The Marc Steiner Show

Marc on the New Yorker Cover


 That infamous cover

The cover of the July 21st issue of The New Yorker

Today I received a flurry of e-mails about the controversy that surrounded last week’s cover of The New Yorker depicting Barack Obama as a muslim in the White House with a picture of Osama bin Laden over the mantle with the American flag burning in the hearth. He is shown fist bumping with Michelle Obama who is sporting an Afro, ala 1960’s revolutionary Angela Davis, with an AK-47 slung over her back, camoflauge pants, and combat boots.


My initial response was to laugh at the satirical absurdity of the cartoon.   Ah yes, all of us sophisticated readers of The New Yorker. I am one, I love the magazine. I always find one or two or three articles I can’t wait to read. We are all so erudite, that is why we know how to laugh at the cartoon on the cover, when others do not. (You’re detecting my facetious tone I hope.)


But then I stopped a minute. I began thinking about how that cover plays into the hands of racists and those who deeply believe that this cover represents reality.  I heard this morning of one blogger who has used this cover in an animated gif. First you see the cover, then a message that reads “Why take the risk? McCain 2008.” The alleged and purported sophistication of many New Yorker readers not withstanding,(and I run the risk of angering some people here) some liberals often lack judgment that may be inspired by a racism that they would deny, or perhaps are not aware even exists within their consciousness. It runs deep in America. Or maybe it is just real satire that New Yorkers and other cosmopolitans get but others don’t. Maybe it is all the above.


I oppose censoring any kind of speech no matter how hateful, racist, sexist, anti Semitic or insulting to any group it might be.   I have a deep American rooted libertarian strain in me that chafes at any rules governing an individuals rights to say what he or she believes whether spoken in truth or satire.


Many people coming from minority cultures in America are often accused of being overly sensitive to what can be perceived as hatred, blatant or latent.   I am one of those. I feel the anti-semitic and racial stings deeply. When I read Tim Wise’s critique of that cover cartoon,  I found his comments to be at the very least latently or subtly anti-Semitic, though there was truth in his argument that the media is loathe to satirize Jews but are willing to do it to Blacks. And of course, we are all willing to satirize images of poor whites.


The New Yorker’s article became just another distraction in what needs to be a real conversation about this race. It even distracted from the interesting article in that issue about Obama’s Chicago political roots by Ryan Lizza. The story gave us new insight into how Obama got his political roots, lending to speculation about what kind of President he would make.


If I was editor of the New Yorker, I would have said no to the cover but maybe yes to it on the inside of the magazine as an illustration to create a discussion.   Satire should attract intense debate not distract us from debate. 

What did you think?


P.S. Some cartoonists have made their own versions of this cover, swapping John and Cindy out for Michelle and Obama.  What do you think?

Written by Marc Steiner

Marc Steiner

The Marc Steiner Show airs Monday thru Friday from 10AM to Noon on WEAA 88.9 FM. The show covers the topics that matter, engaging real voices, from Charm City to Cairo and beyond. Call us at 410.319.8888 or email us to participate live in the show, or share your comments on our site! Aren’t in Baltimore but want to listen? Stream the show live.


  1. Sorry for the omission of where you’ll need to go to access information on the Democrats Abroad Viral Video to be launched on August 4. We will be doing our communicating about this exciting Get Out the Vote video through our blog.

    Also omitted was the URL for where Democrats living abroad must go to request an absentee ballet NOW:

    We need your help on spreading the word. Don’t expend your energies on the New Yorker cartoon and other distractions from the real effort. Help us let people know they can vote and where to go to register.

  2. I mean honestly, if blogger McCain supporters need THAT image to get people to vote for their candidate…that says something pretty pathetic about their candidate–and their integrity.

  3. Hi, I’m Rhoda, a former New Jerseyite who is living in Toronto. I’ve been following the Obama New Yorker cartoon debate from here where I’m active in Democrats Abroad.

    It’s going to be up to all of us to counter use of this cartoon by right wing Republicans, out to distort the New Yorker’s intended satire, by working to get out the Democratic and Independent vote for Obama. Our campaign to find the hundreds of thousands of US voters worldwide through viral videos has just begun.We’ve made a viral video to be launched August 4th. We’ll be communicating through our blog. If you subscribe to the feed, you’ll find short teasers and much more telling the votefromabroad story there over the coming days and weeks.

    What’s going to count in November is getting out the Vote, not the current flap over whether the cartoon is satirical, ill-advised, or (unintentionally) racist. We in Democrats Abroad are doing our part to counteract the potential misuse of the New Yorker cartoon by reaching out to the global community of US citizens who will vote Democratic and who must request an absentee ballot NOW through

    Now we need to find the Americans living abroad who don’t yet know they can vote!. Please work with us! Help spread the news about the viral video.

  4. Marc,
    Agree with your take on the New Yorker Cartoon. Like you, many of us feel the sting of racism deeply. Free speech and the press does not equate with good taste.

    There is a place for satire and cartoons. The cover of a magazine is too blatant. I would prefer that these satirical cartoons were placed INSIDE the magazine.

    A note to your gentle readers and listening audience. Let’s keep an open mind and open hearts. And inclusive. There are Republicans (like me) who listen, read and support Marc Steiner’s work over the years.

    Senator McCain and Senator Obama each merit respect. Each has expressed that the Presidential campaign deserves to proceed honorably and with integrity.

    That some people feel the need to go to the gutter is unfortunate. We can all do without the trashing and mudslinging. Perhaps we can hope for some tolerance and understanding for people of all political persuasions.

  5. I’m not sure I agree that Tim Wise’s comments were anti-Semitic, but they were as hard hitting as he ever was, that’s for certain. The whole cover made me sick…

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