Satire In Politics: When Does It Go Too Far? This week's New Yorker magazine displays cartoon images of Sen. Barack Obama as a Muslim, his wife in fatigues and an American flag burning in the background. The magazine says 'satire' is part of its business. But is that really the way it's seen by the public?
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Satire In Politics: When Does It Go Too Far?

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Barry Blitt's cartoon on the cover of this week's issue of the New Yorker Magazine illustrates just about every rumor and lie that you've ever heard about Barack Obama. He's dressed in a turban and Muslim clothes, bumping fists with wife Michelle, who looks like Angela Davis with a '60s Afro and an AK-47. A portrait of Osama bin Laden hangs over the fireplace in the Oval Office, while the American flag burns inside it. Only when you turn to the contents page do you see the caption, "The Politics of Fear."

Both the Obama and McCain campaigns were quick to denounce the cartoon as tasteless. New Yorker editor David Remnick has granted any number of interviews to maintain that satire is sometimes offensive, and that the cover lampoons not the Obamas, but those who believe and maybe even perpetuate the rumors. The New Yorker is famous for varied, and challenging cover art, but some quarters call the pen a bit too poisoned this time.

Does it hit the mark, or does it reinforce, rather than ridicule, stereotypes? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. If you haven't seen the cover, you can head over to our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation, and there you can also join the conversation. Later in the program, lessons on leadership from Nelson Mandela. But first, the New Yorker cover, and we begin with Paul Mooney. He's a comedian and television comedy writer, he joins us now by phone from Los Angeles. Nice to have you back on Talk of the Nation. Paul Mooney, you there?

Mr. PAUL MOONEY (Comedian): Yeah, I'm here. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well, how are you?

Mr. MOONEY: I'm great.

CONAN: What was your initial reaction when you saw the New Yorker cover?

Mr. MOONEY: I was offended by it, and I'm not easily offended.

CONAN: Why, do you think?

Mr. MOONEY: I just thought it was very racist, and I thought it was very - I mean, we're at war, and we're being fishbowled by other countries, and we're always talking democracy, and freedom, and rights. And it's just - I don't even know how the New Yorker, I don't know who's the editor, but they need to be fired. I mean, it's just insane. I don't want to see all that stuff.

I mean, we are having an election - see, the thing is, for Obama - for black people in America, it has always been racial for us, because we say, does this white man like us? Is he liberal? Can he help us? We've always had to think race. White people of American, because they have the complexion for the protection, for the collection, they're white skinned. They've never had to think race until now, and now they're flipping out. They're just flipping out now. They're saying crazy stuff, and doing crazy things. Because the idea of a black man being in that office is a little scary, and we're supposed to be American, and we're not supposed to be reacting like this.

CONAN: Senator Obama is running for the presidency of the United States, is he supposed to be above satire because he's black?

Mr. MOONEY: Well, listen. This is a chokehold for America, for us, for black people. We win either way. If Obama loses, we win. No black man's gotten that far. It's a win-win situation for us. If he wins, we win, either way. We're going to celebrate either way.

CONAN: Yet, is he beyond satire because he's African-American?

Mr. MOONEY: I can't get - repeat that, what did you say?

CONAN: In other words, isn't the - he's a politician, he's running for president, shouldn't he be eligible to be satirized on the front page of the New Yorker, or any other magazine?

Mr. MOONEY: I mean, you can - listen, the New Yorker's not Mad Magazine, OK? There's a difference. They're supposed to be intellectual, and intelligent, and liberal. Maybe I'm wrong. I just don't - I don't - at this point in time, and I'll repeat it, we're at war, we're being fishbowled. America's at war.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some listeners involved in the conversation? Our guest is Paul Mooney, we're talking about the, I guess, notorious New Yorker cover. 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email is talk@npr.org. And Adam joins us, Adam calling us from Tucson, Arizona.

ADAM (Caller): Good morning. How are you today?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

ADAM: I just couldn't disagree with your guest more, and many people that have shared his reaction. I think what we ought to be offended by are the right-wing corporate lies, and the obfuscation that's perpetuated by our media system. I think this was a chance to educate people, who are wholly media illiterate, and swallow a lot of these lies, and I think Obama should have embraced the cover.

Again, as a chance to educate people about the right-wing spin, rather than call it tasteless, and offensive. I think this was a real opportunity missed, and I think the reaction by many of those on the left just misses the point. What's offensive are the right-wing lies. People are voting about Jeremiah Wright, about his Muslim childhood instead of education and the war in Iraq. This is total corporate obfuscation, and I'm glad the New Yorker exposed it. Bravo, bravo to them.

