Obama, The New Yorker, And Shared Enemies

Michelle and Barrack Obama and the cover of the July 21 issue of the New Yorker.
AP/CBS/The New Yorker
The New Yorker's widely publicized cover, which depicts Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a stereotypical Muslim and Michelle Obama as a militant, is getting an overwhelmingly negative reaction.

This is predictable -- and rather ridiculous.

The naysayers have stayed in the spotlight this week, partly because the rest of the media failed to stick up for one of their own, for a change. The New Yorker is now stranded on an island.

Pointed sarcasm

But the critics should know better. Surely, even the most politically dogmatic people MUST be intelligent enough to understand that the New Yorker is making a point through sarcasm. The weekly is mocking the irrational prejudices that plenty of Americans harbor about the Obamas.

The magazine is sticking its finger in the eye of every bigot who hates the Obamas because they're African-Americans, every racist who seeks to polarize the electorate and every ignoramus who mistrusts the senator from Illinois without examining his record and background.

Something else is going on here as well. This criticism centers on conservatives' strong dislike -- "hatred" is such a nasty word, no? -- of both Obama and the New Yorker, two of the most visible and successful symbols of liberal America. While there was also carping in some liberal quarters, the most vocal anger seemed to come from the other side.

The liberals' opponents are jumping on the bandwagon partly in the hope of making the New Yorker look bad (i.e. unpatriotic). The magazine has written many stories blasting the Bush administration's policies, especially its handling of Iraq.

It's a fair question to introduce the New York Times' much-criticized (by me, among others) story earlier this year on Republican presidential aspirant Sen. John McCain. The difference is that the Times was accused of publishing unsubstantiated rumors in a piece about McCain, whose candidacy it probably won't endorse later this year. The New Yorker, regarded as a highly liberal magazine, would be inclined to root for Obama (if privately) to win the election.

Media apathy

At such a tense time, I expected a pro-New Yorker rallying cry from the media. Don't forget that we in the media love to lavish attention on ourselves. We practically live for it.

Remember, when "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert died, the Washington and television media covered the story as exhaustively as they would the passing of a head of state or a pope. The New York City media reacted in much the same way to the death of magazine legend Clay Felker.

Perhaps there is an anti-New Yorker backlash, too.

Inveterate Media Web readers know about much of the publishing industry's resentment of the New Yorker. This has taken many subtle forms in the past few years, ranging from the magazine receiving fewer National Magazine Award nominations and wins than in past years to the embrace of crosstown rival New York magazine. .

Among the people who inherently dislike the New Yorker and Obama, which group has stronger feelings?

I'd call it a tie.

MEDIA WATCH QUESTION OF THE DAY: How did the New Yorker cover make you feel? a) delighted b) amused c) angry d) furious.

Media Web appears on Wednesdays and Fridays at MarketWatch.com.
By Jon Friedman

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.