Political Cartoonists

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A review of the top news of 2009 through the warped and whacked-out cartoons of Steve Benson, political cartoonist for the Arizona Republic, and the nationally syndicated cartoonist Brian Fairrington.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. 2009 was a horrible year for the economy, but a great year for political cartoons. We had a new president, a new flu and plenty of old dogs trying out some new tricks. Here to share some of their work are Steve Benson, political cartoonist for the "The Arizona Republic," and Brian Fairrington who, like Benson, lives in the East Valley. Good to see you both once again on this yearly ritual.

Ted Simons: Was 2009 a pretty good year?

Brian Fairrington: A busy, busy year.

Steve Benson: You said it was great for cartoonists but we don't have any newspapers to work with. How great is that?

Ted Simons: What happens to you guys when newspapers go away?

Brian Fairrington: Children's books, we'll all be doing children's books.

Ted Simons: Is that it?

Brian Fairrington: I mean, cartoons are very popular on the internet, believe it or not. Maybe we can survive without print but it's an experiment I don't know if we want to try.

Steve Benson: The "Tribune" is the monster that refuses to die. We've got news of a potential buyer unnamed so far. I am trying to help Brian Fairrington land a job at the "East Valley Tribune," bought by an unnamed buyer.

Ted Simons: You're talking to the unnamed buyer.

Steve Benson: With the no-name cartoonist.

Ted Simons: Once you get the gig, obviously Benson, it sounds like Arizona politics, just ripe.

Steve Benson: We are consistently at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to assistance for the old, the elderly, the students. I mean, we're consistently knocking them out of the foul line, if not the park.

Ted Simons: The Arizona Legislature, is it so in some ways over the top that it's difficult to draw cartoons regarding them?

Steve Benson: The sheriff, we'll get to him in a minute. It is so disgusting to deal with the legislature and the sheriff that I just give up. They have had four special sessions? Why can't they stay in one session? Maybe they can't count to four. This goes on forever. And in the meantime, social services and kids --

Ted Simons: You've mentioned education and we did have a pretty big name speaking at Arizona State University.

Steve Benson: This cartoon was drawn because of course she was denied an honorary degree, which you were also denied, from ASU. He's good at compromise and warm and fuzzies, I'm making it up. It was a great speech.

Ted Simons: Joe Arpaio was mentioned.

Brian Fairrington: He's the hot windbag that keeps on giving. We're praying that this guy runs for governor. I'll give him a dollar if he runs for governor, he's going to be great for business.

Ted Simons: What is this actually, Steve?

Steve Benson: People thought this was not a nose for publicity but a pig nose, America's most obnoxious sheriff.

Brian Fairrington: He likes drawing stars, as you can see. He got an A in star-drawing.

Steve Benson:Racial profiling, the Feds are doing all kinds of probes on him, not biological but legal ones. Now they are stripping him of his enforcement capability to sweep up illegals on the streets. This guy is out of control.

Ted Simons: On to Fox News.

Brian Fairrington: Obama kind of put out the word that he wasn't going to talk to them, and got a little feedback from that the same week he said he might think about legalizing marijuana. That was an interesting dichotomy. Don't talk to Fox News because they are evil, but, you know --

Ted Simons: You took a bite of the Fox News, as well.

Steve Benson: Saying Fox is not credible is like a major crime.

Brian Fairrington: Steve Benson went to the same university, by the way, that should be noted.

Steve Benson: Obama should give them their due and let them gnaw on his ankles. They are not a news station, they are an opinion station.

Brian Fairrington: The reality is, just because of the stock market there's a lot of lag time, probably a couple years before things get better.

Ted Simons: Economic issues, usually difficult to draw?

Steve Benson: Talk about people being happy, Governor Sanford is very happy. There he is, of course, Don't Cry For Me, Argentina. He's up for impeachment now.

Ted Simons: I'll try with you. Economic issues difficult to draw?

