The magazine considered the bible of the white, liberal US intelligentsia was under attack on Monday for a satirical cover depicting Barack Obama as a Muslim and his wife Michelle as a terrorist.
By Andrew Ward in Washington
The New Yorker said that the illustration, which showed Mr Obama wearing sandals, a robe and a turban, was intended to satirise the scare tactics being used by opponents of the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.
But the cover prompted a wave of criticism from commentators, who said it would fuel false rumours about Mr Obama’s background, threatening to drive a wedge between The New Yorker and many of its readers in the Obama-supporting chattering classes.
Polls show that about 10 per cent of US voters believe Mr Obama to be Muslim because of his childhood ties to the religion through his Kenyan father and Indonesian stepfather.
Mr Obama says he was never a Muslim and had no clearly defined faith until discovering Christianity in his 20s.
However, rumours that he was raised as a Muslim have been widely circulated over the internet, feeding into broader doubts about his patriotism. His wife, Michelle, who is depicted wearing an Afro, Black Panther-style fatigues and an assault rifle strapped over her shoulder, has also become a target of conservative critics for what they claim are negative remarks about the US.
The Obama campaign acknowledged that the cover was intended as “a satir- ical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama’s rightwing critics have tried to create”.
“But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree,” said a spokesman.
In a statement, the magazine said the cover “combines a number of fantast-ical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are”.
“Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful and the absurd. And that’s the spirit of this cover,” The New Yorker said. The magazine has been a fierce critic of President George W. Bush, breaking several high-profile stories on his administration, including the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, said the cover was “totally inappropriate”.
The Huffington Post, a left-leaning political blog, said: “Anyone who’s tried to paint Obama as a Muslim, anyone who’s tried to portray Michelle as angry or a secret revolutionary out to get whitey, anyone who has questioned their patriotism – well, here’s your image.”
A poll by the Pew Research Center in April found that a majority of voters rightly identified Mr Obama as Christian. However, 16 per cent of conservatives and white evangelicals and 19 per cent of rural voters believed Mr Obama to be Muslim.
Records uncovered by the Associated Press show that Mr Obama was registered as Muslim at the Catholic school he attended in Indonesia as a child but Mr Obama says he did not practise the religion.
Both his father and stepfather were Muslims but neither was devout [non practising muslims].
Some US Muslims have taken offence at Mr Obama’s attempts to distance himself from the faith, including the decision of campaign staff to remove some Muslim women in headscarves from a visible position in the crowd at a recent Obama campaign rally.