New Yorker cover prompts media storm

New Yorker Obama coverThe cover of this week’s New Yorker magazine has spurred controversy as some say it is offensive, while others see it as pure satire aimed at highlighting the absurd.

The illustration (by Canadian Barry Blitt) shows Obama in traditional Muslim dress standing next to his wife Michelle, who is toting an assault rifle and wearing camouflauge. As well, an American flag is burning in a fireplace and a painting of Osama bin Laden hangs behind them. In the illustration, the couple are giving a fist-bump, the gesture that caused a bit of a stir a few weeks back.

The Obama campaign called the cover “offensive” and “tasteless” and a spokesperson for the McCain camp agreed.

An AP story run in The Globe and Mail quotes New Yorker editor David Remnick in response to the uproar:

The cover “combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas
and shows them (the images) for the obvious distortions they are,” he
said. “Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out
into the open, to hold up a mirror to the absurd,” Mr. Remnick said.

Mixed Media blogger Jeff Bercovici makes an important point about the controversy in his post ‘New Yorker ‘Cover: It’s called a joke, people:

The truth is, even if
The New Yorker did Obama’s foes a small
favor, so what? Since when is a magazine supposed to worry about how
its content will affect the political fortunes of one candidate or
another before publishing? And if
The New Yorker can’t assume some sophistication on the part of its readership, what publication can?

Television news programs debated the cover with various panels of political strategists, columnists and other observers all weighing in on the validity of the satire.

Salon‘s Gary Kamiya says the controversy “proves that the Bush era has killed a lot of liberals’ sense of humor,” while Slate‘s Jack Shafer wonders how far the duties of the media go. He writes:

Calling on the press to protect the common man from the potential
corruptions of satire is a strange, paternalistic assignment for any
journalist to give his peers, but that appears to be what
The New Yorker‘s
detractors desire. I don’t know whether to be crushed by that
realization or elated by the notion that one of the most elite journals
in the land has faith that Joe Sixpack can figure out a damned picture
for himself.

Meanwhile, Poynter Institute ethics columnist Kelly McBride writes here that this New Yorker example shows that “purveyors of satire have an added layer of responsibility.” She says it’s important that the satire is “well-executed, because it’s impossible to defend
lame attempts at satire” and that, when needed, explanations should be forthcoming.