Monday, July 14, 2008

The New Yorker: It's Relevant!

Obama Campaign Angry at New Yorker Cover

If the first casualty of war is truth, perhaps the first casualty of a presidential campaign is the candidate's sense of humor. This week's issue of The New Yorker features the following cover:

Suffice it to say the Obamas aren't terribly thrilled with this.

“The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create,” the spokesman, Bill Burton, said in a statement. “But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive –- and we agree.”

I sympathize with Obama's plight here. The campaign obviously knows the cover is satirical. It knows the magazine's readership knows it's satirical. The New Yorker's subscribers aren't the kind of people eagerly reading the anti-Obama emails making the rounds. The descriptions I've read of the accompanying story make it sound quite sympathetic. I'm sure Obama would like nothing so much as to have a hearty chuckle at the cover. (The depiction of Michelle Obama is particularly funny)

But this campaign has dedicated itself to the idea that it will be the polar opposite of the 2004 Kerry operation, and its candidate will be the polar opposite of the 2004 Kerry operation's candidate. That means setting up a website for the specific purpose of refuting scurrilous rumors. That means responding vigorously to the whisper campaign aimed at Obama.

Obama and his campaign likely fear that this cover will show up again, and in a forum far more hostile than The New Yorker. Photoshop out the masthead, and you've got a fun little photo attachment for your "Michelle and Barack Hate America" October email.

Plus, this entire situation surely offends the campaign's well-honed sense of message discipline. Wesley Clark's comments a couple weeks ago were eminently reasonable, but that newscycle was a loss for Obama, simply because any discussion of McCain's military service is a victory for the Republican. Similarly, any discussion in the "Barack's a Secret Muslim" or "Michelle's a Black Supremacist" forums is a defeat for the Obama campaign, even if that discussion is superficially sympathetic to Obama. There's no way for the campaign to win that newscycle.

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