CONAN: Paul Mooney, his point is, the target of this cover, was not the Obama's, but those who, well, perpetuate the lies and rumors.

Mr. MOONEY: Well, I think I'm going to run for president, and I'll keep on running. So they won't get me. Because I just think - it's just my own personal feelings, I didn't like it, it just - and I go by my gut level, and my instinct. I was turned off by it.

CONAN: And let me go back to the - and thank you very much Adam, for the phone call.

ADAM: Sure.

CONAN: And let me go back to the question I asked you a few minutes ago. You're a comedian, do you make jokes about Barack Obama? Don't you make jokes about every politician who runs for president?

Mr. MOONEY: I mean, listen, there are jokes to be made, and there are jokes to be made. Of course I make jokes, I'm a comedian. But it's, I mean, one thing's a joke, and another thing when it's just out and out - I mean, the atmosphere - what's going on in America, I mean, we really don't need this.

I mean, there have been - listen, look what came out of Hillary's mouth, about Kennedy. I'm not going to quit because Kennedy was assassinated in June, and anything can happen. What does that mean? I mean, that's crazy. I'm talking about crazy stuff coming out of their mouths. Not anything that's clever, and funny. There's a difference.

CONAN: So one of the tests of a joke is it should be funny.

Mr. MOONEY: Yeah, but I mean, also if we're making fun of ourselves, or we're - but not anything that's going - causing some reaction, to cause a voter not to vote for someone. I think that was deadly, I'm sorry.

CONAN: Deadly? You think it's deadly? What did you mean by that?

Mr. MOONEY: I mean, I think it's deadly, it's putting some sort of brainwash. Getting some kind of stereotype in somebody's mind.

CONAN: Well, Paul...

Mr. MOONEY: You have to remember that Americans, in a lot of areas, I mean, that's why we cultivated Jim Jones, and Kool-Aid drinking, and that can be very slow, and very sheepish. And it's just a dangerous thing to do, I think. That's my feeling.

CONAN: Paul Mooney, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Mr. MOONEY: OK listen, I appreciate it, too. And I hope we don't end up on the cover of the New Yorker. OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Next time, OK. Paul Mooney is a media columnist for the New York Times, and he joined us by phone from New York - from Los Angeles. Joining us now is Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, illustrator, and graphic novelist. A former staff writer and artist for the New Yorker magazine, who's, well, drawn some famous covers for that magazine as well. He's with us from his office in New York City. Nice to have you on the program again.

Mr. ART SPIEGELMAN (Former Staff Writer and Artist, New Yorker): Hey Neal, nice to be here, thank you.

CONAN: And I wonder what was your initial reaction when you saw the New Yorker cover?

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Oh, it's one of the times where I was very proud of ever having been connected to the magazine. I'm amazed by the way the discourse is unfolding, but I think the New Yorker really did its job this time. You know, like that - well let me see, I don't even know where to start.

I mean, I can tell you that this kind of tradition at the New Yorker, I can take some kind of illegitimate paternity for with covers I was doing in the early nineties for the magazine. This is me talking, sort of like as a loose cannon, not connected to the New Yorker, or to the people that I know up there, or the artists who I know, but I think they did an amazing, brave, and important thing.

I think one of the things that obfuscate it is, when you started the show talking about lampoons and humor. I don't think this is that funny a cover. I don't think it was meant to be funny, and to criticize it on whether or not it gets a laugh is really, kind of, besides the point.

CONAN: Well, isn't the - isn't one of the points of satire, and particularly in a magazine like the New Yorker, known mostly for poking fun at its own audience.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Well, it's known for a lot of things. The magazine for serious reportage, as well as making jokes. But I think that it's more accurate not to even to use the word satire here, but the more specific word, irony. That thing that we heard died on September 11th in 2001. Which this is a pretty direct expression of. This was an ironic image using a caricature to make the drawings, and caricatures tend toward humor, but aren't always. And I think what this image does is it literally holds a mirror up to what we're living through. I share the fears of the man you had on from the west coast...

CONAN: Paul Mooney, yes.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Yes, Paul Mooney. I think it's an incredibly important election. I think that Obama really is our best hope for real change, and I think what that change implies is allowing people to actually get it, to not assume that other people are going to misunderstand an image to the point of it becoming backward, but are able to actually see. There's a lot of kind of strange elitism not coming from the magazine often accused of being elitist, but from the people who say, well, I understand this, it's not very funny. And I'm really afraid that somebody in Kansas and all those people are going to really misunderstand it and just assume that it's a picture of a racist image of Obama.

