TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll take a slightly twisted review of the year's news as expressed through the pen of editorial cartoonist Steve Benson. The cartoonist show is next, on "Arizona Horizon."
VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.
Each year we look back at headlines and news stories as seen through the eyes and the ink of the editorial cartoonist. "The Arizona Republic" cartoonist Steve Benson joins us now for what promises to be a visually stimulating performance.
STEVE BENSON: It certainly won't be verbally.
TED SIMONS: How have you been?
STEVE BENSON: Fine.
TED SIMONS: It's the end much another year.
STEVE BENSON: I tell you, it's been this orange, pale blonde fly-by of this weird candidate on the Republican side.
TED SIMONS: You're talking about Donald Trump's hair.
STEVE BENSON: I tell you, man, it's like a hair ball out of a cat. It cannot be controlled.
TED SIMONS: We'll get to all of that in a second. First, as far as the year is concerned, what kind of year for -- for a cartoonist, if it's a bad year for us, it's pretty much a good year for you?
STEVE BENSON: That -- I think that's a good rule of thumb. You can tell we're coming close to an election year, because readers are getting really snotty. And they're starting to catch the fire of the American Democratic system, where they just want to kill each other.
TED SIMONS: And it's going to get worse.
STEVE BENSON: Oh, it's going to get worse. We're not even to the first turn in the track.
TED SIMONS: Before we get to the cartoons and more of this kind of stuff, I want to ask you a few questions. The internet. How is the internet changed what the editorial cartoonist does?
STEVE BENSON: As papers start going under, and they're still going under, the speculation and morbid curiosity and fear of cartoonists was that our profession would go under. But that's not happening. A lot of the displaced cartoonists are setting up their own websites, and they can now not only create their own websites, they can market their stuff to all the newspapers on the web that have a -- an internet presence.
TED SIMONS: Basically the job itself, are we losing cartoonists? You're saying they're -- are they making a living over there on the web?
STEVE BENSON: It's harder over there. They have to run their own shop, do their own computer Rolodex, and they don't have a stable salary. They probably charge per use, they try to get clients and charge them per use or a monthly fee. That's a tough life. I'm one of the crustaceans left that still has a full-time job with a newspaper.
TED SIMONS: So where are the good new cartoonists coming from? Are they coming from the web?
STEVE BENSON: They're coming from the web, we're getting an increase in the younger set coming to our editorial cartoonists conventions, which is a good sign, because it shows there's undergrowth in the garden, seedlings popping up. And they're coming. So I think actually, our profession is not in the dire straits, which is the name of a rock band in the 1920s, you would remember that. It's not as bad as we thought it might turn out to be.
TED SIMONS: And yet are these new cartoonists similar in their approach to the craft? Do you see a little subtle differences?
STEVE BENSON: What's amazing about the new cartoonists is how adept they are with computer technology. And all the ways they can twist and legislator and get special effects. They came down the birth canal with a pad -- the iPad. It's amazing what they can do. And so it took us dinosaurs a while to get into the groove. But everybody has their own style, everybody wields the stylus differently, and everybody applies the color differently, and it depends the tool set you've got on your computer as well. But it still takes creativity, and everybody has their own style. I think the computer age has really morphed my style, it's changed my style.
TED SIMONS: In what way?
STEVE BENSON: I used to do crosshatching, detailed meticulous work. And now I just do a basic black and white, scan it in, and then throw color on it from the photo shop goddess. So that's how it works. So that gives my work a different look. A muted look.
TED SIMONS: Let's go ahead and take a look at your work, muted and otherwise. We'll start with --
STEVE BENSON: My polluted look?
TED SIMONS: We'll start with a cartoon that really -- this is a moving cartoon. This is -- everything we're going to look at tonight, this one may -- I think it got me the most.
STEVE BENSON: Thanks. It did get a lot of -- it struck a visceral chord with a lot of people. And it reminded me of how the French responded to us after 9/11, the headline was "We are all Americans now." And then when this cartoon ran, I got many, many emails of thanks from French citizens living in France, thanking America. And it got 602,000 likes on the "USA Today." And I was so surprised by that. But my editor and I worked on this, you have -- it went from there, so it didn't get done until about 11:30 at night but it was worth it.