Brian Fairrington: So many different levels and parts of the economic crisis that it fractures into so many, one of them is that we owe our soul to rock and roll and to China. Let's hope they don't pull the plug or we'll all be speaking Chinese.

Steve Benson: You speak that, don't you?

Steve Benson: I speak Japanese. [In Japanese] It means ugly pig, which brings us right to the next question.

Brian Fairrington: Thank you.

Steve Benson: People say I'm a liberal commie pinko --

Brian Fairrington: I didn't totally say that.

Steve Benson: Here I did a cartoon about the trillions in deficit spending imposed on future generations. I voted for Obama but we're out of money. And China owns $800 billion.

Ted Simons: If I owe the bank $100 and can't pay it, that's my problem. If I owe them $800 million and can't pay, that's their problem…. A lot of animals in cartoons these days.

Brian Fairrington: The wonderful guys at AIG with their bonuses, the crocodiles eating their young. Private companies should be able to do what they want, but when they take public funds they should answer to the public. And taking bonuses during a failed financial era is crazy.

Steve Benson: If they are going take the public to the cleaners on this, at least apologize. Bernie Madoff apologized after he stabbed his investors in the back.

Brian Fairrington: 150 years couldn't be long enough for this guy. I think a lot of people got a little bit of pleasure out of that, hoping he gets a big cellmate named Bubba who lost his 401(k).

Steve Benson: How about Dick Cheney, in favor of continued torture and giving the CIA leave to break the law.

Ted Simons: Is there any way to draw him without the sneer, by the way? Is that just necessary?

Steve Benson: Looks like he just got back from the dentist.

Brian Fairrington: Torture. The debate over torture, the bottom line is if we had some guy in custody and he had vital information and the bomb was ticking, and it meant putting a towel over his head and dripping a few drops of water on him, a lot of people would say, let's pour the bucket of water on him. Steve wants to give them a warm hug and a glass of milk and put them to bed.
Steve Benson: It violates all kind of Geneva and other kinds of international conventions. If we're not going to follow the law, we ought to back out of the treaties.

Brian Fairrington: That's the question,.

Steve Benson: It's torture, it's torture.

Brian Fairrington: So 3,000 people die --

Steve Benson: Torture doesn't get you anything except false claims based on, I'll say anything if you just stop.

Brian Fairrington: That sweater is torture.

Steve Benson: That hair is torture.

Ted Simons: We got the hair joke in. Iran and Ahmadinejad.

Steve Benson: I can't say his name. Speaking of torture, he's torturing the people over there. Revolution is brewing, in a couple of years this regime will topple.

Brian Fairrington: He's definitely got his hands on a nuclear weapons program over there disguised as power to light lamps. He's up to no good.

Ted Simons: Again, I'm trying to get to the back of the cartoon level of all this,
looks like a fun guy to draw.

Steve Benson: He looks like a makeover guy.

Ted Simons: You okay now? Let's keep moving here. As far as terrorism and New York City and this goes back to the latest rant you gave up.

Brian Fairrington: What's with the Republicans? They don't trust the U.S. Hundreds of suspects convicted and thrown in jail and doing just fine and not destroying this country. Don't we have confidence in our own rule of law, that we can try them in court and convict them and send them to jail?

Brian Fairrington: They should be tried in a military court and summarily shot right afterwards like they did in the old days, like John Wayne did.
Steve Benson: These guys were not picked up on the battlefield, it was in America.

Brian Fairrington: It was an active war and they should be tried in military court. They shouldn't stand in line with the people that got traffic tickets.

Ted Simons: Let's move on. Again, the concept of the President as the Messiah, that becomes part of the vernacular for cartoonists.

Steve Benson: Republicans in New Jersey and Virginia took it to the Democrats and I thought, well, the guy is falling on his ass. He's falling on his donkey. So the Messiah has stumbled a bit.

Ted Simons: A lot of folks having problems with health care.

Brian Fairrington: He's -- he's dithering or whatever Cheney says, he's doing the same thing with health care. What?

