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Roundup of Media Reaction to Obama New Yorker Cover: Satire or 'Dumb Stunt'?

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Reaction today to the now-famous cover art in The New Yorker this week has been swift and wildly varying. Here is a cross-section:

Andrew Malcolm, Los Angeles Times'blog Top of the Ticket: "A lot of people won't get the joke. Or won't want to. And will use it for non-humorous purposes, which isn't the New Yorker's fault." The Times also put the cover in a new online gallery, "10 Magazine Covers That Shook the World!"

Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune: "I take the editors at their word and await the upcoming cover in which they give the same ha-ha-isn't-it-silly? treatment to the rotten things people say about John McCain: Say a cartoon showing him looking about 150 years old and spouting demented non-sequiturs in the middle of a violent temper tantrum while, in the corner, his wife is passed out next to a bottle of pills.

"It's only satire, right?"

Ben Smith, Politico.com: "The risk to the right here is that a vote against Obama becomes seen as a vote not for those policy differences, or for John McCain, but for bigotry. That's a storyline the New Yorker was advancing."

James Poniewozik, Time's Swampland: "Judging the cover as a cover is pretty easy by me: it's a pretty obvious and dumb stunt, the kind of subtle-as-a-brick cover the New Yorker has been doing now and then since the Tina Brown era, when it ran an Art Spiegelman cover of a Chasid kissing a black woman on a post-Crown Heights New York subway.

"The reader-reception call is tougher. There are ways of doing this kind of satire where, set in context, it would be applauded by many of the same people who are blasting it now. Say The Colbert Report or The Daily Show had done the same image, as part of a fictional 527 ad using actors to portray the Obamas. It'd be clear enough what sort of attitude the scene was spoofing, and how."

Andrew Sullivan, TheAtlantic.com: "[T]he notion that most Americans are incapable of seeing that [it is satire] strikes me as excessively paranoid and a little condescending."

Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post: "The cover appears, at least at first glance, highly offensive. What was the New Yorker thinking?

"[W]on't some readers see this attention-grabbing device as a slur against Obama? There is no editor's note -- a tiny line inside the magazine titles the picture 'The Politics of Fear' -- and it has nothing to do with the accompanying article on the Illinois senator's rise in Chicago politics."

Jason Zengerle, The New Republic's blog The Plank: "And that, of course, is precisely what's wrong with the cover: the image is satirical only because it appears on the cover of the New Yorker, which, we all know, is a right-thinking magazine read by right-thinking people who couldn't possibly be among the 10 percent of Americans who believe Obama's a Muslim. The New Yorker assumes everyone knows it's being ironic with its cover..."

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner site at the National Review: " What I find interesting about the New Yorker cover is that it's almost exactly the sort of cover you could expect to find on the front of National Review. Roman Genn could do wonders with that concept. Of course, if we ran the exact same art, the consensus from the liberal establishment could be summarized in words like 'Swiftboating!' and, duh, 'racist.'"

Joel Achenbach as his Achenblog at www.washingtonpost.com: "Here's a fundamental rule of humor: It must be funny to work. Another rule: 'Almost funny' is invariably just as bad, and often worse, than being extremely unfunny.

"I'm not even sure this cover is 'almost funny' -- because it deals so heavy-handedly with such a sensitive topic. Osama on the wall, the flag burning, the Angela Davis wife -- the natural response is to cringe rather than laugh. Of course, political cartooning by nature deals with caricatures and heavy-handed images, but usually they're leavened by some kind of quip, some verbal wink. In this case there's no punch line.

"The best response from the Obama camp would be to say, 'We recognize that it was meant as satire, but must confess that we didn't get a single chuckle out of it. Better luck next time.'"

Conservative writer Rod Dreher at Beliefnet.com. in a post titled 'Has The New Yorker Lost Its Mind?", declares: "If the New Yorker doesn't want Obama to get elected, it's done a bang-up job with its new cover. Of course subscribers to the New Yorker will appreciate it's ironic humor....But they have no idea how irony-deficient the broader culture is, or how irony gets lost outside of context."
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Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of E&P.