TED SIMONS: Here's your poodle, this is suggesting that France is, what is it suggesting?
STEVE BENSON: The French poodle and its front bearing like teeth are in the shape of a W, and the A.R., so it spells "war." The French are teaching us now how not to eat French fries, but how to wage war. And they're taking no prisoners. They've got three months now, no holds barred, no constitutional protections, we can kick your door in, hold you without trial, detain you for indefinite periods of time. This is, gosh, this is like the consumers warn America to be.
TED SIMONS: This is France.
STEVE BENSON: And this is France. And they got three months of free reign to see if they can bring it under control.
TED SIMONS: This is all in great part because of Isis, Isil, whatever you want to call it. This whole business of you can't make a cartoon drawing of certain things, you're saying that the artist's pen is mightier than the sword?
STEVE BENSON: I'm saying actually we have lost, of course, cartoonists to the death and destruction of extremists -- I've had my own death threats, I've been fortunate -- we've been able to track you down or shut you up. You can kill a cartoonist but you can't kill ideas. They just pop up and flourish, and they -- the extremists can play whack a mole, but we'll keep coming back.
TED SIMONS: The "Charlie Hebdo" thing, how did you respond to that?
STEVE BENSON: A great deal of passion. A great deal of sadness and anger. You can tell how Democratic a society is by how they treat their artists. France was bonded to the call. Killing their satirical geniuses was a blow to the heart of their country. These were like their family. To see "Charlie Hebdo" refuel and pick up, and rehire, or hire new ones, it was defiance at its best. This is what we do in art. Art can be a dangerous business for those at the receiving end of the pen.
TED SIMONS: Yes, they can. I like this one, where basically did you draw a Mohamed cartoon.
STEVE BENSON: It's the way I thought I could get at it directly and not be a wuss. You know, editors, particularly in the states, not so much overseas, have not allowed their cartoonists to draw Mohamed. And so the question is, if you want to draw him, why would you want to draw him? Well, some would want to draw him because they want to make a point about freedom, others want to make people upset. But my editor made an argument to me, first I'm not going to let you do it because I'm your editor. Second of all, if you were to do it, it would not only put you in danger but the rest of our entire crew in danger. Someone could blow up our building. So quit being so selfish. And I said, no, wait, you're cutting to the core of my personality.
TED SIMONS: I was going to say. Does he not know you? Kayla Mueller, how do you do a cartoon on this story?
STEVE BENSON: Well, my first reaction was this first cartoon, I was angry at Isis and how they took this young woman hostage, who had gone to Syria to help with the refugees, and then executed her. And so I was really mad at that. Just incensed, as were many people. Such a talented, articulate woman, with humanitarian causes.
TED SIMONS: That's referred to in your Carolina toon, in her eyes, and her reflection.
STEVE BENSON: Right. And she gave us all the inspiration when she had that -- when she said I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. So I thought that was a perfect image. So I used her saying, her observation.
TED SIMONS: The concept of a Confederate flag with the Isis flag, even in the same orbit upsets many. I'm imagining this one upset a few.
STEVE BENSON: Well, if you go along these -- the southeastern border and turn to the right, boom. You're in southern territory. And they have no tolerance for dissing the stars and bars. But flags mean something. They are symbols. And just as the Isis flag is a symbol of oppression of women, and slavery, and mass murder, and intolerance, the Confederate flag is not about states' rights. It's about, we have the God given power and commandment to enslave black people. So on that level, they're both odious.
TED SIMONS: Jihadi Don. I can imagine -- can you really compared Donald Trump to anyone cutting off a hostage's head?
STEVE BENSON: Donald Trump has shown --
TED SIMONS: By the way is that Donald Trump?
STEVE BENSON: You thought it was Nick Nolte.
TED SIMONS: I thought it was an old country western singer. I didn't know who it was.
STEVE BENSON: George --
TED SIMONS: George Jones maybe?
