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The New Yorker Cover


Newyorkerobama I'm not the only person writing about this week’s New Yorker cover. Just about every reporter, pundit, columnist and blogger who make politics part of their beat have or will have their say. If your jaw didn’t drop when you saw it the first time, you’re not paying attention.

The cover is shocking, incendiary and will be propaganda fodder for America’s right wing for the rest of this campaign. It will empower the anti-Obama and anti-Democratic Party fringe, and the dolts among the electorate will believe as some already do.

Let us be clear: The cover is not ironic, it is not satire - as those who defend it will insist. It is race- and religion-baiting directed at the black, Christian presidential candidate that will reinforce the belief among the less intellectually endowed among us into believing that Senator Barack Obama is a Muslim racist with a neo-Black Panther wife who hate the U.S. enough to burn the flag in the fireplace of the Oval Office. Good god, how many fear-mongering symbols can be crammed into one caricature.

This is the most crucial election in the lifetime of any American alive and unlike many in the past, there are real ideological differences between the two presumptive candidates. We are deciding, in November, the nature of the future of the United States in a time when just about every facet of our government, even the Constitution itself, is frayed or broken. What we desperately need is intelligent commentary on these issues and not a derogatory, false depiction of slimy rumors that have been making the rounds of the internet underground for months.

For more than 50 years, the New Yorker has been my favorite weekly subscription. Its focus and intelligence have declined in the past decade or so - which would be apparent to more people if it were formatted differently – and I miss the in-depth profiles they stopped publishing a few years back. But I liked its range and leisurely pace. I don’t think there is another general interest magazine that is as good.

The real irony, unlike this week’s illustration, is that New Yorker covers have so often been clever, color commentary on current events – political, social and cultural – and always fun too. Many years ago when I lived in San Francisco, I wallpapered a dank, ugly, closet-like space in my apartment, containing only the toilet, with New Yorker covers because they always charmed me so.

For all that, I canceled my subscription yesterday. In the past, I have canceled or not renewed various subscriptions due to waning interest or the need to cut down the onslaught of reading material. But never the New Yorker and never any magazine due to content until now. In fact, I subscribe to a couple of magazines whose political views I find distasteful just to keep up with the opposition. Even they, however, don’t go as far as the New Yorker has this week, although they may now feel encouraged to do so.

I am already sad. I will miss Hendrik Hertzberg, Oliver Sachs, Seymour Hersh, Paul Goldberger and others, although I can read them online – maybe when I’m not so angry anymore.

Undoubtedly, a New Yorker spokesperson will, this week, apologize “for any misunderstanding” of the cover, saying it was meant as satire. Maybe, if the artist had put the caricature inside a TV screen with a Fox News logo, they could get away it. As it is, however, it endorses, supports and perpetuates repugnant, false rumor.

Losing my subscription will not, as Rick Blaine said, amount to a hill of beans in the New Yorker’s world. But sometimes a stand must be taken. Sometimes one must put their money where their mouth is to sleep at night.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Davis imagines past lives of strangers in Sisters With Hankies.]



Sadly I am questioning whether I should read your blog anymore. From your Hillary attacks to this, you are not the Ronnie I used to love. Of course it was satirical. The title was the politics of fear.
Do you really believe the New Yorker is a bigoted, racist rag?

I have to say I'm with Redstocking Grandma--anyone with a brain can see that this is satire--Ronnie, I fear you've been out of NYC too long and have become infected with fear. Come back to NYC!

Satire? Not even close. Satire is clever. This was less than juvenile. And as an admirer of Mr. Hersh, I wonder what his take on it is?

I could not disagree more with the two commenters above.

The New Yorker magazine is normally seen only by the sophisticated and informed people who subscribe to it. Perhaps they understood instantly that the cover was "Satire" but the majority of people in this country do not normally see this magazine and perhaps are not as quick to recognize and understand the difference between satire and the truth.

But, because every news outlet in this country will have a story about this cover today,and the cover will be prominently displayed ad nauseum, everybody will see it and that includes the unsophisticated who will take this rendition of the Obamas as "Gospel". And if they don't misunderstand the magazine's intentions, Rush and Sean will explain it to them later today. "See,folks, I told you Obama was a Muslim. This proves it!"

Ronni, you know I was a strong Hillary person so this is not an Obama supporter "knee jerk" reaction to this slander.

It is disgraceful and I hope there is a costly backlash against the New Yorker.

I think I still have at least part of my brain left and I found this cover to be distasteful, not funny, and not satire. Don't those who see it as satire realize that a third of the electorate will believe this to be a true statement?

As Ronni named them, the less intellectually endowed listen to sound bites and believe every word. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what message does this picture convey?

It is indeed fodder for the far right and you just watch them use it from now until November.

Yes, it was satire.