Well, there is a racist image of Obama, it's floating around right below the surface. This image holds a mirror image. An image that reverses things in order to show them as - see into them. That's what a mirror does, that's what irony does. And I think what this thing manages to do is make you stare dead on at the stuff that ripples below the surface of the campaign all the time, and it won't go away by ignoring it. The New Yorker did a very important thing by bringing that to the surface.

CONAN: Let's get Joe on the line. Joe is calling us from Portland in Oregon.

JOE (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Joe.

JOE: Hi. Well, I've been a New Yorker reader since I was about 13 and now in my 60s. I have been a reporter all my life so I take a backseat to nobody about freedom of expression and so forth. But I do believe that the New Yorker which I believe and still believe is one of the finest periodicals ever, might have done it a different way.

CONAN: And what way might that have been?

JOE: I don't really know. I mean the previous caller talked about the reader in Kansas who probably, with no disrespect to Kansas, will never see or read the article.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: But they'll see the news reports and hear the...

JOE: They will, and I did this morning. My New Yorker has yet to arrive in the mail. And my jaw dropped a little bit, I mean, I'm very sorry, the New Yorker is going from, you know, from the elitist status the previous caller mentioned, to more very introspective political commentary, especially with some of the very excellent Talk of the Town pieces that run. And I believe something like that needed to be done but I'm not really sure that that was quite the way. I mean I see a New Yorker cover, I have some of them framed in my house, the Gretchen Dow Simpson ones among others. But I just don't see how that...

CONAN: And maybe one or two of Art Spiegelman's too. Were there other ways to approach this art?

JOE: I don't really know, I mean...

CONAN: Hold on, I was talking to Art Spiegelman there.

JOE: I'm sorry.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: There probably were a number of ways to do it. I think this one is pretty close to dead on in ways that I wasn't even sure of until the issue came out and hit the world. Despite like the effect that as a hand grenade it probably blew up a couple of fingers of the magazine while it was being lobbed, I think that the purpose of the image, which was to really inspire conversation about something that really is important, rippling right below the surface of the campaign that has to do with these calumnious images of Obama are presented in a way that forces the conversation. I've been looking at the Internet. I'm just amazed by what the blogoverse has to offer, every opinion under the sun one after the other without reflection, barrages of them. And what I see in a lot of them is a lot of frustrated art directors who say that the image would have been better...

CONAN: If only they had done it...

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Done it as a thought balloon coming out of Karl Rove's head or somebody.

CONAN: Stay with us, Art Spiegelman, if you would. And Joe, thanks very much for the phone call. We're going to continue talking about the New Yorker cover. 800-989-8255. This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I am Neal Conan in Washington. Take a look at the cover of the New Yorker magazine and you'll see just about every paranoid conspiracy about presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. The provocative satire is called "The Politics of Fear." It's all the buzz this week. Some people think it's good sly fun, others, including both presidential campaigns, call it tasteless. Our guest is Art Spiegelman, he's a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, illustrator and graphic novelist formerly employed by the New Yorker, and author of many of its covers. We want to know what you think of the cartoon, does it reinforce stereotypes or ridicule those who believe them? Call 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. And you can read what other listeners have to say on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And joining us now is Mike Peters, also a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist. He draws political cartoons for the Dayton Daily News and illustrates the internationally syndicated Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon strip.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: He joins us now from member station KAJX in Aspen, Colorado. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. MIKE PETERS (Cartoonist, Dayton Daily News): It's great being here, Neal.

CONAN: And what was your reaction when you saw the cover?

Mr. PETERS: You know I love New Yorkers, and I love the covers. And when I saw it, I saw immediately what they were doing and stuff. I just don't think that it was - well look. OK, I have a background of - I do cartoons all the time. I've been doing them you know, for the last 40 years for the newspaper. I use irony, I use satire as much as possible. When you use irony often you get - often it's the best stuff out there. That's the best stuff out there. Jonathan Swift writing about...

CONAN: Eating Irish babies, yeah.