STEVE BENSON: George Jones, maybe. He has -- I wanted to give that arrogant look. And in the process he morphed into a country western singer. That's a crime against humanity. But no, Donald Trump has shown an intense intolerance for Mexicans, comparing them to rapists and murderers and drug cartel workers, he gets in front of a Jewish audience and starts cracking anti-Semitic jokes, they were all about Jews and money, and there was a bunch of nervous laughter if any at all, and he has this kind of visceral, smoldering hatred that I don't like. And I think he's quite intolerant. And if he becomes nominee, he's going to be steam rolled by your local pet store owner. I mean, he will be crushed.
TED SIMONS: I'm sure some folks have to -- the concept of Donald Trump calling John McCain something less than a hero.
STEVE BENSON: Because he got captured. A hero to me is someone who is not captured. Okay, you're not going to capture my vote, so I'll be your hero then, because I'm not voting for you. It was a weird definition of hero.
TED SIMONS: Indeed. So we wrap up our segment on Donald Trump with basically you being so -- as we mentioned earlier, not necessarily good for the rest of us, great for you.
STEVE BENSON: You know, if you want to do Trump in five easy steps, put down orange, yellow, pink, red, and then blend it out 50% whiteout, and you've got the pale tomato Donald Trump.
TED SIMONS: We move on to the Clintons. Just -- this is -- yeah.
STEVE BENSON: You know, I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, because I think she was a decent Secretary of State. But 30,000 emails disappeared, they can't be recovered. She stated they'll get some of them back. But she unilaterally decided which ones were private and which ones weren't. So we all have to trust her. Trust me, I'm from the government and I'm here to help.
TED SIMONS: You we have the American Gothic. That looks like Bill's rear end.
STEVE BENSON: Some people said who is that? That looked like Hillary Clinton after a bad night with Bill. But anyway, yeah, get him out of the way so I can have a clear shot of the presidency.
TED SIMONS: The Dynastic Duo cartoon. At one point this was probably strong and relevant, right now looks kind of like, who's Bushman?
STEVE BENSON: Bushman is like 2%. And that's not his I.Q., that's his actual polling data. I liked that it was Bush, Batman and Robin, I thought it worked good, and I was hoping it would play out. But, no, Bush is not --
TED SIMONS: It's not looking that way. Next cartoon is wordy, do you have to watch it with -- about putting too much --
STEVE BENSON: Yeah. Do you want to move on?
TED SIMONS: No, it takes me a while to read it.
STEVE BENSON: Here you got Carson, he's running for the presidency of the United States, he states Muslims should not become presidents of the United States. He needs to read article 6, paragraph 3, no religion test or oath of office will be required of anyone seeking to fill a federal office. You can't do that. Religious -- I get people calling me all the time, he can't be president, he's a Muslim. I said, you can't be president you're a moron.
TED SIMONS: This next one, I wonder if that got a response?
STEVE BENSON: I got a few letters on that one. This is trying to -- I'm not religious, but if Jesus were around, he would be embarrassed by what Cruz and -- based upon my understanding of the Bible, the strangers among you, the migrants, bring them in, bring them into your home. When I was drawing this, I got into a sensitive area. If you're going to show his hands, do you put nail prints in it or not? I asked my editor, should I put holes in his feet and hands? And he said no, and I said, okay, that saves me a lot of holy hell.
TED SIMONS: All right. We'll move on. We've got the patriotic dreamers in a tank, basically no driver's license for you.
STEVE BENSON: You can fight for us and drive big heavy armored equipment and kill people and die yourself, but when you get back home, you can't drive to the local grocery store. I mean, come on. We're depending on these great kids who are brought here to no fault of their own, dreamers, and we don't want to let them have driver's licenses.
TED SIMONS: I'm guessing this next cartoon, I'm guessing it's Governor Ducey though it looks like a role player on "Green Acres."
STEVE BENSON: It was my first -- that was a genuine snort. That was my first stab at cold-hearted Ducey. This is the guy who is cutting education spending, while he's building what, his eighth, or seventh private prison? That's being funded -- you know, these prison builders and owners have -- happen to be financing his campaign.
TED SIMONS: The next cartoon shows, I think that's governor Ducey, very different than the previous look, but I think that's Governor Ducey.
STEVE BENSON: We were going over this in the green room. Who did you say it looked like?
TED SIMONS: I don't know.
STEVE BENSON: Jay Leno.
