The sophisticates at The New Yorker have come up with a cover that is sure to get the magazine a lot of attention. Negative attention. From their friends.
An illustration by Barry Blitt depicts Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and his wife Michelle in the Oval Office, revealing their "true" selves: Michelle is in full revolutionary garb, an enormous afro making her look like a millennial Angela Davis, holding an automatic weapon and wearing military pants.
In the cartoon Michelle is giving dap, or fist-bumping, with her husband who is wearing a turban and is dressed in garb perhaps more appropriate for a madrassa in Lahore than the Oval Office.
A painting of Osama bin Laden hangs above the fireplace, where the American flag is being burned.
ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports that when he was asked about the controversial cover during a press avail today, Obama shrugged and then said, "I have no response to that."
His campaign had a response later in the day on Sunday.
Said Obama spox Bill Burton: "The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."
Knowing the liberal politics of the magazine, I believe the magazine's staff when they say the illustration is meant ironically, as a parody of the caricature some conservatives (and some supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.) are painting of the Obamas.
But it's still fairly incendiary, at least as these things go. I wonder what the reaction would be were it the Weekly Standard or the National Review putting such an illustration on their covers.
Intent factors into these matters, of course, but no Upper East Side liberal -- no matter how superior they feel their intellect is -- should assume that just because they're mocking such ridiculousness, the illustration won't feed into the same beast in emails and other media. It's a recruitment poster for the right-wing.
"This is as offensive a caricature as any magazine could publish," says a high-profile Obama supporter, "and I suspect that other Obama supporters like me are also thinking about not subscribing to or buying a magazine that trafficks in such trash."
But I would assume over at the Conde Nast building, they think it's droll.
I cannot imagine there aren't some angry, angry people in Chicago right now wondering if they should ever even talk to the New Yorker again.
* This post has been updated with the response from the Obama campaign.
UPDATE: The Huffington Post publishes a comment from the artist, Barry Blitt, who says, "I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is."
Asked if in retrospect, given the outcry, he's glad that he submitted that cover, Blitt says, "Retrospect? Outcry? The magazine just came out ten minutes ago, at least give me a few days to decide whether to regret it or not..."
The New Yorker, of course, has a history of brilliant and occasionally controversial covers. There's the Art Spiegelman Valentine's Day picture of a Hasidic man in lip-lock with an African-American woman; Ed Sorel has depicted bin Laden on the subway; Saul Steinberg's 1976 homage to a New Yorker's egoistic view of the world is legendary.
More recent Blitt covers of some edge and note include one commenting simultaneously on the Larry Craig "for whom the stall tolls" scandal and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments about homosexuality; the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Bush presidency; and Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, in bed together with the red phone ringing.
While I'm in a linking mood, here's the American Society of Magazine Editors' 40 Top Magazine covers of the past 40 years (as of 2005) and a 1999 story by then-Salon columnist (now with Time) James Poniewozik expressing concern than then-brand-new New Yorker editor-in-chief in chief David Remnick was being too cautious with his covers.