'New Yorker' satire of Obama as terrorist fails to amuse

Israeli cartoonist says without caption, intent of caricature remains obscure.

When Israeli cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen saw this week's cover of The New Yorker magazine, he was unsure of its intent. The cover, which shows a cartoon of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife wearing terrorist gear in the Oval Office as an American flag burns in the background has caused controversy across the United States and worldwide due to what the Obama camp has called a "tasteless and offensive" portrayal. The magazine said its intent was to satirize criticism of Obama. Kirschen, who draws the daily cartoon "Dry Bones," said the satire did not achieve this goal. "I think that there is a problem with the cover in that they are trying to say that this is what the anti-Obama people are saying, [but] they do not communicate that," he said. "Had they put a title on the cartoon that said [that], that would have made sense. This raises the specter of an Islamic, radical Obama. It does not criticize that view." The cover, which the magazine said was meant to satirize misinformation on Obama in the current presidential election, outraged the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign when it appeared on newsstands Monday. The illustration, titled "The Politics of Fear" and drawn by Barry Blitt, depicts Obama wearing Muslim clothing - sandals, a robe and turban - and his wife, Michelle with an assault rifle slung over one shoulder wearing camouflage and combat boots with her hair styled in an afro. A US flag burns in a fireplace behind them in the White House Oval Office as they fist bump each other in an affectionate greeting like they used onstage the night Obama clinched the Democratic nomination. A Fox News anchor later referred to it as a possible "terrorist fist jab." A portrait of Osama bin Laden hangs above the fireplace. The cartoon, which Obama's campaign called "tasteless and offensive," was not explained inside the magazine. The issue, dated July 21, also contains a 15,000-word story about Obama's political education and early years in Chicago. Cartoonist Shay Charka, who draws for Makor Rishon and Yediot Aharonot, said the cartoon was appropriate for The New Yorker's largely liberal audience, but that it would likely be misconstrued by those unfamiliar with the magazine. "One of the ingredients of every drawing is what sector is it appealing to, who is absorbing the message," said Charka. "I gathered that people who understood the cartoon thought it was okay, but it spread all over the world. This is part of the age of the Internet. You have no control over who your audience is." That lack of control, said Charka, has led to artists to have to simplify their messages and, as a consequence, make less controversial points. "What's troubling about this is that you can't be nuanced," he said. "Everything is directed to the masses, so you can't have nuanced messages." Kirschen was more critical of the magazine directing the cartoon toward its regular readership. "When you use satire, you're trying to change the opinions of people who don't agree with you," he said. "Preaching to the choir is silly. To the people that criticize Obama, this doesn't do what it intended to do," he said.