I've been fairly surprised by the size of the dust-up over the Obama New Yorker cover. Most of the articles about the whole affair haven't been particularly helpful, but I did enjoy Lee Siegel's piece in the NYT this weekend. Recognizing that the cover offended or bothered a lot of people, I'd been thinking about how the same cartoon could've been done in a more unambiguous way, and I assumed it would need to be more outrageous: a gay marriage happening out the window, a placard that said "President HUSSEIN Obama," a poor person being treated by a physician, stuff like that.
Siegel says that the problem isn't that the cartoon is insufficiently outrageous. It's that "The New Yorker represented the right-wing caricature of the Obamas while making the fatal error of not also caricaturing the right wing ... But if that very same New Yorker cover had been drawn in a balloon over the head of a deranged citizen - or a ruthless political operative - it would have appeared as plausible only in the mind of that person." I'll buy that.
However, Siegel also makes a curious argument about whether the caricature of the Obamas is even viable fodder for satire. He says that since it has only been propagated by the "lunatic fringe" and "lunatic establishment" of Fox News, it cannot be satirized; satire only works when pointing out the absurdity of something widely accepted. How, according to Siegel, do when know when an idea is widely accepted? Once it has been published by the New York Times, of course.
For the record, the NYT's circulation is just over 1 million on weekdays, and 1.6 million on Sundays. Fox News averages almost 2 million primetime viewers every night of the week. That doesn't get them out of the "lunatic" category, but it does get them off the "fringe" list.