MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Tasteless and offensive, poorly executed and totally inappropriate - those are just a few of the words that the Obama and McCain campaigns have used to describe the cover of the latest New Yorker magazine. The cover is a drawing of Barack and Michele Obama giving each other a fist bump in the Oval Office. She's sporting a big afro, combat boots, and an AK-47. He's wearing a tunic, turban, and sandals. Behind them, and American flag burns in the fireplace just below a portrait of Osama bin Laden.
Earlier today, I spoke with David Remnick, he's the editor of The New Yorker magazine. He said he stands by his decision to run the controversial cover.
Mr. DAVID REMNICK (Editor, The New Yorker): The intention is to satirize not Barack Obama and not Michel Obama but, in fact, to hold a pretty harsh light up to the rumors, innuendos, lies about the Obamas that have come up, that they're somehow insufficiently patriotic or soft on terrorism or any of the other things we've had to encounter. It's a different vocabulary satire than essays or radio essay, but there it is.
NORRIS: But the people who are involved in this misinformation campaign, who are spreading the lies, the misinformation, the untruth, the half truth, they're outside the four corners of that page. They're not depicted in this.
Mr. REMNICK: No, but I think it's quite clear what the image is trying to do, or what was clear to me and certainly clear to the artist, Barry Blitt, and it's made clear by the title, which is right there on the contents page called "The Politics of Fear." You know, satire is not, you know, it doesn't run with subtitles. A satirical cartoon would not be any good if it came with a set of instructions.
NORRIS: Did you actually commission this piece by Barry Blitt?
Mr. REMNICK: You know, the way it works is - most often, is that artist come forward with an idea, a sketch, then if it's something that I want to go forward with, we ask them to do a finish. And that was the case here.
NORRIS: Now, I know that this probably happened behind closed doors, but I hope you will indulge me. Take me inside the room when Mr. Blitt came to you with his first rendering of this cover. What was the immediate reaction inside the room there?
Mr. REMNICK: It was brought to me by the cover editor and I thought it was funny and tough at the same time. And, you know, we run all kinds of covers, Michele, as you know, some of them are city escapes, some of them are seasonal, some of them are political. We've run probably dozens of very tough political covers aimed at the Bush administration.
You know, I think I have an idea of why this is getting some of the reaction it's getting and that's because much of our audience and a lot of people who listen to you are extremely upset with the course of the way things are going on in the country especially in the last seven years, and a lot of their hopes are invested in Barack Obama. The kind of e-mail I get is telling me, I get it, but I don't think so and so is going to get it. I don't think so and so in West Virginia or out there in the Middle West.
And that, to me, is a false argument. That if you can get it, why can't other people get it? I don't think this notion that only, you know, Upper Westside Manhattan elitists can get satire. I don't think that's the case at all.
NORRIS: You know, there are mistruths and untruths that are spread about virtually every presidential campaign and there are different strategies for the campaigns to address them…
Mr. REMNICK: But so much of (unintelligible)…
NORRIS: …and different for journalists also. That's why I'm asking, when you decide to ignore them and when you decide to engage and actually get into the conversation.
Mr. REMNICK: Mm-hmm. Well, when I look at poll numbers and I see that still sizable portions of the country believe this nonsense about Barack Obama, to me that's a very, very legitimate source of critique, of satire on our cover and anywhere else in the magazine.
NORRIS: For people who are blogging about this, involved in this disinformation campaign, do you think that they are more or less likely to do this based on this cover?
Mr. REMNICK: Well, I think it's very much out there already, unfortunately. And it's not great to have to go on and explain a joke, but I would rather talk about that than have misunderstandings out there about what was intended.
NORRIS: Well, David, we're glad you took the time to come out and talk to us.
Mr. REMNICK: I appreciate it.
NORRIS: All the best to you. Thanks so much.
Mr. REMNICK: Take care.
NORRIS: David Remnick is the editor of The New Yorker magazine.
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