Apparently the New Yorker is facing flagging sales, or maybe David Remnick stared at the abyss of irrelevance and said, "we need to shake this mofo up."

I'm guessing the latter is the excuse for this week's ridiculous, offensive, unnecessary cover of Barack and Michelle in Taliban drag doing the ol' terrorist fistbump.

I've long been a reader and admirer of the New Yorker, and under Remnick's stewardship the magazine has managed to balance classic, analysis-of-a-paperclip solipsism with real political might thanks to the contributions of folks like Hendrick Hertzberg, Seymour Hersh, George Packer, and the increasingly wonderful Elizabeth Kolbert. Its spread may not often reach beyond the the Hudson and East Rivers, or across the Long Island Channel, but, especially with Hersh's exposes of the Bush Administration's approach to Iran, every so often they've nailed something nobody else could.

That's why this cover (just link to it; it's too embarrassing to reproduce, and Don Hazen's original and linked outrage is helpful) is such a incredible letdown. Instead of including the drawing on the inside pages, as an accompaniment to a the opening Talk of the Town piece, Remnick and co. pour diesel on the fires of racism and prejudice that have been lapping at Obama's campaign from the start. Not sure if Obama's really a terrorist? Here's an image to keep in your head for the rest of the campaign.

Of course, the New Yorker may just be too irrelevant to mainstream America to make much of an impact, shocking cover or no. But this move stinks as a PR ploy, and I wish they could have reached for a new audience with another superb Hersh expose rather than appealing to the ugliest side of the campaign.