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August 31, 2010

Newsweek’s Making of a Muslim* President

So, the question is, how much more is this desperate-to-stay-in-business “news” publication going to pander to the haters and the far-right crazies as we hurtle through the mid-term sprint?

Let’s set the record straight (especially about the second-half of this list, and the “Muslim President” at the bottom of the stack):

These aren’t just words or phases. They are incendiary slogans that, whether spoken or billboarded to the nation as word pictures, convey that much more weight, recognition and resonance to terms, finely-crafted for cultural wedge-driving and linguistic repetition, that otherwise aren’t justified either coming off the lips of a TV talking head or floating around Main Street for a week in large, black-and-white type.

Now, the obvious reply to my complaint is that these terms are being used tongue-in-cheek.  And yes, that would be justifiable if the irony was obvious.  But, it’s not.  Instead, just like the Muslim and terrorist stereotypes were plain to see in the ‘08 New Yorker “Obama bin Ladin” cover, but the irony wasn’t, the fact Newsweek recognized the need for the asterisk meant they fully understood that some number of these loaded phrases required not just explaining, but actually on-the-spot undoing.

But back to the sinking magazine’s news credentials, I wouldn’t say the cover is a total loss.  There is certainly credibility to the fact that a troubled-looking (mind you, not-actually Muslim) Obama has been captured behind the Newsweek name.

*Just joking!

  • bks

    _Time_ Asks “Is America Islamophomic?”:


  • Megan

    The candidate who was supposed to be the master of words is now the president who is drowning in them.

  • Blue Shark

    Way to reinforce the narrative Newsweek!

    …no wonder they will be defunct within 5 years.

  • boomerangst

    Yes, let’s blame Obama for everything, including these words on the cover of a less and less relevant magazine. He couldn’t solve our problems in less than 2 years so let’s turn on him. It’s the American way. NEXT! Wanna bet we turn on the next guy in even less time?

    • gmoke

      Not if it’s a Republican.

  • Wayne Dickson

    Michael, the problem with verbal irony is that, if the reader/listener doesn’t “get it,” then he or she understand you to be saying the 180 degree opposite of what you intend.

    bks, to ask whether “America” is anti-semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim or whatever is a meaningless question. Are many Americans anti-whatever? Sure! Are the “anti’s” noisy right now? Sure! Are Fox News and hate-talk radio and the Koch brothers etc. making sure the “anti’s” get lots of media attention? Sure!

    But do they represent America? No way.

    • Wayne Dickson

      Not you! :-)

      I meant that Jonathan Alter, thanks to Newsweek, is going to be totally misunderstood.

    • Michael Shaw

      Hey Wayne,

      I get the point, and I agree. Most of us don’t think twice about whether something is ironic or not. Scary, though, how many people completely miss the turn and read the political back-and-forth at face value. But then, I think this awareness is built into much of the way the right wing communicates. Rove was brilliant at it: use simple rhythmic slogans with a lot of affective loading in the most concrete possible way (and repeat, repeat, repeat).

    • jmac

      Alter forgets the lesson of Corbert. Some Republicans to this day still think he’s a conservative.

      They don’t do satire; irony is over their heads.

  • Enoch Root

    The cover is black, just like the President. All those words are white, just like the accusers. I hope this is intentional, because it’s the perfect subtext. I believe it is, because the red highlights color-code the source of this ridiculousness.

    All those words have become synonymous with the N-word in the current climate. The only exception is ‘wall-street-loving’ which I suppose is thrown in so that criticism of the bailout (see bottom right corner of image) can be whisked away with the rest of the insanity.

    • black dog barking

      “Wall Street-Loving” paired with “Socialistic” captures the “I’m gonna be pissed no matter what you say” atmosphere in which our President has to work. Opposites, paired, clues us to the possibility of irony, satire, perhaps that thoughtful commentary follows. Unfortunately for the magazine the other pairings don’t work as well, at least not if one tries to read this cover text as an expression of opposites. For a loud and not especially thoughtful group of Americans “Godless” and “Muslim” are synonyms — Newsweek should know this already. Since “Warmongering” is a great recruiting device for the administrators of avid anti-American organizations it isn’t exactly the opposite of “Terrorist-Coddling”.

      I agree that these words are insults, that we use them to be anti-social, because, well, I’m sure sure why. I don’t expect that Jonathon Alter will clear that up for me either.

    • black dog barking

      s/sure sure/not sure/

      Makes more sense.

  • gmoke

    Yep, they cut off his nose.

  • Stan B.

    The master speaker who rose to prominence on the very power and eloquence of his words, has allowed himself to be defined and belittled by the mutterings of the mob.

    Didn’t someone write this tragedy eons ago?

    • Stan B.

      And all because of the very failure to act on his own words…

  • jackypappas

    No, Jonathan Alter, he is actually President.

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