TED SIMONS: No, the next one. This one looks like -- I don't know. Chris Christie? When did governor Ducey have such a big rear end?
STEVE BENSON: Well, when I started drawing him. He just -- he's like this little Pillsbury doughboy that's not quite fat enough to be on the commercials but trying to get there.
TED SIMONS: The next one, come on, that's Jay Leno.
And well, he's running the state of Arizona, that's what he's doing. Of course the state is a trustland, that's fluctuating in value, the first few years they want to have the payout for funding school education, at, what, they want to go up to 10% --
TED SIMONS: Originally. 6.5%.
STEVE BENSON: Then they wanted to take it back up, and down again. This is the stabilized way of funding our education system, so that teachers have a reliable income and we can get good education --
TED SIMONS: Are you complaining? This looks like -- this looks like everyone is happy. Look at all the happy faces.
STEVE BENSON: I was in a drug-induced hangover that came from my days at the student union building at BYU. If that isn't a whopper --
TED SIMONS: I don't have time to go into that one. Let's move on. John McCain, always a pleasure to draw I would imagine.
STEVE BENSON: Yeah.
TED SIMONS: Senator McCain is always there.
STEVE BENSON: And he yelled at those people from Pink who were interrupting his foreign relations committee and said get out of here you low-life scum.
TED SIMONS: Do you have to make him so short?
STEVE BENSON: Obama was hunched over too.
TED SIMONS: Speaking of the president, here he is, taking on a heckler.
STEVE BENSON: The human tribe, he's from Kenya, he's a black president, he's half black, he's a communist, he's a Marxist, a community organizer, and now he wants us as one tribe to be a one-world government. I get so sick and tired of these cut and paste group emails from the 8 bazillion conservatives in Arizona who send them to me.
TED SIMONS: Next we have an elephant shooting itself in the boot.
STEVE BENSON: How is the GOP going to, you know, buff up the border, maybe Trump will get Mexico to pay for it, and cut Homeland Security funding at the same time? I mean, these guys are a good anti-immigrants but they're also anti-math. How do you do that? You're going to have to fund Homeland Security if you're going to stop the brown people from coming over.
TED SIMONS: You're not even talking about the fact there's this debate now regarding how terrorists can actually qualify to buy a gun in America.
STEVE BENSON: Isn't that bizarre? I mean, you only had one Republican a few days ago who voted with the Democrats, 45 Democrats and a Republican, to say that if you are on the terrorist watch list you can't buy a gun. The Republicans thought that violated the right of the terrorists who keep and bear arms.
TED SIMONS: The President of the United States looking small here, I know your cartoonist tricks, when you're small you're not -- when they're small you're not happy with what they're doing, and when they say oops --
STEVE BENSON: He's trying to master the remote control on the drones. Does he think we can pinprick our way through succession over Isis? He's got to learn how to work the machinery.
TED SIMONS: Are you General Benson here?
STEVE BENSON: Well --
TED SIMONS: That's another snort. That's two snort laughs.
STEVE BENSON: I tell you. Well, I was in ROTC, so --
TED SIMONS: Okay, well, all right, thank you for your service. Unholy mix, you got the pope! What's going on with this?
STEVE BENSON: An inflatable martyr. I'm all for the pope, I think he's a cool guy, I call him Pope Frank because I feel this coolness about him. But, look, you don't invite the leader of a major religion to speak to our secular Congress and pitch his religion. I think it's all good to talk humanitarian ideals, but inviting religious leaders, I don't care who they are, Joe Arpaio or the pope, they should not be addressing Congress.
TED SIMONS: You also on the other side of the issue, at least as far as supporting the pope, you're understanding his pain.
STEVE BENSON: Yeah. And I think the pope is spot on, on global warming, and I got people complaining to me about this. I said call the pope! He's the one in favor of controlling the climate through cutting back. His number is 666-666-6666.
TED SIMONS: Okay. Climate change. We've got ostrich with the head in the sand, even I got that one.
STEVE BENSON: There's 31,000 scientists around the world who are -- don't think climate change is a real threat. There are several hundreds of thousands of scientists who know differently.
TED SIMONS: The next one, I don't see humor, I don't see irony, I don't see creativity --
STEVE BENSON: Thanks a lot.
