Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

December 26, 2006


Host: Michael Grant

Cartoonists' Year-Ender


  • Join HORIZON for the annual cartoonists’ show, an entertaining, outlandish look back at the year's top news events. Arizona Republic cartoonist Steve Benson and national syndicated East Valley cartoonist Brian Fairrington join Michael Grant to show their cartoons depicting the year's big news events.
Guests:
  • Steve Benson - Arizona Republic's Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist


View Transcript
Michael Grant:
Tonight on "Horizon," all the news that's fit to draw. Editorial cartoonists Steve Benson and Brian Fairrington join us for a look back on 2006. That's next on Horizon.

Announcer:
Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Michael Grant:
Good evening. Welcome to Horizon. I'm Michael Grant. It is time once again to sum up the year's news seen through that most distinguished of art forms, the editorial cartoonist. With us tonight for reasons that always escape me is Steve Benson of the "Arizona Republic" and Brian Fairrington from the "East Valley Tribune." gentlemen, why do we do this over and over again?

Brian Fairrington:
We love to torture ourselves.

Steve Benson:
And the viewers.

Michael Grant:
Way to go, guys. Good to see you again.

Steve Benson:
Thank goodness this will be the last one with you, I understand.

Michael Grant:
That's it. Yeah. You can only take so much, Steve. And it's been -- for you and me it's been actually about 24, 25 years.

Brian Fairrington:
You look like an old married couple.

Steve Benson:
Every year it gets bigger, at least your ears do.

Michael Grant:
Seriously, you do one more caricature of me and my ears are going to explode. We want to get to the toons in just a second but first this. When you're approaching a cartoon, how do you go about it? You come up with an idea for a cartoon. Do you first look for the cut line? Do you think about the art? How do you go about it?

Brian Fairrington:
Well, you know, first of all you have to come up with your opinion on how you feel on an issue. Then it's a matter of going about constructing it like building anything. We use visual metaphors. So your punch line you want it to be the art. So you're trying to figure out a way to come at that and how to draw it in caricature. Then you go to reference material. And it's sort of a process that goes along that line.

Michael Grant:
Do you ever do this? I really want to draw this.

Brian Fairrington :
Sure.

Michael Grant:
And I find the concept to find be --

Brian Fairrington:
I would say, that would be a great image but it won't work now. So you catalog those things. If you're trying to work ahead five issues or so where there's so much going on with your brain you say, I'll save that or work it in here.

Michael Grant:
Is your catalog kind of like Montgomery Wards?

Steve Benson:
What would I like to draw. Then I decide what my editor will allow me to draw. [Laughter] that saves a lot of wasted time. First of all, try to understand the issue. Second of all, try to use a visual metaphor or -- the last thing is the wording. Most important thing is opinion front and center. You have to have an opinion. Editorial means opinion. On stations like this PBS station we use big words like editorial. Then like in the cafeteria the tray is the vehicle by which you deliver the food, the food is the message. Then you have caricatures. It's the issues, the message, your opinion is at the center of the work.

Michael Grant:
Both of you still operate on the premise you got to get the point across in somewhat like 5 seconds?

Brian Fairrington:
Three to five seconds is how much time you have, sure.

Michael Grant:
So the attention span has neither grown longer or gotten shorter.

Steve Benson:
It's gotten shorter because of MTV and the internet and flash and bang and all that stuff. People want instant stuff now. The younger generation isn't reading. Surely not watching PBS. [Laughter] Your loss.

Michael Grant:
All right. Let's move to the cartoons, 2006. War number one subject?

Steve Benson:
Oh. It just doesn't go away and it's getting worse. It's deteriorating. It's worse than that. It's over. We have lost the war. Colin Powell came out and said we can turn around but we have to act quick. He's being polite. It can't be won.

Michael Grant:
Cut and run.

Steve Benson:
It can't be won. Not a matter of cutting and running. It's a recognizing of re deploying outside of Iraq and letting them kill themselves. We briefly interrupted their thousand year reign of terror against each other. They'll go back to when they kick us out.

Michael Grant:
Brian are you taking a contrasting view on this?

Brian Fairrington:
On Iraq there are so many different levels and things to take opinions on. The democrats a lot of them have advocated just dropping and leaving. We certainly need an exit strategy. Bush and Cheney in the administration have no idea what they doing including trying to get out. We do need to do that but it needs to be done in a progressive way. We just can't -- someone famously said. Unlike other enemies that we fought, you know, there's a probability that this one will come back and follow us. So we need to guard ourselves and have some presence there. And we need to come up with a reasonable, effective exit strategy.