Mr. PETERS: Yes, eating Irish babies and stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETERS: And it's the best stuff out there. But if it doesn't work, you often hurt the people that you're trying to help. And I think first of all what this did, Art was exactly right. It's the greatest thing in the world for conversation. It's the greatest thing in the world. People you know, some people stopped me when I was coming down here and said God, did you see that thing? How cool is that, the power of a cartoon, of a cover? But the problem with this is, I think if this were on - you know because it was on the New Yorker, everybody knows New Yorkers are liberals, you know if you read the magazine you know basically what you're getting. If it were on the some other magazine, American, you know, Spectator or something...

CONAN: It would have a different meaning.

Mr. PETERS: They would - all the people from there would go right on, I knew that you know, I knew that. And I think that's where that fails. I think that's where it fails.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: I disagree.

CONAN: Art Spiegelman, go ahead.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Although I love your work, Mike.

Mr. PETERS: Thank you.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: I really disagree. I think that if you saw it on the cover of the American Spectator, A. yes you might well love it, but ultimately the more you stared at it, the more problems you'd have with what you were staring at. And I think that the main point is if that's true, then it's really important to have the conversation I was talking about.

Mr. PETERS: Yes.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: And it wouldn't work if it was contained. It would have been just as easy to do the kind of image that I was just describing before the break that had to do with a lot of blog expert art directors presenting the idea of why don't you it in a thought balloon aimed at Karl Rove's mouth?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Somebody like that you know?

Mr. PETERS: Oh God.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Yes it would be clearly stupid, it would be so contained it wouldn't create the conversation necessary. What you need to do is look at the power of the image that is finally being shown to you after having been whispered malignantly throughout a lot of the media conversation that's taking place in this election cycle.

Mr. PETERS: Yes.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: This picture does it because it's not easily contained.

CONAN: Art...

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: It's not exactly the same as a political cartoon where you got to talk to millions of people...

Mr. PETERS: Oh sure no, of course.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: ...and make sure that they get your point.

Mr. PETERS: Of course. Art do you remember that wonderful cover done by the same artist, Barry Blitts, with the guy you know, the leader of Iran, Ahmadinejad.

CONAN: Ahmadinejad.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Ahmadinejad.

Mr. PETERS: Yeah.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Oh that's a great cover. That was beyond acting as a cartoonist in the more traditional sense.

Mr. PETERS: Oh yeah, and you know the background was that he had said that there were no gays, no homosexuals, in Iran, and in America. And then Barry had him sitting in a bathroom stall and you see this little, it's a sandaled foot coming over from the other stall tapping his toe just like with the senator.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Yeah.

Mr. PETERS: And it was one of those cartoons first of all, that every freaking - I'm sorry. Every single editorial cartoonist said, God why didn't I think of that? You know, we all took to our bed. But if this were anywhere, if this was anywhere, it would be understood and everybody would go holy moly. I just didn't think that this was...

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: I agree with that. I've admired that cartoon a lot. It's one of my favorite covers...

Mr. PETERS: Yes.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Of recent years. I think that cover which did an amazing job of conflating two apparently unconnected events, the...

Mr. PETERS: Yes.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: What's the name of the senator? Larry somebody.

CONAN: Craig.

Mr. PETERS: Yeah. Craig.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Larry Craig, yeah. Larry Craig story breaking at the same moment that this Ahmadinejad statement came out about no homosexuals in Iran, making this amazing conflation of two unrelated events showing you a much bigger homophobic picture that is ultimately clear as long as you've got the resources to know the background information that allowed that picture to happen.

Mr. PETERS: Yes.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: And it did an amazing explosion that includes a laugh. I'm not sure that this picture was actually trying for a laugh. I think - else...

Mr. PETERS: Sure I understand. Yes.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: And I think that something else couldn't have been successful - the bigger the laugh, or the more explanation, the less chance of it of actually doing its other function, which is to, this is the right word under the circumstances, ignite conversation like we're having now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Camille. Camille with us from Visalia in California.

CAMILLE (Caller): Visalia, California that's correct.

CONAN: Go ahead please.

CAMILLE: Hi. I'm an African-American woman and when I first saw the cover - let me preface this. I'm in central California, which is very conservative. And...

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Condolences.

CAMILLE: When I saw the cover of the magazine, I initially - it was very distasteful to me. However, I get it. I understand that it's satire. However when you - when I think any American sees a burning flag, they are certain emotions that are evoked. And the people that the cover is targeted at, the people that believe the rumors about the Obamas, they're not going to get the satire. That's what I'm afraid of. And also something that was brought up on NBC last night, was the fact that so many people that circulate these rumors about the Obamas are going to cut the paste the image and you know, spread more lies and rumors about them.

