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New Yorker Cover Satirizing Obama Raises Controversy

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, a cover illustration of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama and his wife satirizes some of the rumors that have swirled about the candidate. Writers Michael Eric Dyson and Eric Bates examine the media controversy.

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    The New Yorker magazine created a firestorm today, with a new cover that attempts to satirize every false claim ever made about Barack and Michelle Obama.

    The cartoon, by artist Barry Blitt, is a drawing of the Obamas standing in the Oval Office, offering each other a fist bump. He's dressed in traditional Muslim garb, and she has a Kalashnikov rifle slung over her shoulder. An American flag burns in the fireplace, and Osama bin Laden's picture hangs on the wall.

    Editors at the New Yorker said the cover was meant to mock the lies that have circulated about Obama, but both the Obama and the McCain campaigns condemned the depiction as tasteless and inappropriate.

    So can satire go too far? For that, we turn to Michael Eric Dyson. He's a professor of sociology at Georgetown University. And Eric Bates, executive editor of Rolling Stone magazine.

    Professor Dyson, when do you cross the line? When does satire begin to give offense?

  • MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, Georgetown University:

    Well, certainly when you have to explain it or deconstruct it. We're not Jacques Derrida, but we are trying to — in the business here of trying to make certain that the things we satirize — and we have no doubt, I have no doubt, I'm sure the Obamas have no doubt that David Remnick, one of the princes of American publishing, has all great intentions, and Mr. Blitt.

    But the line here is crossed, I think, when the intent of the mockery is obscured by the busyness of the interpretation that surrounds the art, and not in an edifying, uplifting fashion.

    Many of the things that the art sought to undermine, so to speak, were simply for an unenlightened and unsophisticated populous that might view it, along with others who would view it and not get the intent of the joke, so to speak, only reinforces those same things.

    And here's where I think it blurs the line, as well. If it is true that Obama is not a Muslim, if it is true that Obama did not hold his hand on the Koran to get sworn in, and if it's true that Michelle Obama is not all of the things that they suggested she is on there, the fist bump is confusing, because she did have a fist bump with her husband.

    So you've got a true, if you will, actually existing gesture there that is now interpolated into this vast region of signifying that's going on in this very busy, and I think very confusing, satire that ultimately, if we have to explain it on the NewsHour, didn't really hit its mark.