Michael Grant:
You know, this next one that you did, Brian, focuses on the whole civil war thing. The administration has been exceptionally sensitive.

Brian Fairrington:
Yeah.

Michael Grant:
I don't quite know why.

Brian Fairrington:
I don't know why, either. It's plain as can be that it is a civil war. You have the Shiites and Sunnis fighting each other. It goes back to tribal -- many hundreds of centuries -- or hundreds of years, centuries going back to Mohammad and the descendents of Mohammad. So it is a civil war and it will continue to be a civil war. A lot of good things come out of a civil war, frankly. Look what we did in 1865. I mean, we had a civil war and it solved a lot of problems. Perhaps we should just let them have a civil war.

Michael Grant:
You're hitting the same civil war theme with this one.

Steve Benson:
The administration is in complete denial. Recently George Bush says we're winning. He doesn't want to call it a civil war. Now everyone else is saying you're losing. So now they don't want to even dialogue about this. Not only about whether they're winning or losing but what to call it. It clearly is a dog eat dog, blood letting among the civilian population against themselves.

Michael Grant:
This next one will get the point across in I would think something less than three seconds.

Steve Benson:
Well, Bush is the undecider. He said he had a plaque on his desk of the Truman's famous statement "the buck stops here." I would say that's offensive but the fallen soldiers but Bush ultimately has the blood of the fallen soldiers on our hands.

Michael Grant:
Brian you're picking up the theme of the hobby horse.

Brian Fairrington:
As the death toll mounts in Iraq without an exit strategy and a reasonable plan of what we're doing, it seems like they're oblivious to the number of soldiers they're sending home. The attitudes are a bit callous. And a lot of people back home are -- as we saw in the mid-term elections, there are going to be a lot of repercussions for that. We're seeing that. Bush's poll numbers are -- I don't know -- down around 30 some percent, I think. That's one of the lowest in history because of the Iraq War.

Michael Grant:
Country fairly polarized on this issue, though. These cartoons draw a lot of voice males, e-mails?

Brian Fairrington:
Yeah. You have your people, your neo-cons who you draw a cartoon and criticize Bush in the least and they're deploying the marines on your front lawn.

Steve Benson:
I got a letter from a guy who decried the fact that I was criticizing J.D. Hayworth and other neo-cons who were supporting Bush on the war. I said, my sister is a liberal. She's dying from cancer. This is god's will. -- they said. This is the type of mentality we're dealing with. The Haditha massacre where soldiers are being indicted for murder, thousands of e-mails from former and current marines.

Michael Grant:
Then Santa on Iraq on this one. Brian, next one?

Brian Fairrington:
That was about the Danish cartoon controversy with the cartoonist over in Europe drawing the prophet Mohammed and the blow back on that. It was one of the biggest news stories in the world. They had riots for months and it's still going on. It made what happened to Salmon Rush Delook like a picnic. In the west we scratched our heads and said what's the controversy? Over there it's a very sensitive issue. It shows still somewhat of our ignorance in the west.

Steve Benson:
Religion, you draw anything on it and we'll try to kill you.

Michael Grant:
The religion of peace.

Steve Benson:
We're in no position to point fingers, we have the history of the crusades.

Michael Grant:
Pat Tillman. Friendly fire.

Steve Benson:
Yeah. I mean, it's clear that army knew when this -- this wonderful tribute to him was going on in the football stadium, celebrating his supreme symbol of dedication by giving his life. The army knew that he had been killed by friendly fire. They covered it up. They covered it up from his family. They knowingly falsified his death. His uniform and body armor were destroyed. It's clear there was a cover-up. Pat Tillman's brother and mother and father came out and have eviscerated the military for the complicity on this.

Michael Grant:
We'll never know completely why, I guess, but it's kind of ironic. I have a suspicion that the higher-ups felt that somehow having been killed by friendly fire would somehow make the death less meaningful? And it grew from there?

Steve Benson:
It was an effort to politicize for the Bush administration's interests the tragic death of soldiers killed by --

Brian Fairrington:
They've really gone on the hero bandwagon with that. He was -- all deserving of sacrifice over there. But the PR machine got behind it and the friendly fire thing came out.

Steve Benson:
Charging up the hill and shot by his own soldiers.

Michael Grant:
We have some domestic surveillance going on here.

Brian Fairrington:
A product of the war and 9/11. I'm a guy -- there's nothing wrong with racial profiling in terms of we know the Muslim male. And you can argue on this, of course.

Steve Benson:
Nothing wrong with racial profiling.

Brian Fairrington:
Nothing wrong with profiling in the sense that we know that Muslim males are the ones that are after us --

Steve Benson:
Makes variety Thank you, Brian.