CONAN: Put it on T-shirts, yeah.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Can I give you a metaphor for all this, like what I think the New Yorker did. It's like getting a vaccination against the disease that's coursing through your body. And the vaccination usually consists of some aspect - it's like you have to have of the infection in order to like vaccinate against an illness. And yeah, it hurts when the needle comes in, but it's there for a reason. And the reason isn't to like cause you pain or to give you the disease, it's to protect you from it. I think that that's the nature of this picture, ultimately. Again I'm talking from the outside. I didn't think this picture, I'm not responsible for it except by weird long term...

CONAN: Association.

SPIEGELMAN: By doing some covers in the '90s that had similar approaches. But I think that that fear that the other person will not understand is more likely - the misunderstanding is likely to take place in the voting booth, unless this really comes out and becomes a serious conversation.

CONAN: And let me ask Camille, do you value the conversation that has come out after the cover appeared? Has that been valuable?

CAMILLE: You know, unfortunately, I think that are a lot of white Americans, I know my friends, would never - have never in the year that this campaign or the primaries went on, haven't really discussed racial issues with me. I think there are a lot, especially where I'm located in Los Angeles or in San Francisco, I think there are people that will be more willing to have an open discussion about racial issues or their fears, black and white. I mean both people - I'm actually having an honest conversation. But I think that so many people are still so afraid to talk about the unknown.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Yes.

CAMILLE: That you just...

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: The notion of something alien. And I think that this is the kind of thing that you look at it and you go, this is nuts. This picture doesn't ultimately make any sense. Including as I saw on some blog this morning or last night, or some newspaper article explain that well gee, it's not really likely that a Muslim man would be married to Angela Davis.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: It doesn't really hold up that well, nor is it likely that the president of the United States will be burning the flag in the...

CONAN: In the Oval Office, yes.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Yes, it doesn't seem that likely, does it? So like those things are what traveling under the surface. When we heard Hillary Clinton talking about average Americans, hard working Americans, who was she talking about exactly? When we heard one newscaster after another managing to garble the name of Obama and Osama, or harping on the middle name Hussein - this guy isn't one of us. Gooble gobble as they said in "Freaks." One of us. Well, to me this is really important that the air gets clear, that we get rid of even that 12 percent that's insane enough to believe that Obama got sworn in on a Koran or something when he became a senator. Those things are out there already.

CONAN: But...

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: And have to be talked about.

CONAN: Camille, thanks very much for the phone call. But I did want to ask again, the conversation has become national but the audience of the New Yorker magazine is, it's not that 12 percent. This is not challenging the readership of the New Yorker, is it?

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: No, it's not - I think ultimately it is, based on some of the returned cancel-my-subscription stuff that must be coming in to their magazine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: But I think a lot of that is from worrying about dare this be said, because if it's said, then somebody might misunderstand. I think within the safe confines of the New Yorker, I think irony is an understandable concept. It's important ultimately that the entire country become visually more literate than it is and capable of withstanding and understanding irony and how it functions and all that stuff, and I think that this is actually the education process at work. With all of the crazy noise around it, it's having that function of making it harder to believe that image, not easier.

MR. PETERS: Yeah, I mean...

CONAN: Go ahead, Mike.

Mr. PETERS: Yeah, I only hope that, because, you know, you read the - you read the Web and all this, and I was at this party, I was at this party with a bunch of, you know, people who were smart and much richer than me, and - but that doesn't usually mean smartness but - but...

CONAN: And they weren't cartoonists.

Mr. PETERS: Yeah, and they weren't cartoonists. But this one lady, I said, what do you think about Obama? Well, I'm not going to vote for him because he's a Muslim. And I said, have you been following all this stuff with his Baptist minister, you know, and he's been going to this minister all his life. No, no, no, I know he's - I know he's a Muslim.

And, you know, that stuff comes from either the right, the extreme right or blogs, and I can see how the Obama people would be mad because you have this. Even though I don't - I give them - I give the New Yorker, God, more than enough rein to do anything they want. I'm just saying that this one cartoon I didn't think worked. Art...

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: You're describing the situation as it existed...

Mr. PETERS: Art, Art, you're - wait a minute, wait a minute.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Before the cartoon came out, right, Mike?

Mr. PETERS: What's that?

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: You're describing the situation that existed...

Mr. PETERS: Oh yeah, yes.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Well before the article came out, right?

