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January 11, 2010

Obama the Double Agent?

Spies Illustration NYT WIR.jpg

What can be done about the growing terrorism hysteria spreading like a virus in Washington and through the corporate media? Far from a sober conversation about security, the issue is being tossed around like a political football with large swaths of the media playing it up because, frankly, fear and drama are good for business.

As an obvious lightening rod, a good deal of the visual spin revolves around Obama.

Consider the latest cover of Foreign Policy, for example, in which Obama is framed as not just being soft, but for being an out-and-out wimp equating him (in a double slam) with Jimmy Carter. And then, because FP started it, the NYT Opinion Section somehow felt obliged to lead off it’s Week in Review yesterday by relaying the same meme, warning repeatedly of Obama’s vulnerability to the “w” word while also dangling terms like “weakling” and “cream puff”.

More concerning than that, however, was this quarter-page tall illustration in the same section embedded in an article titled “The Spies Who Got Left in the Cold.” The op-ed, written by Robert Grenier, a business consultant who spent 27 years with the undercover arm of the C.I.A., is an angry rebuttal to criticism of the agency, and represents his perception that the intelligence establishment has become the whipping boy of Obama, as well as Bush before him, for setbacks in combatting terrorism, specifically the suicide bombing that killed seven C.I.A. officers in Afghanistan and the bombing attempt over Detroit.

Presumably, the drawing illustrates a long story at the beginning of the article in which a case officer, trusting a boyhood friend, ends up getting killed for it. That link, though, seems to mask an even more chilling and obvious connection. …And just to make sure it wasn’t just me, I showed the drawing to four different people asking each who they thought the mask was. In each case, the immediate response was: “Barack Obama.”

Given how often the Teabaggers and the extreme right have associated Obama with Islam and also likened him to a terrorist (to cite a more recent and distant example), the connection here isn’t that great a leap. One of the people I questioned, in fact, even asked if the figure in the mask was supposed to be the young underwear bomber, Umar Abdulmutallab!

And what, I wonder, was going on in the creative process of this illustrator? Could the author’s enmity toward Obama perhaps have gotten into the mix? And then, was it unusual at all for the editors of the Times Opinion section not to notice, let alone, head off even the possible association of Obama to the evil doers?

(illustration: Ruth Gwily)

  • bystander

    I admit, Why Obama? was my first thought when I looked at this image here. But, when I looked at this image as displayed at the NYT online, the likeness seemed to fade a bit … even though I had made the association before I checked it in situ. There is something about the eyes and the eyebrows that prompts the association for me. But, I can’t help but wonder if the association I’ve made isn’t as reflective of my having Obama’s facial image mentally on file and readily at the surface of my consciousness as it is a genuine likeness produced by the illustrator. It causes me to reflect on those eye witness accounts where people have might been erroneously identified from a line up; it appears there might be a body of literature to support that muse. And, it is also not possible that the illustrator has Obama’s image deeply embedded in his/her “mind’s eye” in which the illustrator might, or might not, have Obama already associated in some insidious way…. Which is probably your point, but my question runs to don’t I have to collude in some way for that association to happen? Doesn’t context matter? Frequently, I don’t immediately recognize people out of the context in which I typically expect to see them. Why should I be willing to “see” Obama in the context of terrorist?

  • bystander

    correction/ amending that last sentence…
    Why am I willing to “see” Obama in the context of terrorist?

  • Eddie

    What can be done? Seems to me that JFK had the right idea – break the CIA into millions of tiny little pieces. We were just as hysterical in his day.
    Back then we were supposed to be buying bomb shelters, not body scanners.
    The more it changes….
    Cartoons are more convenient than photoshopping when you want to tell a lie and not get caught.

  • ratfood

    I am not convinced there is a deliberate resemblance to Obama, although I can’t rule it out. My first thought was that it was supposed to represent the recent suicide bomber that has garnered so much attention. Having said that, the illustration is amateurish and there certainly is enough ambiguity for people to read into it what they will.

  • Oclupak

    My instinctive reaction upon seeing this cartoon was to link it to something I read a few days ago about Obama’s first job upon graduating from Columbia University.
    “Business International Corporation (BI) was a publishing and advisory firm dedicated to assisting American companies in operating abroad. [...] BI has been known to be used as a CIA front company, and was where Barack Obama first worked upon graduating from Columbia University.” SOURCE :
    Perhaps Obama has been CIA all along.

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