Judging an issue by its cover

The New Yorker has nothing to apologize for.

Early last week, a furor erupted over the cover of the New Yorker’s July 21 issue. For those who haven’t seen it, the cover itself was a comical play on conservative boogeyman stories about Sen. Barack Obama and his wife. It imagined the couple in full terrorist regalia, sharing an intimate fist jab in front of a roaring fire fed by Old Glory. A portrait of Osama bin Laden even made a cameo appearance. For those in need of an example of irony, both the cover and the reaction it has provoked among the largely liberal readership of the New Yorker ought to be a textbook definition.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand is this: The joke is not about Sen. Obama. Only people who believe that the cover reflects reality would see it as an attack on the credibility or patriotism of the Senator. Instead, the joke is at the expense of the fear-mongers and talking heads that decry the “terrorist fist jab” and insist that Sen. Obama is a walking madrasah-educated sleeper cell. And the idea was put on display and shown for the perverse and laughable illogic that it is. The fact that a bandoliered, AK-47-toting Michelle Obama appeared on the cover of a magazine whose earlier edition had a lengthy feature excoriating the Bush administration’s plans to begin war with Iran should have made that point abundantly clear.

Yet many are demanding apologies from the unrepentant New Yorker not because the cover was offensive or tasteless, but because it may serve to encourage the fear-mongers. Shame on those who do. It is disturbing to think that people who purport to embody progressive ideals are willing to stifle art and satirical political commentary for the sake of getting a few more ballots cast for their candidate. The reality is, the myth that the cover sought to mock is here to stay, and confiscating the ability to comment on it is far more detrimental than the myth itself. If we did, we are keeping the high-brow out, leaving only the low-brow behind.