Drawing on Our Fears

Magazine cover inflames rumors, ruffles feathers

July 16, 2008 — Tuesday night on Larry King Live, Sen. Barack Obama once again affirmed that he is a Christian, pledges allegiance to the flag, and was certainly not raised in a Muslim household. The interview was prompted by the July 21 cover of The New Yorker, which depicts Obama and his wife Michelle as unpatriotic, flag-burning, Osama bin Laden-loving, combat boot-wearing, fist-bumping militants.

In a statement, The New Yorker, known for its irreverent–and often provocative–cartoons, states that in that same spirit, the cover art, entitled “The Politics of Fear,” was a satirical mirror meant to reveal the “prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd” attacks on Obama. Instead, the cover has outraged many who say it was done in bad taste. Obama’s opponent, Sen. John McCain, called it offensive. The reaction spawned a media blitz that has the controversial cover as top news on many popular Websites, newspapers, and TV shows.

In defense of its decision to run the cover by Barry Blitt, The New Yorker also notes in its statement that articles in the magazine frame Obama in a serious light, citing one that informs readers about his political rise in Chicago.

“The imagery of the cover has more influence than the actual magazine itself,” says Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University. “I’m a fan of political satire, and I understand what they were trying to do. Sometimes satire can be so inflammatory that people lose sight of what was originally intended.”

Since Obama’s campaign began two years ago, hundreds of e-mail smears and Websites proclaiming his allegiance to Islam have sprouted. Radio personality Rush Limbaugh has attacked Obama’s wife, Michelle, as a racist. The most inflammatory sites display–out of context–photos of Obama adorned in traditional African dress when visiting the grave of his Kenyan father, a Muslim who was an absentee father.

Nevertheless, Fauntroy doesn’t believe that the cover will harm Obama or do anything to help McCain. “The kind of people who would be influenced by that cover already believes he is a closet Muslim,” Fauntroy says. “If anything, it helps Obama because it shows that they won’t give him a fair shake.”

Fauntroy says he was more concerned about the depiction of the senator’s wife, emphasizing that she is not on the ballot. “That portrayal of her plays into the Fox News Channel’s stereotype of the angry black woman,” he says. “That, symbolically, is dangerous territory.”

Obama’s response to the controversy included downplaying the cartoon. “I’ve seen and heard worse… I do think that in attempting to satirize they probably fueled some misconceptions about me instead,” Obama said on CNN’s Larry King Live Tuesday night.

While on the show, Obama also attempted to distinguish his foreign policy agenda from Republican John McCain and commented on the housing crisis and changes that need to be made with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “Perpetuating the strategy in Iraq is costing us elsewhere,” said Obama, adding that a recent attack in Iraq that left nine servicemen dead shows that things aren’t

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