I was skeptical because I have read The New Yorker for years as a New Yorker who lived in Manhattan it was a must read for smart, well written, in depth articles.  The New Yorker has great contributors and is a well respected magazine.  I don’t know how well The New Yorker is known outside of New York and D.C. so I don’t know what impact this will have on the general public but it sure will give ‘media types’ something to talk about for a day or two.  As I questioned my sister about the cover I hadn’t seen at the time I started to think about why The New Yorker might have used such a crazy unthinkable cartoon on their cover – they are well-known for their satirical cartoons.  I own a couple of their cartoon posters – their cartoon styles are easily recognized and are collectibles — no doubt this will be a collectible.

That said, now that I have seen the cartoon (I still haven’t read the article as yet) it just does NOT work.  ‘Satire’ is literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.  So satire is like a Saturday Night Live or a Colbert Report sketch but in this case it’s illustrated as a cartoon image.  I am not a stand-up comic, but I know that  if you tell a joke and then you have to EXPLAIN it – it didn’t work.  This cartoon didn’t work for that reason – they had too much ‘xplaining to do.

The New Yorker says the cartoon is intended as a satirical comment about some of the distorted right-wing attacks on the Democratic senator.  Much the same as a DailyKos diarist named ONECITIZEN created the photo-shopped face of Michelle Obama on a body being lynched in the name of satire. That image completely pissed me off.  Read the full article about ‘the lynching’ of Michelle Obama at https://letustalk.wordpress.com/2008/05/24/leave-michelle-obama-alone/

I disagreed with the imagery ONECITIZEN used and I disagree with The New Yorker image because the people these satirical images are trying to reach are going to believe the picture they see and not read the content of the articles written to explain the ‘satire’. So the editor of The New Yorker used poor judgment since the cartoon seems slanderous and did not create illumination of ‘smears’ as the editor intended.  The cover of the magazine did not even have a heading that explained the picture and that left the picture to be interpreted by the reader’s imagination.

An Obama campaign spokesman said the cartoon was “tasteless and offensive”.  A spokesman for John McCain also criticized the cartoon.

In a statement, The New Yorker magazine said the cartoon “combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are.”

The New Yorker said the cover, called “The Politics of Fear”, was a critique of unfounded allegations that have tried to portray Mr. Obama, a Christian, as a closet radical Muslim.

“The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall? All of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that’s the spirit of this cover,” the statement said.

The portrayal of the Obamas “fist-bumping” one another was a reference to a campaign rally in St Paul, Minnesota, back in June, at which the couple were seen to “fist-bump”, an action described by one Fox News commentator as a “terrorist fist-jab”.  

The New Yorker said that this week’s edition carried two “very serious” articles about Mr. Obama but Obama spokesman Bill Burton dismissed the cartoon, saying: “”The New Yorker may think… 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.”

I don’t believe The New Yorker was being malicious but I give The New Yorker an “F” for the cover because it was outrageous and was of poor taste and they completely missed the mark.


Update:  I have now read both articles in the The New Yorker and they are not even relevant to the cartoon!  How insulting since The New Yorker tried to link the 2 articles (not even well written) to the cartoon! This appears to be all smear!  Shameful — there goes my subscription!!!  Read both articles at the link below:








  1. The only reason that this Mr. & Mrs. Obama satire DOES have impact — and may very likely spread — is because like all good satire, or good humor for that matter, there’s more than a germ of truth in it. Otherwise, the satire would utterly roll off the Obamoids’ backs, having no impact.

    Comment by Malloy — July 15, 2008 @ 1:20 am | Reply

  2. […] The rumors echo the same type of innuendo that dogged the campaign of Barack Obama back in 2008.  … […]

    Pingback by Foes Link Jindal to Hinduism, Peace Mongering « Future Update — July 15, 2008 @ 9:51 am | Reply

  3. This was totally uncalled for and generally stupid.
    I’m betting this will actually get obama MORE votes just because people will be tired of the “right wing” attack machine going after him. I’m as conservative as they come and I think this cover is totally useless and should not be credited to any political person in the republican party.

    Comment by Tony — July 15, 2008 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

  4. You need to look here to find the two “very serious articles” about Obama which certainly are NOT flattering to him in the least.

    This entire issue of the New Yorker is a full on frontal assault on Obama. Satire my fanny! (at the bottom of the cartoon are the article’s titles, you can link to them at the top right-one of them is 15 pages long)

    Comment by Robin — July 15, 2008 @ 2:14 pm | Reply

  5. Robin — THANKS very much! There goes my subscription to The New Yorker! Friggin’ ridiculous!

    Comment by Paulette — July 15, 2008 @ 2:32 pm | Reply

  6. I have reviewed the cover and read the articles in the July 21, 2008 New Yorker magazine. As a frequent reader of the magazine I was not terribly upset with the cartoon, and I believe the magazine as a result will receive some much deserved exposure in parts of the country outside of the east coast. When asked about the article Sen Obama replied that he had no comment. If that is good enough for Sen Obama it is good enough for me. Sen McCain felt it was inappropriate and had the courage to say so. What does the comments of the two candidates tell you about courage under fire and leadership when confronted with tough and controversial matters? If Sen Obama is elected President I hope he will will not stand on the fence and be without comment when confronted with tough and controversial issues and assaults, whether domestic or international,that may be waged against the United States or its allies.

    Comment by Yalu Ajamu Parks — July 15, 2008 @ 9:03 pm | Reply

  7. Yalu — I agree with you, I believe that Senator Obama is courageous and will stand up for himself and for America when confronted with controversial issues and assaults. I have been a fan of The New Yorker for years – but the justification given for the cartoon does not make sense since the articles and cartoon perpetuate the smears – not dispel them.

    I hope you’re having lots of summer fun in the city!

    Comment by Paulette — July 15, 2008 @ 10:05 pm | Reply

  8. The cover was designed to sell more copies. How disgusting!!! .

    Comment by esther turner — July 15, 2008 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

  9. Esther – you hit the nail on the head! It seems that the only beneficiary of the ‘cartoon’ was The New Yorker.

    Comment by Paulette — July 15, 2008 @ 11:00 pm | Reply

  10. Great cover, the Obama’s look comfortable in this setting /everyone should keep it in mind when voting !

    Comment by Tony — July 21, 2008 @ 2:59 pm | Reply


    Comment by ITISWHAT IT IS — July 22, 2008 @ 6:12 am | Reply

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