As was the cover of Mad Magazine featuring Bush, Cheney and Condi as the "Pirates of the Constitution"

As was the cover of the Philadelphia Daily News that photoshopped Dick Cheney holding a rifle with the headline "Dead-eye Dick".

As was a previous cover of the New Yorker with George Bush in an apron serving Dick Cheney.

This cover highlights the over-the-top manipulation of people's prejudices that have fueled some of the attacks on Obama. Those are real. This is not.

If there are people out there who would take that cover as an affirmation of their already entrenched bigotry (even though I doubt such people are reading the New Yorker), that doesn't make it any less satirical.

Showing some sense of humor might have been a better response for Obama. He's going to be taking a lot more heat than this before the election, and if he gets into the White House, that heat will be unrelenting.

Better yet, he could have said, "Yep, isn't that silly? Now about the economy...."

Chalk up another vote with Redstocking Grandma and Life After 60. Such vitriolic reaction to the cover is unwarranted. The sky is falling, indeed! I'll keep my subscription, thank you. Ronni, you are cutting off your nose to spite your face.

This cover is tacky at best and hateful and divisive at worst. I think some people need to check out the definition of satire.


1 : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
2 : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly

That cover demonstrates where our country has gone. The New Yorker is no longer on my list to read.

Here's my letter to the magazine: "The insularity of many educated, affluent New Yorkers is troublesome. This week's "tasteless and offensive" [Obama campaign response] cover image is a perfect example of pointless irony put forth by a subset of people who seem never to leave the City. Can we expect otherwise from a confused publication that supported the start of war in Iraq, now tries to cover its tracks?"

Unlike you, Ronni, am not a fan of Herzberg,who wrote the piece supporting the war. Don't you wonder why there's so little diversity among writers of major articles? But that's just me, New Yorker living outside the power zone--in Harlem.

I agree with you totally and the readers above who disagreed are not well informed on much of this country and its mentality. Whether it was meant as satire, where is any hint that this is not true? A photo of Osama on the wall, every single clue in it would indicate that it's what the cartoonist believes.

I read right wing sites also to keep up on what is going on. One of them has polls which I always take just to confuse their demographics as I am rarely in the majority there. The poll yesterday was on this New Yorker cover. Almost all of their responders said that the cover indicated where Obama and his wife stand and who they are. Giving the American general public too much credit right now would be ignoring two winning elections for GW Bush.

You were right to end your subscription as a statement. I don't take the magazine but I would also. It played up to the stereotypes too many Americans have about black people or anybody different than themselves.


I agree with others above that this was clearly intended as satire. And I agree with you and still others above that this will not be recognized as satire by everyone (or even the vast majority) who see it.

This image should either have been reserved for inside with a very clear caption (preferably across the image), or the bottom of the cover should have prominently, loudly said: "The politics of fear: what they'd have us believe" or a similar sentiment, if they used it at all.

Yes, to some people the intent is "obvious". And to many of us it's just as obvious that not everyone will get it.

It is simply called "marketing". Do you honestly believe The New Yorker ran this willy-nilly? No, they sat at their conference room table and weighed the public outcry this would bring and they figured the exact amount of readership they would lose and how much they would gain and went with the best odds. As Nancy stated, not many people read this magazine. I live in the Heartland and don't even know where I would get a copy of The New Yorker Magazine. (Picture me on the porch in a rockin' chair with a corncob pipe hanging out of my mouth.) If the story hadn't hit the media, I would never have known what they had on the cover. It was planned, I tell you, P-L-A-N-N-E-D and we are playing right into their hands.

I was very surprised when I saw a photo of the New Yorker cover in my local paper last night. I didn't like it one bit. Not funny. So it was very interesting to read Ronni's thoughts today and the comments to her blog. Here's what I learned. 1.Some people that I admire did not have the same reaction I did. 2.That when something similar was done to the Bush-Cheney crew, I didn't bat an eye. It looked like "truth" to me. (I hadn't considered that) 3.That I had also not considered the fact that the New Yorker might have purposely incited this furor to raise it's profile.

I had a dream about this last night. I saw Barak Obama in a car in downtown Ashland. I told him that I hated seeing that cover and he looked unhappy about it as well. Then I said, "I've been sort of taking this election for granted. Now I'm making a donation to your csmpaign and will canvassing my neighbors." Michelle was crossing the street toward the car. I wanted to speak to her as well, but could see that they wanted to be on their way, so I just moved on. (all puns intended)

I do not read the New Yorker, except on rare occasions. I know it has always been considered "high brow" for magazine fare, but I just never made it a reading habit.

And like the reader, linndc, I see the Mad Magazine resemblance. But, I would assume most New Yorker readers would not make that MM connection nor immediately see the cartoon as "satire". You expect over-the-top satire with Mad, but the New Yorker?

