A mirror to prejudice, the hateful and the absurd, says The New Yorker magazine

NEW YORK: A satirical New Yorker magazine cover cartoon depicting Barack Obama and his wife as flag-burning, fist-bumping radicals drew outrage from the Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign as it appeared on newsstands on Monday.

The illustration, titled “The Politics of Fear” and drawn by Barry Blitt, depicts Mr. Obama wearing Muslim clothing — sandals, a robe and turban — while his wife, Michelle, has an assault rifle slung over one shoulder and is dressed in camouflage and combat boots with her hair in an Afro.

A flag burns in a fireplace behind them in the White House Oval Office as they exchange a fist bump, the affectionate greeting they used onstage the night Mr. Obama clinched the Democratic nomination. A Fox News anchor later referred to it as a possible “terrorist fist jab.” A portrait of Osama bin Laden hangs above the fireplace.

The cartoon, which Mr. Obama’s campaign said was “tasteless and offensive,” is not explained inside the magazine. The issue, dated July 21, also contains a 15,000-word story about Mr. Obama’s political education and early years in Chicago.

The cartoonist’s previous covers include a drawing of President George W. Bush and his inner circle floating up to their elbows in water inside the Oval Office, for an issue published just after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. In a statement, the magazine said the cover combines “fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are. “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,” it said.

Mr. Obama, who is Christian, has long fought rumours that he is secretly a Muslim. His wife has endured her own attacks, including ones that claimed there was videotape of her criticising “whitey” from a church pulpit. The Obama campaign says there is no such tape because she never spoke at a church.

The magazine said satire is part of what it does “to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that’s the spirit of this cover.”

Magazine’s defence

New Yorker Editor David Remnick told the Huffington Post website the cover was chosen because it had something to say. “I can’t speak for anyone else’s interpretations, all I can say is that it combines a number of images that have been propagated, not by everyone on the right but by some, about Obama’s supposed ‘lack of patriotism’ or his being ‘soft on terrorism’ or the idiotic notion that somehow Michelle Obama is the second coming of the Weathermen or most violent Black Panthers. That somehow all this is going to come to the Oval Office,” said Mr. Remnick. Asked about the cover on Sunday, Mr. Obama said “I have no response to that.” His spokesman, Bill Burton, said: “New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create,” said Mr. Burton. “But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.”

Mr. Obama’s opponent, John McCain, concurred the cover was out of bounds, calling it “totally inappropriate, and frankly I understand if Senator Obama and his supporters would find it offensive.” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has supported Mr. Obama’s fight to debunk the rumours, said even humorists need to be careful. “We all have to watch very carefully what we say — our attempts at humour, our attempts at informing people — because some of what we say can be misinterpreted and do real damage,” he said. — AP