January 11, 2010

Obama the Double Agent?

Spies Illustration NYT WIR

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)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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