As distasteful as I find the cover(though it did give me a brief sardonic chuckle for a moment at the stupidity of people who truly do believe it depicts a truth), I will say that only in America could a magazine pull off this type of publicity stunt.

Hurray for freedom of the press!

Granny Annie has it right - I am sure it was intended to gather those 15 minutes Mr. Warhol waxed so philosophically about.

It was a cheap demeaning shot, just the same.

Will the NY'er continue to employ such thin-veiled tactics? Probably. But it may have the unintended effect of sullying a very long held respectability.

Or maybe not. The typical American memory of such things is...well, about 15 minutes long.

Something else I'd like to say. Here we are, once again, having a huge discussion about "who said what" rather than discussing what's going on with the economy, climate change, etc. and where the candidates stand on these issues. What is it with that?

I too was once a great admirer of the New Yorker, but I have to agree with the comment above that refers to the insularity of New Yorkers. I think that is what made something as offensive as this cover possible. The editorial staff of the New York really stepped over the line this time. This cover is not even in the same class as the other magazine covers cited in the comments above and could in no sense of the word be called "satire". It is every thinking person’s worst nightmare, no matter what their political persuasion. To me, it appears to be the worst case of "demonizing" I have seen since the caricatures of the "Japs" and "Jerries" in World War II. I'm with you, Ronni.


Rain's comments are so right on:
"I agree with you totally and the readers above who disagreed are not well informed on much of this country and its mentality."

Just last week we had a series of letters to the editor in our local paper about "Hussein" Obama and how he took his oath of office for the Senate with his hand on the Koran instead of the Bible.

I am sure that the people who loved seeing the New Yorker cover were the very ones who have been spreading all this right wing propaganda about Obama and they know that their people will not see that cover as satire but vindication for their beliefs.

And anyone who thinks that "those people" are not going to be reading the New Yorker have no clue of the vast media world out there and it's long reach. Between the newspapers, magazines, TV analysts, blogs and YouTubes that abound; that picture will be seen by everyone.

And "those people" will not see it as satire but rather reinforcement of their beliefs. And they will accuse anyone who was and is offended and incredulous that the New Yorker would do it as crazy, left-wing liberals.

I applaud you Ronni for making a statement. Who cares if the New Yorker notices your missing subscription or not; we do.

I will just put in a couple of cents worth here. One--if the New Yorker is a friend of liberals then God help us when when we face our enemies. Second--Kay gave us the definition of 'satire' above. If satire focuses a spotlight on human failings and vices exactly whose failings and vices are revealed? Michelle and Barak Obama's? That is a reasonable assumption since they are featured. If, as a representative of the New Yorker claimed on the news last night, the targets were right wing critics of the fist bump and strange name WHERE are THEY? The cover fails as satire because it is so ambiguous. It can be anything to anyone. It really does not spotlight foibles, failings or vices. I merely reinforces the most ridiculous and often refuted charges made by knee-jerk right wing commentators.

The New Yorker cover shows amazingly bad taste. Good for you, Ronnie, for taking a stand.

Another red herring to distract us from the deficit; the lack of health care; the corporate owning of America; the Chinese ownership of American taxpayers yet unborn; the sense of entitlement to cheap gas at the cost of blood; the collapse of the FDA, the EPA, the airlines, and the banks; the indifference to the dismantling of the Bill of Rights; and here I am, commenting away myself.

Ronni -- I could not agree with you more and I agree with the folks above who pointed out how publishing this was an extraordinary act of insularity on the part of a particular rich, "hip," segment of New Yorkers. Since real Muslim immigrants, not fantasy ones trotted out to stoke our fears, are the fastest growing segment of the New York electorate, these sophisticates are not so representative of New York as we or they may assume.

I posted my own take on the cover a few minutes ago -- our local editorial cartoonist has added his own gratuitous Islamophobic slur to the ugly mess in defending his brother cartoonist.

Good for you Ronni for taking action. I agree with what you have written about the repercussions of publishing this irresponsible cover. I don't think I'm humor impaired or unintelligent. This cover is in the Swift-boating style of political attack and is offensive to me.

I do agree with Laura's take on this. I also agree that it's keeping us from finding out what the candidates plan to do if they win. I also want them to tell us who they plan to have as advisors if elected!

I thought maybe the answer could be found in the ownership. Who owns The New Yorker? Conde Nast. Who owns Conde Nast? The privately held company Advance Publications, Inc. And I guess Steven Newhouse is Chairman, if I’m reading all this right on the web and not looking at old info.

But I can’t find that he has donated money to the campaign yet… not in his name, anyway. I was half expecting to find that he has personally donated the maximum amount to the McCain fund.


In regards the comments above that this issue isn't as important as others like the deficit. I think they are all important. If Obama is not elected, none of the issues many of us care about will be addressed.

