New Yorker Swiftboats Obama

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[Elections 2008: Speaking Truth To Power]

The New Yorker's July 21 cover with a controversial depiction of the Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama and his wife was the launching of a "Swift-Boating" campaign.
The New Yorker cover, entitled "The Politics of Fear," drawn by Barry Blitt illustrates many of the pervasive false portrayals of Obama. In the picture, Obama is adorned in Muslim garb; and his wife, Michelle, is depicted as an Afro-clad Angela Davis lookalike in combat fatigues, with a gun, giving her husband a Black power fist salute.

All of this is done amid the background of the Oval Office where a picture of Osama bin Laden sits over a fireplace, which has an American flag burning. 
The images on this cover depict Obama in the most grotesque manner: as an un-American, un-patriotic, Black radical; who is a closet Muslim. The New Yorker has argued that the depictions are meant to satirize the feelings of the racist xenophobes in America and is not indicative of the way the New Yorker feels.
No, I don't believe in censorship.

Even racists should have their say, just like everyone else. The New Yorker has a First Amendment right to publish whatever they want. I don't know if the New Yorker has a hidden agenda to smear Barack Obama. However, there is something much deeper here that an attack on Obama. For, this depiction also makes a statement-intended or not-about the accepted denigration of Blacks and Muslims.
First of all, this depiction gives voice to the odious notion that being Muslim equates to being a terrorist. White Americas have subjected African Americans to centuries of brutality and murder. What would happen if a Black newspaper, like the Black Star News, depicted all whites as murderers because of that historical fact?
The New Yorker states that they are equal opportunity satirists. To make this case, they point out that they have continually attacked President Bush. There is truth to this. Yet, the degree of ugliness portrayed in the Obama cover renders that excuse inadequate. 
Remember the cartoon controversy which was created, in September 2005, when Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb under his turban? Jyllands-Posten, argued that they decided to publish those 12 editorial cartoons to broaden the debate about Islam, censorship and free speech, not to offend Muslims.

Yet, this same paper, in 2003 rejected a number of surreal cartoons representing Jesus, and in February, 2006 they refused to publish Holocaust denial cartoons submitted by and Iranian newspaper. Later, they published three of the less offensive cartoons, probably realizing their blatant hypocrisy.
There is an important connection here between Jyllands-Posten and the New Yorker. Would the New Yorker be as quick to publish a depiction of Israelis as Nazi- like characters bulldozing the homes of Palestinians and killing their children, since some people see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this manner?

The obvious reason Jyllands-Posten refused to publish those cartoons is because the editors and "gatekeepers" were sensitive of whom these cartoons would offend. Offending Jews or Christians is a no-no. But who cares about offending Blacks or Muslims? Attacking Israel would have serious consequences. But what consequences are there if you attack Blacks or Muslims, especially, if it drives up ratings?  

The New Yorker cover should force us to grapple with this: why is it that none of the "moral" voices, in media and in elite America society, sees this vilification of the entire Muslim religion as a form of bigotry that must be challenged? Is the attacking of an entire religion acceptable because of the action of a few extremists?
It has been argued that because the New Yorker has a "liberal" background that no evil intent was behind this depiction. I wish it was that simple. History has shown, all too often, that many "liberal" and "progressive" whites are often closeted racists, who harbor similar ingrained feelings about the mental inferiority of Blacks, just like right-wing rednecks. Malcolm X spoke eloquently about how disingenuous some of these folks are.
Most of those in the anti-war movement would categorize themselves as "liberal" or "progressive" and yet where were their voices in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or the 50-shot execution of Sean Bell? To think that because the New Yorker has a "liberal" background that this means they would be free from racism is a stretch indeed.
Finally, it really matters little if the New Yorker's intent wasn't to disparage Obama. What is objectionable is how lightly the decision seems to have been made to run a cartoon that is so over the top.

The ease with which that decision was made is another example of the racial insensitivity deeply embedded in America. If the New Yorker wants to engage in this kind of satire they should be equally offensive when tackling subjects like American racism, which is at the heart of the feelings of those Americans who are no doubt pleased with this cover.



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