Steve Benson: He's dithering? He's working with speed bumps in the GOP. Even in the congressional budget offices the GOP has offered no program to counter Obama's that can be monetized. You can't afford to give the American people a program they can look at. What has the House or Senate produced from the Senate side?

Brian Fairrington: I'm not writing the bill so I don't know.

Ted Simons: You have weighed in on the health care reform situation and we've got Frankenstein.

Steve Benson: Maybe the public option will stay in, but states can opt out.

Brian Fairrington: He drew himself looking in the mirror when he drew the flat head.

Steve Benson: No, that is you, buddy, that's Fairrington.

Brian Fairrington: It's a little gruesome to look at. It's always past the rich to pay for these programs, but they don't define what rich is. Two people earning a middle class income --

Ted Simons: Whatever, go ahead and say whatever you want.

Brian Fairrington: Pretty soon it gets into where you can be classified as that. Taxing the rich is not a good idea, because they don't define what rich is.

Steve Benson: They have defined it as people making more than $250,000 a year. Don't you watch the news?

Ted Simons: We've got another Fairrington, beginning with health care.

Brian Fairrington: We're just wild about Harry, Brother Harry Reid.

Ted Simons: Taxpayers getting the point.

Brian Fairrington: Again, you know, it's how are we going to pay for these things? They are good on paper and good as an abstract philosophy. In practicality, they are expensive.

Steve Benson: How are we going to pay for rising healthcare?

Brian Fairrington: You can pay for them because you're a rich, single hot-looking guy.

Steve Benson: Don't talk to me about rich.

Ted Simons: Look at the prescription in those glasses, what are you talking about?

Steve Benson: Just for the bottle.

Ted Simons: Sarah Palin, I would have thought we would have seen more cartoons regarding Sarah Palin. She is a force out there.

Steve Benson: You know, the scary thing is that her approval ratings are now only about five points below Obama. This nation, the right wing is saying, have they forgotten? This is the person who says I can see Russia from my backyard, and I can't remember the papers I read every day. She had, what, a thousand people at a book-signing? It's amazing she could count that high.

Brian Fairrington: It's going to be a best seller.

Ted Simons: Michael Jackson died this year, hard to believe. Seemed like he was always there. Again, when people die --

Brian Fairrington: Always there in the nightmare.

Ted Simons: People die, you've got to kind of watch yourself? Don't you? Brian, don't you have to be kind of nice?

Brian Fairrington: No. You stab the wounded on the battlefield and kick people when they are down. There you go, there you go. The prize-winning cartoon of the year is this next one.

Ted Simons: You mentioned Michael and --

Steve Benson: We are the world, we are the children.

Ted Simons: Are you proud of this one?

Steve Benson: I know there are a lot of people that liked Michael Jackson and he was getting pounded. Go ahead, pound me on it.

Brian Fairrington: I'm not going touch that one.

Steve Benson: I can be just as mean -- not as ugly, but just as mean as Brian Fairrington.

Ted Simons: You did the cartoon that you sat back, I've got to do something fast. You did the next one with the media hype and thanks, Michael.

Steve Benson: I'm so sick and tired of this hype that would not end. It's like the botox injections that would not end for him, it went on and on and on.

Ted Simons: Do you feel better after this second cartoon?

Steve Benson: I felt like Dick Cheney giving in to the dark side.

Brian Fairrington: You drew the glove.

Steve Benson: I have to wear gloves when I pick up your stuff.

Ted Simons: When someone dies there's a touch of respect and a little bit of distance that apparently you just don't agree with that.

Brian Fairrington: You know, I loved Teddy, he was great, a little before my time.

Steve Benson: Better Ted than dead.

Ted Simons: So there you go with the anchor and Chappaquiddick.

Brian Fairrington: Stolen right from Warner Brothers.

Steve Benson: When Ted was alive I have him putting his toe in the Chappaquiddick Bridge water, testing the presidential waters. When he's dead, cut him a break.