To add to why this matters, racial issues in this country are obviously still with us given the percentage of democrats who said they could not vote for someone of a race other than their own. Obama's candidacy has brought to the forefront some things that have been there, that other races have known, but which a lot of us thought were behind us.

For me, the fact that there were no indications of the perspective the cartoon was taking, i.e. the title of the piece, on the cover along with the cartoon it allows for it to be widely interpreted how anyone wishes to see it. This is inexcusable from my perspective. But in the light it was said to have been drawn and the piece's title (though I have not read or physically seen the article) I agree with the content of the photo.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, spoke yesterday on Suzi Weissman's Beneath the Surface on KPFK reaffirming that editorials "should be independent of campaigns, they are not appendages. I know we live in a world where there are smears...but if we become appendages of campaigns...people should have healthy debates about that cartoon but if that shifts the Obama campaign we are in a lot of trouble."

Ronni, it is within your right to cancel your subscription as a statement against a private business's actions but just do it with as objective and solid an argument that you can. You sound like you will be sacrificing your desire for the magazine over this one cover. And that is fine but maybe there is a more equitable way to address something you see as in poor taste. Maybe not. Just throwing my two cents in.


More disturbing (and sadder to me by far) was the news last night that American institution Anheuser-Busch had finally succumbed to the hostile takeover efforts of Belgium-based InBev.

Another one bites the dust while we are debating a cartoon on a magazine cover.

I find this cartoon just as offensive as Ronni does. When I first saw it I thought, "Oh, God."
What if one of the right-wing publications had printed it? Would they be allowed to claim it was just satire? Wrong is wrong.

This doesn't look like "satire" to me. If it had been in Mad perhaps, because we all know everything in Mad is satire. But I usually think of New Yorker covers as humorous in their particular style, rather than satirical. And anyway this cartoon is exactly the image that the Republicans are trying to draw of Obama. It is laughable but you would really have to be out of touch to think it was satirical. Maybe the commenter above was right that they were just going for a publicity stunt. I prefer to think it was an error in judgement. I think they owe an apology.

Right on, Ronni! I totally agree with you and wrote the New Yorker this afternoon to complain. I subscribe for our bed & breakfast and told the writers this week's issue would not be out on our breakfast table. This was not satire. We need to rise above racism as a nation and the New Yorker cover, chosen by supposedly intelligent editors, does not advance this effort.

It seems that the five-time winner of the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest, Gordon Weinfarb agrees with you Ronni.

Read it here.

And I agree with him too.

The sad part is we all get upset over this crap instead of the mess McCain will make of the economy and the country.

Thanks for your excellent post. The cover was shocking to me. And, it's also shocking that, even with the ensuing uproar, the people at the New Yorker still don't understand why we are so upset. The question I have been asking is, "If the Obamas were shown in the Oval Office, with a watermelon sitting on the desk, and a burning cross outside the window, would they think that was funny ?"

I cancelled my subscription way back when Tina Brown really ticked me off with (among other things) one of her covers: hot young actor lounging with legs sprawled and a large gun in hand, poised provocatively. Far too "sex equals violence" for my taste. My complaint phone call to customer relations was handled by a ditzy young girl who said that the cover photo was the responsibility of the photographer, not the magazine. Gosh, who knew that was how publishing worked?

Anyway, had I not bailed back then, I'd be bailing now. Where, oh, where is William Shawn when we need him?

Get a grip, people. The New Yorker has a long tradition of acerbic wit--in its covers, in its articles, in its cartoons. Talk about offensive: It offends me to be told that my sense of humor shows that I am, "...not well informed on much of this...."

Ahhh....your mother wears army boots! Have we sunk to this level? I had perceived Ronni's blog to be a more hospitable site for reasoned discussion.

Thank you Ronni....I was about to renew my subscription to The New Yorker.....Now I will not....There is no defense for the "cover" & it will be used for a long time, exactly as you have predicted....

Dang - a lot of elitist comments here.
Why is anyone surprised by this magazine cover? We hear on a daily basis about his connections with extremist nut-jobs, not to mention some of the disturbing comments he has made. And, yes, his middle name is something to be concerned about. When has he ever once explained what he will do for the people and the country? All I have heard is "chay-nge." What kind of "chay-nge"?

We both were disappointed, and we read a lot of others who said the cover misfired. But your response strikes me as the most discerning, and we will follow suit in cancellation.

I wholeheartedly agree with you. Yes, I get it, but I don't find it funny. Satire is commonly misinterpreted, as the cover will surely be as it makes the rounds of every newspaper and tv station in the country. I don't understand the commentator who said she doesn't know whether or not to continue reading your blog. I admire anyone's gumption to speak their piece whether or not I agree with them. She expects people to be tolerant enough to accept the magazine cover, but doesn't seem to have enough tolerance to accept your opinions. Keep on keeping on!

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