TED SIMONS: I'm asking why you did this, because I see what looks like, you know, a black dude, raising his fist -- where is the different approach, the twisted approach?
STEVE BENSON: Black lives matter was in the wake of Ferguson, the wake of Baltimore, African-Americans crying out for a voice. They've been part of this country for going on, what, 400 plus years of involuntarily brought here to begin with, they've been a fabric of this country, they want a voice. So I thought, okay, let's let them own that voice. Let's make an African-American Uncle Sam.
TED SIMONS: That's Uncle Sam, then.
STEVE BENSON: Yeah.
TED SIMONS: Okay. That helps.
STEVE BENSON: It's their version of Uncle Sam.
TED SIMONS: All right. I gotcha. And you're also on the other side of this issue as well.
STEVE BENSON: It's not a fullback at BYU.
TED SIMONS: This -- but police lines, you're on the other side of that issue as well.
STEVE BENSON: I'm a former police officer, I understand that police lives matter and we need to be careful, and we do -- I remember one time I was on patrol, and a civilian stopped as we were talking, and he just came over to all of us, there were four or five, and he saluted us. I'll always remember that. He said I just want to thank you for your service.
TED SIMONS: All right. We got the lowering of the Confederate flag and the burning of the church, the burning of the churches, that's a story a lot of people have forgotten.
STEVE BENSON: We had a whole wrath of those church burnings, upwards of 30 arsons or so throughout the south. After the killings in Charleston and whatnot.
TED SIMONS: Five more reasons to ban assault rifles, I'm sure that got a response.
STEVE BENSON: Yeah. If this keeps going, we're not going to have anybody to raise the flag.
TED SIMONS: The next one made me laugh, not so much because of the bulletproof vest from the concession stand, but I just laughed.
STEVE BENSON: You can go to the -- all the cool things you get, popcorn, candy, bulletproof vest, it's a new movie experience.
TED SIMONS: A crying bald eagle. We haven't seen that before.
STEVE BENSON: Some guy wrote me and said that's not very creative. I said, you're not seeing this in color. It's a blood tear. You need to subscribe to the newspaper.
TED SIMONS: Joe Arpaio, he has been money for you.
STEVE BENSON: He's been money for me. He's about to be -- he's paid a lot of money himself, he's admitted to contempt. The question is, is it criminal contempt for not obeying the judge's orders to stop the racial profiling in traffic stops, and he could go to jail, theoretically.
TED SIMONS: He could, but right now Judge Snow seems to have the gavel.
STEVE BENSON: Judge Snow has been a good judge, very patient. But firm.
TED SIMONS: The next one, what's going on here?
STEVE BENSON: Well, this was Bruce Jenner who is now Caitlyn Jenner, and I thought this was a striking pose that she took, and it was kind of fun to draw Jenner in a way that consumers were not accustomed to -- consumers were not accustomed to on their breakfast cereal box.
TED SIMONS: Sounded like I got you a little excited there. A little tongue tied. Then the sign of the cross, Kim Davis, sign of the cross.
STEVE BENSON: Look. She promised she would serve as a clerk, but then when she is asked to do something that violates her religion, she invokes her religion -- if you can't serve, then don't serve.
TED SIMONS: Our last one, again, this one made me laugh out loud, hi to laugh at this one, because Brian Williams, what is he, what was he thinking?
STEVE BENSON: He was thinking, what new story can I come up with? Here's a guy that says he went in with the first wave of helicopters as we went into the Iraq war! And then things got bigger and bigger, and of course now he's gone back further. And I remember Bunker Hill!
TED SIMONS: Yeah. Good year for you. Nice cartoons. Always a pleasure to have you. Great having you here. We hope to have you here again next year.
STEVE BENSON: Thank you.
TED SIMONS: Thanks for stopping by.
STEVE BENSON: Thanks for you stopping by. Otherwise I wouldn't be here.
TED SIMONS: I got nowhere else to go.
STEVE BENSON: God bless you, everyone except politicians.
TED SIMONS: Okay. That it is for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.
VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions of the friends of eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
We’ll take a look back at the year’s news through the slightly twisted perspective of Arizona Republic cartoonist Steve Benson,