Mr. PETERS: Yes, yes. Yes, yes. Well before. Art, I wanted to ask, you know, if I can, your wonderful cover that you did with the - that beautiful fabulous cover that you did with the rabbit on Easter?

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: OK, I remember that one. I don't think of it as one of my greatest, but OK, there it is.

Mr. PETERS: But I thought it was a riot. And that was making a fabulous point. It had the IRS and it was during Easter and it had the rabbit on the cross, and it was - it was...

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: It was the moment of the Gingrich revolution and the New York Times having a headline that talked about the theology of the tax cut.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: I felt that that was a case where my ambiguity could be - it wasn't intentionally ambiguous but it was inevitable with that that particular image that came out of the mad scientist's laboratory that's the drawing table we all work at.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: I thought it could be misunderstood as me objecting to being taxed, because there was this rabbit crucified on a tax form, where I - my objections actually were what my taxes were being used for, not the fact the taxes were there.

Mr. PETERS: Right.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: And I thought that the fact that the other content was seeping through was a problem for me with that picture. I felt much more comfortable with, say, the Hasidic kiss cover that I thought you were about to mention.

CONAN: In fact, the one that's on my wall is, in fact, Mike Peters, and it was Conan the Librarian. Anyway, I'd like to thank you both very much for your time today. We really appreciate it. Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, illustrator, and graphic novelist, he joined us from New York City. Art, thanks for being with us today.

Mr. SPIEGELMAN: Thanks, Neal, thanks for letting me talk.

CONAN: And Mike Peters, a cartoonist who draws for the editorial cartoons for the Dayton Daily News and also does Mother Goose & Grimm. He joined us from member station KAJX in Aspen, Colorado. Thanks very much for being with us today, Mike.

Mr. PETERS: Well, thank you, Neal. It was a joy.

CONAN: You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Juanita, Juanita with us from Heidelberg in Germany.

JUANITA (Caller): Yes, how are you today?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

JUANITA: I really thought that - I'm having a hard problem with it - I thought that the picture is very tasteless. And being here, working for the government, and I live on the economy, and I have nothing but international friends, felt that that was very offensive. In fact, they don't understand why we would want to do something like that to someone with that ethnicity. OK?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JUANITA: And then the first black candidate for the presidency. And I'm getting questions, every time, why do you do that all the time? Why do the Americans always do that to each other all the time? Can they not understand that, you know, he's not a flag burner, that, you know, Michelle is not a terrorist? You know, what is going on? So they don't understand what satire is.

CONAN: Well, they don't understand it outside of the American political context, as I'm sure most of us wouldn't understand a cartoon drawn about Angela Merkel.

JUANITA: Exactly. Exactly. And so I find it very tasteless, and my neighbors over here find it very tasteless. And if you really want to say that he's not this, that, and the other, well, then, why didn't you put it on the cover, on the first page, the page itself, instead of the inside of it? Because most rural Americans think that's what he is.

CONAN: I would correct you there. Most Americans do not think that's what he is.

JUANITA: Exactly. He went to certain states and he tried to portray himself like I'm not like this, I'm not like that, not like what the media put me. But yet we have a magazine who has the freedom of press to do what they want, to express it and I can understand it. But it was not in the taste - if they wanted to express that way, they should have did it in another form.

CONAN: All right, that...

JUANITA: And not the way across the - not across the world like that.

CONAN: Juanita, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

JUANITA: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Kathy in Chicago. The intention of the illustration seems to be provocative and it certainly is a success on that count. I also credit it to starting a national conversation about these very rumors which, when they occur within the media, seem always to be prefaced with the caveat that they are not true or anywhere near the truth. So, in essence, while some people may fear that the image somehow reinforces these false ideas about the Obamas, in fact, the conversation that it has spurred in the media actively enforces the truth, that these rumors are not only wrong, but they are irrational and ridiculous.

And here's an email from Jenny in Knoxville, Tennessee. The people who won't get the point of the cover don't read the New Yorker. The people who do read the New Yorker will get it. This is another example of a media tempest in a teapot, an ever-hungry 24-hour news cycle.

Obviously talking about the cover of the New Yorker magazine, this week's issue, and again, if you missed it and you'd like to take a look, you can go to our website, our page at npr.org/blogofthenation. You can join the conversation on the blog as well.

When we come back from a short break, we're going to talk about Nelson Mandela as he celebrates his 90th birthday this week. Richard Stengel pays tribute by sharing the lessons of Mandela's life and work, and what his lessons are about leadership. So stay with us. I'm Neal Conan, it's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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