Ted Simons: Teddy Kennedy, you had a bit more reverential sort of look at him?

Steve Benson: Yes, the poor, the vulnerable, the powerless. This is something the Arizona Legislature wouldn't relate to.

Brian Fairrington: That looks like the father of Superman, doesn't it?

Steve Benson: It does, a little bit.

Steve Benson: Jor-el. He was the Superman of the Senate.

Ted Simons: We lost Walter Cronkite, as well. That's a nice touch.

Steve Benson: I was glad to hear from the ASU School of Journalism on this. I don't get a peep from anybody over here? Hello, hello.

Ted Simons: Do you think they should call you up?

Steve Benson: The Cronkite School and the mentors, yeah.

Ted Simons: If you draw a cartoon about "Horizon," am I supposed to call you and say, golly, swell?

Steve Benson: If I can't get you to comment on my work, I'll just have to copy Charles Schultz and maybe you'll comment on my work.

Ted Simons: This deals with the Cardinals.

Steve Benson: I did this to inspire them after they had gotten into the -- the Super Bowl.

Ted Simons: Did they call you when you did this one?

Steve Benson: No. The attorney called me.

Ted Simons: All right. Let's get back to the overall scheme. We have three our four minutes here. Was it difficult this year to get into all these -- sometimes when there's so much going on, it's hard to sit down and focus and get into the topics one by one. Do you find that at all?

Brian Fairrington: You have busy weeks, especially when something happens and there's the initial issue that happened, whether it's the financial crisis or the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, and there's always issues after that. You have to follow and chase that. It's fascinating to peel that onion visually.

Ted Simons: When there's so much going on, do you look back and say, I didn't quite get that topic because I was so busy on the next one.

Steve Benson: You try to vary your approach and mix it up a little bit. I could do 10 in a row on the economy, or how to understand Fairrington's work. There's a certain anger and animosity among the voters that reminds me of the 60s, when people of stature and vision were threatened, Martin Luther King, JFK, and there's kind of this undercurrent that even the Justice Department has issued warning reports. Beware of the extremist.

Ted Simons: Do you agree there's an undercurrent there?

Brian Fairrington: There's a lot of anger out there. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, there's a class of society that's ticked off.

Ted Simons: I am going to ask it. When you sense that there are folks out there that are taking the metaphor a little too literally, does it ever enter into your mind that, I've got watch what I'm doing here? You could ask the same thing with the rock and roller. You sing about suicide, are you worried that some kid's going to take you up on it. Are you worried somebody's going to look at these and get the wrong idea?

Steve Benson: They are so nutty, you can't predict them. You have to be careful, you may tap into that hot coal mine of hate out there. I do a lot of cartoons that defend the administration against the extremists. Believe you me, I hear from the nuts on the right.

Ted Simons: Does it affect your work at all?

Steve Benson: It makes me want to push back even more, to fuel the fire. We are involved in a dialogue. We throw the first punch, they throw one back, and it's a barroom of democracy. It's rock and roll and down to the floor we go. I really am somewhat concerned. My African-American friends and colleagues don't like to talk about it because they have seen it happen before with the assassination of Martin Luther King and other black leaders. But I'm really concerned about it. I think Napolitano put her finger on the pulse when in April she warned, beware of the rising right wing. What about the guy that shot the security guard at the holocaust museum? We are warned.

Brian Fairrington: Nice cheery subject.

Ted Simons: I want to ask you, is there a place for cartoonists in the New World of journalism?

Brian Fairrington: Absolutely, without them it'll not be a fulfilled journalism. There has to be satire in a free democracy and freedom of the press.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it right there. Gentlemen, always a pleasure, see you about this time next year?

Steve Benson: Yeah, if we all got jobs.

Ted Simons: That's it for now. Thanks for joining us, I'm Ted Simons, you have a great week.

Steve Benson:Political Cartoonist for the Arizona Republic;Brian Fairrington:Nationally Syndicated Cartoonist;

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