Beating a Dead, Misunderstood Horse

Sneaking in one last pundit punch before the New Yorker hits newsstands with a new cover this week, meta-media critic Howard Kurtz weighed in—twice!—on Sunday to reiterate that he just didn’t get the joke.

Appearing on Lou Dobbs on Sunday night to cover the coverage of Obama’s coming-of-age trip abroad, Kurtz rattled off all the magazine covers Obama’s face has graced recently, before shrewdly reminding us that “more coverage doesn’t always mean positive coverage” as last week’s New Yorker cover filled the screen.

But Kurtz saved his most earnest attack for his own show, Reliable Sources. On Sunday morning, he signed off by giving us his earnest opinion (again): the cover “was—and there’s no other way to put it—offensive.” He turned the heat up on New Yorker editor David Remnick, who, in Kurtz’s words, “thought everyone would get the joke” but instead “found himself on the defensive.” Yes, Remnick was on the defensive, as were the people that Kurtz felt wouldn’t get the incredibly difficult concept of “satire” if they weren’t “sophisticated New Yorker readers” who wear Savile Row tweed and quibble over the finer points of Continental philosophy over their seared foie gras. “I think you underestimate the intelligence of the American people, to be quite honest,” Remnick snipped during Kurtz’s re-airing of that tense Wolf Blitzer interview.

Kurtz, however, was not convinced: “Well, maybe,” he retorted. “But Remnick would have been better off writing an essay explaining the artist’s satiric intent, because not everyone gets it. Not everyone is immersed in irony. When you’re playing with comedic fire, even smart New Yorkers can get burned.”

And then he signed off till next week when, hopefully, he’ll hand out explanatory essay assignments to Stephen Colbert and the The Onion.

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Julia Ioffe is a freelance writer based in New York City.