has more guts--for good or ill, I'm not sure--than the entire hotel bar at a Magazine Publishers of America conference.
But reading this interview Remnick did with Huffington Post, you get the distinct sense that he didn't see this controversy coming:
Normally I'd want the work to speak for itself — normally I'd not want to explain jokes, or short stories, or a piece of non-fiction that we publish — people always read things the way they're going to read them. In this case, since I see that it's stirred the pot somewhat, and some people have misinterpreted it very quickly, I'm talking to you.
In other words, I don't know if it was necessarily a gutsy move on Remnick's part to run the cover, since he didn't think anyone would object. As Remnick says in the same interview:
The idea that we would publish a cover saying these things literally, I think, is just not in the vocabulary of what we do and who we are.
And that, of course, is precisely what's wrong with the cover: the image is satirical only because it appears on the cover of the New Yorker, which, we all know, is a right-thinking magazine read by right-thinking people who couldn't possibly be among the 10 percent of Americans who believe Obama's a Muslim. The New Yorker assumes everyone knows it's being ironic with its cover, sort of the way the white hipster in a gentrifying neighborhood assumes everyone knows he's being ironic when he wears a "Stop Snitching" t-shirt. But put that image on the cover of National Review, or that t-shirt on a black person in a crime-infested neighborhood, and the message takes on a very different meaning.
Update: TalkBacker epicciuto objects that "the fact that the image is satirical only because it appears on the cover of the New Yorker can't be what makes it wrong" and goes on to argue:
Stephen Colbert is funny just because what he says ironically would be taken as literal if it were spoken by someone with different known characteristics (such as, say, O'Reilly).
But I disagree. Colbert takes on the lunatic persona of the right-wing talk show host and then adds even more layers of lunacy. O'Reilly, for instance, give his book the absurd but straightforward title Kids Are Americans, Too; Colbert gives his the equally absurd but totally nonsensical title I Am America (and So Can You!). See the difference? The problem with the New Yorker cartoon--or the hipster's Stop Snitching tee--is that it's just mimicking and not actually adding to what it's trying to comment on.