By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Talking about the New Yorker

I’ll be on WBZ-TV (Channel 4) during the 11 p.m. news, talking with Jon Keller about the New Yorker’s controversial cover parodying Barack and Michelle Obama.


Radio’s challenge to print


Old ethics and new media (III)


  1. Steve Stein

    It was a pretty clumsy attempt at satire. Who was it that said “I don’t see how Reagan could have won – no one I know voted for him”? It was just that sort of mindset that designed that cover. The people who designed it really don’t know anyone in the 10+% of the country who believes Obama is a Muslim and is lying when he says differently. It’s stuff like this that will make that number tick up a couple of points.Some curious and noteworthy reactions: Jonah Goldberg – “What I find interesting about the New Yorker cover is that it’s almost exactly the sort of cover you could expect to find on the front of National Review.” And Atrios quoting him in agreement.Atrios’s own reaction is a bit less printable, but no less true.Media Matters has a thoughtful analysis here, noting the reaction of World Net Daily readers: “[t]he image isn’t too far from the dangerous truth about the Obama family.”It’s just this false, racist frame that the Republicans must construct in order to have a chance at winning in November. The New Yorker can’t even conceive that those attitudes exist.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: I learned just recently that I (and now you) had been wrong for many years about that famous Pauline Kael quote. I believe this Wikipedia entry gets it right. As you will see, Kael was commenting in a very knowing way about her own insularity, and her words were distorted by, among others (surprise, surprise), the loathsome Bernard Goldberg.I am wrestling with a Guardian column on this very subject right now. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to write. But I think the real lesson of the Kael quote is that you might as well go ahead and do what you’re going to do, because the right will twist it to their own ends regardless.

  3. Steve

    Interesting re Pauline Kael and thanks for pointing it out! The “allegedly clueless New York liberal insularity” (from wikipedia) is a popular frame, one which I believe is at work here, so I guess I buy it. (Which doesn’t mean I buy the other dreck Goldberg peddles.)If there’s another plausible explanation, I haven’t heard it.

  4. David Rogers

    i could have done without the flag burning in the fireplace or the portrait of Osama. Satire or not, those are offensive images to millions of Americans and insensitive of the New Yorker to use those symbols for a joke.

  5. Stella

    Bad taste is bad taste no matter how it’s slanted. What is surprising to this reader is the absence of clear judgement.

  6. Jimbo

    I have to disagree with most of the feedback that I’ve seen on this so far today — a good deal of it from liberals. The New Yorker cover is satirical and funny. I think it’s wrong to posit that the cartoonist and/or NYer editors don’t understand that some people — especially those away from the coasts — think that the illustration is closer to the truth than not, but rather that is the point: This is, ridiculously, what some people fear will happen if they vote for Obama. It’s not the NYer’s job to worry about how such a cover will affect the Obama campaign. In fact — though clearly most popular among demographic groups that support Obama — the magazine deserves praise for not holding its tongue for fear of damaging one candidate or the other.I say this as an Obama supporter who cringes when anything happens that may hurt his chances to win in November, but I am also a NYer reader and I want it to continue to be funny and interesting, and therefore I disagree with those who condemn this cover.

  7. Anonymous

    My problem with the New Yorker cover– and I find it detestable– is that there’s a difference between satire of something that is true, and satire of something that isn’t true. Barack Obama is not and never has been a Muslim. To satire the belief that he is only perpetrates something that isn’t true, and if the New Yorker purports to be a magazine with journalistic intentions, then it shouldn’t do that. For example, there’s a belief among some that black people are intellectually inferior; when ‘The Bell Curve’ was published a few years ago, that nonsense and the efforts to debunk it were all over the news. If the New Yorker entered the fray with a cover showing a bunch of black kids in school with fat lips, broad noses, KFC for breakfast and 40-ouncers at the side, all struggling to write on the blackboard that 2+2=5– would that be received as satire, or offensive? I see this Obama cover in the same way. Jeez, it’s just so stupid I can barely believe it.

  8. Steve

    Mary Hodder reimagines the New Yorker cover. Maybe this expresses the point the New Yorker meant to make, minus the subtlety.Given that McCain has also criticized the cover (sincerely or not), perhaps this version misses the mark as well.

  9. wellbasically

    I’m kind of glad that a drawing got people so pissed off. Hooray for art!But Obama’s campaign got completely frantic about nothing. Dan is right 100% and there is no excuse for the freak-out besides total panic on the part of Democrats. Obama has looked smug and humorless in the past and this anally clenched reaction is more of the same. The rules for ironic comment are so convoluted now and the New Yorker is at the center of that. Now we have to follow some rules to make our jokes turn around the right way?

  10. io saturnalia!

    I guess the point of satire is lost on pretty much everybody in this country. Satire isn’t supposed to be careful, it’s supposed to be funny and poignant, which the New Yorker cover is.Imagine if Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” were written today — he would have been prosecuted for a hate crime by so-called liberals.OK, I get it. Any criticism of Obama and even — as in the New Yorker case — any criticism of his critics is simply racist, tasteless and “detestable.”What happened to this country?

  11. David Rogers

    My objections have nothing to do with a hamfisted attempt at satire, I just don’t like seeing the American flag being burned. Doesn’t matter the reason or motive. My late grandfather who served in World War II and under two presidents, would have been hurt and saddened had he seen that cover.

  12. Steve

    Who among us can call this discussion complete without considering the comments of the incomparable one? Somerby: “This is the way disinformation spreads, though the Remicks rarely seem to know—or care.”He compares this to Michael Kelly’s Atlantic Monthly 7/2000 cover depicting the vampire Al Gore.

  13. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: I love Somerby, but he fails to understand in this case that context is everything. Kelly detested Gore, and the Atlantic’s vampire cover was meant to be taken, if not as serious commentary, then at least as an indication of what Kelly’s Atlantic thought of him. It wasn’t satire, as the Obama cover is; rather, it was exaggeration for effect.

  14. wellbasically

    Somerby was the start of all this intense picking over the media to find anti-Gore bias. He probably still believes that the media cost Gore/Kerry/Hillary the election. It’s Somerby’s rapid reaction and parsing which has led straight to this.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Wellbasically: God damn that Bob Somerby. Can’t we go back to writing whatever the hell we like?Somerby documented numerous media lies about Gore. I guess if you lie about someone in a negative way, that could be construed as bias.I think the media, along with the Supreme Court, did indeed cost Gore the election. But not Kerry, who overall was treated much more fairly.

  16. wellbasically

    Gore lost for a variety of reasons, but among them has to be some personal and policy failings. Somerby and other Democratic activists really would like to blame people for making the wrong choice, but instead choose to blame the media for mis-informing the public. Somerby and his kind could put the energy to more productive use, such as making better policies that more people agree with.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén