There has been a largely synthetic controversy this week about the cover of the New Yorker magazine, which caricatures Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, as America-hating terrorists. The unsubtle point is to mock those conservative neanderthals who perceive in the Obama campaign something, well, unAmerican. The Obama campaign has, however, taken umbrage.
My Times colleague Alice Fishburn sought the views of a number of us on the propriety of this cover. This was my comment: It would take an obtuse reader to miss the laboured irony here - complete with portrait of bin Laden and the flag consigned to the fire. Indeed the lack of subtlety is the reason the cartoon fails. The role of Michelle Obama in the campaign and where she stands politically are matters of public interest, as were the equivalent questions directed at the Clintons in the 1990s. Obama's campaign has no ground for complaint; on the contrary, the cartoon unfairly caricatures the opposition to him.
But read Christopher Hitchens in the Mirror. He expresses more witheringly the point I was groping for:
"If reassurance is what was wanted, it would have been nice to hear Barack Obama agreeing with the New Yorker’s people that the cover was (a) a joke and (b) a pro-Obama joke and then adding (c) that he and his wife "got" the said joke. No such luck. A statement of extreme lugubriousness from Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton announced that "most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive – and we agree". So in other words, the Obama team disagrees strongly with those readers who don’t see it as tasteless and inoffensive, as well as those who interpret it as an attempt to draw the sting from a whispering campaign against Obama. Take that, you broad-minded and humorous rabble! Satire can do no more."
I suspect that the Obama campaign sought the mantel of those who are offended, because there is a fashion for according sympathy to those who declare themselves mentally anguished. It would be nice if they were met with less understanding and appreciably more derision.