MSNBC Picks Up WaPo Article Claiming Obama Joker Poster Racist

Obama Joker Poster, MSNBC During the 2PM ET hour on MSNBC, anchor Contessa Brewer wondered: "Is a poster of the President as the Joker racist? The posters in Los Angeles and elsewhere show the President as ‘The Dark Knight’ version of the Joker above the word ‘socialism.’" She then cited an article from Thursday’s Washington Post making the accusation.

Brewer spoke with the author of the article, Phillip Kennicott, and asked: "nobody seems to know who came up with this.... have you been able to get any further in finding out who’s behind it?" While not knowing who put up the posters, Kennicott went on to recite some of the main points of his piece: "Well, I go back to the original context of the Joker in the Batman films. And these films have always been about urban fears, and quite simply, those fears code in many ways, black. They play into anti-African-American stereotypes."

A skeptical Brewer pointed out: "But we – and we just put it up there – we saw George W. Bush on Vanity Fair as the Joker. I mean, then why would this be racially motivated?" Kennicott then bizarrely argued: "Well, I mean, for the obvious reason that George Bush wasn’t black. I mean in this case, I think what they’re doing is finding an image that actually has undercurrents when applied to Obama that it simply didn’t have when it applied to Bush."

Brewer responded to that claim by agreeing with Kennicott’s premise: "You know, it’s interesting, because we’re seeing a lot of these trends, a lot of these questions about whether some of the attacks against Obama are really about the color of his skin. For instance, not just this Joker poster, but also, the whole birther movement. Do you think that maybe there’s not enough attention being paid to how many of the attacks really still are about the color of our President’s skin?"

Kennicott replied: "There’s going to be a political conversation and then there’s going to be a racial conversation, which we obviously haven’t had about any previous president, because he’s the first African-American president....we need to continue looking at what are the legitimate political arguments and where – where racially coded arguments are coming in."

Obama Joker Poster 2, MSNBC In the 4PM hour, anchor David Shuster teased an upcoming discussion about the posters: "Meanwhile, conservative sites are posting this image of President Obama. Where is the bashing going to lead?" A still shot of the poster was shown on screen with the headline: "Right-Wing Hate?" During the later segment, Shuster asked Democratic strategist Julian Epstein: "A lot of conservative websites have been running essentially a shot of President Obama where he looks like Heath Ledger, the Joker from ‘Batman,’ and it says ‘Socialism’ underneath it. He’s got sort of a white scary face. Is that appropriate? Does that cross the line?"

Here is a full transcript of the segment:

2:18PM SEGMENT:

CONTESSA BREWER: Is a poster of the President as the Joker racist? The posters in Los Angeles and elsewhere show the President as The Dark Knight version of the Joker above the word ‘socialism,’ you see it there. Except nobody seems to know who came up with this Obama image, face painted white, lipstick in the shape of an extended grin, he’s got the dark eye shadow. And no one seems to know who’s hanging them up. Phillip Kennicott is a style reporter for The Washington Post. Phillip, have you been able to get any further in finding out who’s behind it?

PHILLIP KENNICOTT: Last I checked, we still don’t know who’s done it, and I’m not sure that we will find out anytime soon.

BREWER: Alright, in your article on The Washington Post, you say – let me just give the title: ‘Obama as the Joker: Racial Fears, Ugly Face.’ Explain what you mean.

KENNICOTT: Well, I go back to the original context of the Joker in the Batman films. And these films have always been about urban fears, and quite simply, those fears code in many ways, black. They play into anti-African-American stereotypes. Which is one of the reasons I think they chose this particular comic book villain, instead of some other, to superimpose over the face of the President.

BREWER: But we – and we just put it up there – we saw George W. Bush on Vanity Fair as the Joker. I mean, then why would this be racially motivated?

KENNICOTT: Well, I mean, for the obvious reason that George Bush wasn’t black. I mean in this case, I think what they’re doing is finding an image that actually has undercurrents when applied to Obama that it simply didn’t have when it applied to Bush.

BREWER: You know, it’s interesting, because we’re seeing a lot of these trends, a lot of these questions about whether some of the attacks against Obama are really about the color of his skin. For instance, not just this Joker poster, but also, the whole birther movement. Do you think that maybe there’s not enough attention being paid to how many of the attacks really still are about the color of our President’s skin?

KENNICOTT: I think we’re going to be having two conversations in this country about the President for a long time. There’s going to be a political conversation and then there’s going to be a racial conversation, which we obviously haven’t about any previous president, because he’s the first African-American president. And it’s very difficult to separate those two conversations. And there’s a lot of sensitivity when people feel the other side in a debate crosses the line. But I think, absolutely, we need to continue looking at what are the legitimate political arguments and where – where racially coded arguments are coming in. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re racist arguments, but being aware of how race is playing into imagery.

BREWER: Alright, Phillip, thanks.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC