The now-infamous New Yorker cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as Muslim extremists rankled readers because it is not satire, Lee Siegel argues in the New York Times. Satire tackles "social rottenness once it has become a visible and established part of life," writes Siegel. But the New Yorker gave mainstream credence to a notion of the lunatic fringe.
"The New Yorker represented the right-wing caricature of the Obamas while making the fatal error of not also caricaturing the right wing," Siegel writes. It's as if "a cartoon without commentary" appeared "in a liberal Northern newspaper in the 1920s—a time when Southern violence against blacks was unabated—that showed a black man raping a white woman while eating a watermelon."