The cartoon on the cover of the latest New Yorker magazine depicting Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, as militant radicals drew the ire of the presidential candidates Monday and posed the question of how satirical journalism affects voters during an election season.
The Obama campaign, as well as Republican rival John McCain, civil rights activist Al Sharpton and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) slammed the cover as offensive. The cover shows a caricature of Obama as a Muslim, standing in the Oval Office with a U.S. flag burning in the fireplace and a painting of Osama bin Laden hanging on the wall. Obama is giving a fist bump to his wife, who is pictured with an Afro hairstyle, wearing military fatigues with a rifle slung over her shoulder.
New Yorker coverFormer Al Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said the magazine's clear intent is to satirize the false rumors about the Obamas. Among other things, some Obama critics have erroneously claimed he is Muslim. Conservatives also challenged the patriotism of Michelle Obama.
The challenge of the cover is that far fewer people will read the magazine or understand the satire, than those who see the cover on cable TV or in the Interent, Lehane said.
"The reality is that a provocative image will always communicate more effectively with the general public - especially because it lends itself to being projected through various mediums," Lehane said.
"The issue boils down pretty simply. If you are the Obama campaign, would you prefer to be spending this week talking about his Iraq plan, which is their message of the week beginning today, or dealing with the New Yorker visuals, I suspect they would rather be talking about their change plan for Iraq."
Sharpton said the imagery plays to religious and racial bigotries. "It plays to all the ridiculous notions that we hope we are getting out of American politics," he said Monday.
This summer, FOX News anchor E.D. Hill said the widely-televised fist bump shared by Obama and his wife had been characterized as a "terrorist fist jab." She apologized and lost her show, though FOX said the network had already planned to replace her show in the lineup.
M. Yaser Tabbara, director of community development at the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the imagery is troubling because it places rumors about Obama's religion on the same level as flag-burning, gun-toting and support for bin Laden.
"While the other 'slurs' were easy to depict, 'being Muslim' was captured in the cartoon via the help of what the New Yorker called an 'Islamic outfit,' and a 'traditional Muslim garb,' an assertion that further troubles me," Tabbara said. "Such language, which often goes unchallenged, bespeaks of a deeply-rooted orientalist attitude that often manifests itself in simplistic pop cultural depictions and articulations of what supposedly sums up "Muslim."