All cartoonists have one simple task. To get their message over visually in roughly three seconds. This is how long a reader will take to glance at their work. That's it. It has to be bold, then intriguing, then acute, and then, hopefully, funny. In three seconds.
The New Yorker Obama cover may well be all of these, but unfortunately, thanks to the world wide web, it has been a victim of its own wit.
Since man picked up charcoal, drawing a mustache on someone's image has been the easiest and maybe most effective form of pictorial insult. Cartoonists have dressed the great and good up as Hitler, Ghengis Khan, Hannibal Lecter, you name it. A great way for us cartoonists to simply tell those thousand words in one picture. George Bush as a monkey. Gordon Brown as Stalin. Cameron as Little Lord Fauntleroy.
So why the outrage and bluster over another caricature of Obama as Osama? The answer is confusion - perhaps manufactured by some - of message and context.
The New Yorker's 630,000 or so readers know what the magazine is about. It has highbrow arts reviews, intelligent metropolitan opinions, and quirky, knowing cartoons. Woody Allen writes for it. Any regular reader would immediately 'get' that cover as it was intended. A not too subtle lampoon of the exaggerated right wing smears Obama has been subjected to so far. I mean, the Stars and Stripes burning in the fireplace. Come on.