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CONFRONTING THE VIRAL! Dems are pushing back this time–and journos still can’t figure why: // link // print // previous // next //

UNTIL WEDNESDAY: We’re off for a family fling in New Hampshire. We won’t be posting again until Thursday.

CONFRONTING THE VIRAL: A long-time reader differed with us about that New Yorker cover. “At last, something I can disagree with you about,” he lustily e-mailed. We thought his take was well worth considering, though we disagree with his view on balance.

As he started, he referred to Jon Stewart’s “what-us-worry” reaction to the current matter:

E-MAIL (7/16/08): Do, please, look in on Jon Stewart's take on this issue. I don't doubt Remnick has some degree of wet-brain...but I think he has tripped over the truth about the New Yorker cover. The Atlantic cover and this one are different animals. Michael Kelly meant to damage Gore. It was not satirical. It was a slander in cartoon form.

It's important that a satirist not care if people “get it.” If the satirist alone gets it, that is enough, though it probably won't pay for dinner. It's a form of communication that in its comprehension requires a little brain somersault, good for any flabby thinking apparatus. Who's to say some formerly oblivious soul will not be tricked into going topsy-turvy and seeing the light?

As Stewart pointed out, people likely to be confirmed in their misconceptions about Obama by the New Yorker cover will not be looking for it as they scan the magazine stands. And the controversy on the tube could straighten them right out...

There’s little question: The Atlantic’s nasty cover illustration of Candidate Gore was intended to do him harm; no such motive was present here. And it’s possible that discussions of the current matter may straighten some voters out, though research keeps suggesting a difficult truth: In the process of demonstrating that X is false, you will inevitably convince many people that X is actually correct. (Refutation and correction are very tricky processes.)

But we were most struck by the first passage we’ve highlighted, which we’d call the aesthete’s defense. (Nothing wrong with it.) With lightning speed, we responded:

RESPONSE: I don't think this is the end of the world—but that's only true because humorless liberals and Dems are complaining about these matters this time around. (This virtually never happened in 1999 and 2000, for example.)

"If the satirist alone gets it, that is enough?" Really? Even if the "satire" helps create a viral stream that changes an election? Back to the late Michael Kelly: He said his brutally influential “Farmer Al” column (April 1999, the Washington Post) was intended as satire. That's what Rush Limbaugh often says about his own work.

"Satire" can be a wonderful way to get pure bull-roar into the bloodstream. (Al Gore was lying about those farm chores!) I haven't seen anyone suggest that the New Yorker was trying to do such a thing. But here’s the key point: Absent all the humorless complaining, that could very well have been the effect.

Again: Candidate Gore was murdered by RNC-inspired “satire,” starting in March 1999. The RNC’s notions surged into the bloodstream, and almost no one complained. As a result, mainstream journalists kept pimping these notions and images for the next twenty months. Are we happy with how that turned out?

It would be nice to think that these things don’t matter—that we can accept the aesthete’s defense. But unless you don’t care who ends up in the White House, the evidence suggests something different. In our view, journalists ought to be very careful when they send viral notions about race and religion around. The New Yorker cover won’t be the end of the world. But that’s only true because, this time around, Dems and libs are complaining.

Two reactions from career journalists:

In a semi-knee-jerk reaction at Salon, Gary Kamiya offers this puzzling notion as he defends the New Yorker: “[T]he essence of satire is exaggerating negative stereotypes.” Readers, where in the world do we get these ideas? You could imagine works of satire which exaggerated negative stereotypes. But when did that become satire’s essence? Network is one of our great works of film satire. But Network didn’t exaggerate “negative stereotypes;” the film exaggerated actual practices and tendencies being displayed by the media. We’re nitpicking here a bit, though we don’t agree with Kamiya on balance. But good lord! How quickly we manage to conjure Great Principles in defense of problematic work.

Somewhat worse were a few reactions at the New Republic. Did the Obama campaign do the right thing in criticizing the New Yorker? There’s no real way to measure such things. But we’re hardly surprised to see Michael Crowley rolling his eyes at their foolish behavior. Crowley played an active role in the sliming of Candidate Gore, then started early with the pimping of silly nonsense about Candidate Kerry. Now, he’s saying that the latest Dem hopeful should just “shrug off” this sort of thing too. Insightful! These guys never miss!

In our view, Noam Scheiber doesn’t do massively better, although, to his credit, he does make a fleeting reference to the trashing of Kerry and Gore.

But then, that’s our professional press corps for you! Frequently absent is concern about the carelessness of media entities. The New Yorker is a very big deal, after all. You wouldn’t want to criticize an intellectual giant like David Remnick.

Scheiber’s hard-hitting take on the cover? “It wasn't the most successful piece of satire I've ever seen.” Hard-hitting!

Inside the press corps, major players continue pretending that the last twenty years didn’t happen. Unlike Crowley, Scheiber is willing to cite what happened to Candidates Gore and Kerry—but he can’t quite arrange to get mad. In our view, Remnick seems to lack the first clue about how we let George Bush reach the White House—about how we ended up in Iraq.

But then, career journalists have spent the last eight years refusing to discuss their colleagues’ conduct in Campaign 2000. Dems are pushing back this time—and these folk still can’t figure why.