Kyra Phillips: U.S. ‘Pretty Racially Insenstitive’ Due to Cover Satire?

Kyra Phillips, CNN Co-host | NewsBusters.orgDuring a segment on CNN’s "Newsroom" program on Monday afternoon, anchor Kyra Phillips voiced her clear objections to The New Yorker’s satirical depiction of Michelle Obama as a radical leftist and Barack Obama as a Muslim. "If I see this magazine cover, okay? And I mean, this is pretty racial. I mean, let's look at it again. You've got Michelle Obama in an Afro. You know, you've got, you know, her husband, Barack Obama, in a turban. We're talking about racism and terrorism. I mean, these are -- and burning of the flag. These are the most sensitive issues in our country right now. If I see that, I'm going to think, oh my God, is this who we want in the White House?" She later asked the question, "Do you think in any way that this cover sets us back, that it's more divisive than anything else and only proves that we're still pretty racially insensitive?"

Phillips made the comments during a segment in the 1 pm Eastern hour of the CNN program with two black political figures -- conservative radio talk show host Shelley Wynter and Los Angeles Councilman Bernard Parks, Senior. During her introduction of Parks, Phillips mentioned that the California politician was calling for a boycott of The New Yorker. In her first question, she asked Parks why he was "so outraged" about the cartoon. Parks replied, " I think it's outrageous that we have a cover that would depict racism, sexism, anti-religion, also anti-patriotism, and then on top of it, to try to draw a conclusion that Mr. Obama has some sympathy towards terrorism...."

The CNN co-host then directed her first question to Wynter, and out of the box, she made it clear that she didn’t see the cover as being satire: "Now Shelley, satire is supposed to be funny, it's supposed to be thought-provoking, it's supposed to be clever. Do you see this as over-the-top?" Wynter responded, "Absolutely not," and defended The New Yorker’s position. He later compared the cover to Jesse Jackson’s recent vulgar slam of Barack Obama: "If we're going to boycott The New Yorker, then I say I would just as well go down to Rainbow/PUSH headquarters and boycott Rainbow/PUSH for what Jesse Jackson said."

Phillips then made her remark that the cover was "pretty racial." In reply, Wynter shot back in disbelief to her position:

WYNTER: But do you -- I mean, do you really believe that? Do you really believe that if you see this article, this cover, excuse me, you're going to say to yourself, oh, this is Barack and Michelle. I mean, no way, this is crazy to me. This is satire. It's just -- no one was this outraged when someone had a painted -- had a cartoon of Condoleezza Rice as a pregnant black woman who had -- delivering a monkey as a baby. No one said anything. I didn't see the likes of Mr. Parks wanting to boycott that magazine that ran that cartoon. So this is satire, and so anybody that looks at a drawing of a cartoon and wants to say this is what my presidential candidate is going to be like, it's already ridiculous. They shouldn't be voting. They're retarded.

Parks voiced his basic agreement with Phillips concerning how some may see the cover: "I think you're missing the point in the fact that this magazine will be in newsstands across this country and internationally. No one is going to read the article to the fine point that you've just discussed it. It will leave the image and the impression of what the cover reflects..." He later proposed that the cover "hits at the lowest level of people's thought processes."

The final exchange in the segment began with Phillips asking if the cover indicated whether Americans were "still pretty racially insensitive."

PHILLIPS: Councilman, let me pose this, and councilman I'll start with you. I've known you for a long time. You've broken a lot of barriers as a black professional, being a police officer, the chief of the LAPD -- now, you're in the political arena. Do you think in any way that this cover sets us back, that it's more divisive than anything else and only proves that we're still pretty racially insensitive?

PARKS: Well, I think what it does is that it forgets that the eye of the beholder is the one that sets the judgment. It's not those who did the printing -- it's those who receive the message, and I think it does set us back, because every now and then, when you get something like this, you have to go back and look at the calendar and realize it's 2008, and we've just taken a major step back to where this wouldn't be acceptable decades ago. The fact is, today, you have more people that will speak out on it, but it wasn't acceptable in decades ago when people were going through many, many other issues that dealt with racism, sexism, so it's certainly not appropriate today.

PHILLIPS: Shelley, there's definitely a risk when you lampoon ignorance. That is for sure. Not everyone is going to get it. Can you give me the final thought?

WYNTER: I appreciate that. I'm just saying, if we're going to be politically-correct on satire, then what is the definition of satire? If you're going to knock down what's -- something that's clearly satirical, then what choice -- where do we go from here? Now, we have nothing out there, and I would say to Mr. Parks, if we're going to be set back, then we need to be as outraged at Jesse Jackson's comments last week because that set us back 150 years, back to the days of lynching, and because he said it, it doesn't take away from the fact that it set us back almost 150 years.

PARKS: Well, I don't think it's a benefit no matter who does the harm.

WYNTER: Fair enough. But there's no harm in this -- there's no harm in this --

PARKS: And I think no one -- anyone supporting Jesse Jackson, and I think what we need to do is find out how many people out of ten, understand what satire is and look at it in the face of what it is. It's a picture that depicts what could be the first couple of the United States in a very derogatory manner, and brings up all of the fears and anger which drives people to the worst conclusions they can come up with. I think that's totally inappropriate.

PHILLIPS: And gentlemen -- 

WYNTER: If nobody know what is satire is, they shouldn't be voting.

PHILLIPS: But Shelley -- but that's my final point. Is that when you lampoon ignorance, you know, not everybody is going to get it and it's risky. It's a definite risk.

WYNTER: That's what satire is. That's the definition of satire.

PHILLIPS: And we all appreciate it. Shelley Wynter, Councilman Bernard Parks. Gentlemen, great conversation.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center