Brian Fairrington:
And if we target those people instead of innocent citizens then I certainly advocate that as a lot of people would. [Laughter]

Brian Fairrington:
What? What? What?

Michael Grant:
I think Steve has a different view.

Brian Fairrington:

Bleeding heart's getting on his sweater here.

Steve Benson:
What about the chandler police when you racially profile Hispanics?

Brian Fairrington:
Totally different. Talking about a local municipality.

Steve Benson:
We're talking about, saying the majority of these people in this religion tend to be terrorists so we'll check them all.

Brian Fairrington:
No, not all terrorists. But all terrorists are Muslim.

Steve Benson:
What? Timothy McVey was a Muslim?

Brian Fairrington:
But was he on the plane that hijacked --

Steve Benson:
With King George violating the constitution right and left. Violation of the Fourth Amendment of the search and seizure and personal effects.

Michael Grant:
Are you sure it's the fourth?

Steve Benson:
Yeah. The Fourth Amendment has nothing to do with racial profiling by the way, just so you know.

Brian Fairrington:
The First Amendment says I can tell you -- anyway --

Michael Grant:
Let's go to something we can all agree on and congressional ethics.

Brian Fairrington:
Yes. There you go and big butts.

Brian Fairrington:
This was the year filled with them. We had the page scandal, we had all sorts of -- Senator Reid getting in trouble with the land deal up in Nevada.

Steve Benson:
Jefferson the Democrat --

Brian Fairrington:
Exactly. Driving the Rolls Royce.

Steve Benson:
90,000 in the freezer?

Brian Fairrington:
Exactly. Didn't the guy just get appointed? Who's the guy that despite all that they just tried to appoint him?

Steve Benson:
Yeah.

Michael Grant:
And then moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Brian Fairrington:
Yes, of course. We have the star wars, the great in the history of the oval office. Jack Abramoff of course being the latest influence in the course of events there.

Michael Grant:
All right. And the gavel has been passed. Now we've moved to election aftermath, all right, Brian?

Brian Fairrington:
That's right. One of the historical significances that Democrats pose is they like to raise taxes. So I encourage everybody to get out their tax forms.

Steve Benson:
Bush has been president for six years, how many spending bills, Brian?

Brian Fairrington:
He's not real conservative.

Steve Benson:
Why don't you go after him for not being a real conservative?

Brian Fairrington:
I have many times. They cut them.

Michael Grant:
Well, you could make a fairly strong argument that that's one of the reasons -- that's part of the driving force behind the 2006 result. Was this a good election cycle?

Steve Benson:
Oh, terrific.

Michael Grant:
In general?

Steve Benson:
It was terrific. I think in this election cycle we ought to remember that a bifurcated government where you have checks and balances in operation against one another is the best. Otherwise you have all three branches of government controlled by the axis of evil, the republicans. Granted the democrats are all in charge unless Putin poisons Tim Johnson out of South Dakota. Who knows what the balance of power will be.

Michael Grant:
Still, don't you think axis of evil is a little over the top, Steve?

Steve Benson:
Well, I guess for this pabulum discussion it might be. When you don't have the checks and balances in operation -- then like John Dean said, this is worse than Watergate. This administration is run from top to bottom -- Stem to stern not just on the president. You see the entire administration.

Michael Grant:
Cancer.

Brian Fairrington:
Right.

Steve Benson:
They have carte blanche. That's french.

Brian Fairrington:
Al right. Thank you.

Michael Grant:
This was -- the mid-term was your explanation, Brian?

Brian Fairrington:
Yeah. I think that had a lot to do with the Republicans losing their majority, certainly, was the Iraq war. And a lot of people's loyalty to Bush. And it cost a lot of people their jobs.

Steve Benson:
Completely -- all politics -- forget about the war. Concentrate in terms of what your representatives are going to bring home to the municipalities. That was overridden by the bother.

Michael Grant:
I want to label this next segment, Steve Benson finally gets it right.

Michael Grant:
Tis a moment to be cherished. Did you have an advance leak this time?

Steve Benson:
Well, time magazine person of the year was each and every one of us. So let's be -- but November 7 it says at the top of the magazine 2007.

Michael Grant:
How did we know, that though? Did this run in any newspaper, actually?

Steve Benson:
Well, it's about time that it did, I think.

Michael Grant:
Have you been kidnapping photos where they actually hold up the papers? Can you do that?

Brian Fairrington:
Proof of life they call that.

Steve Benson:
I guess great minds editors and cartoonists at "Time" and "Arizona Republic" think alike. What can I say? It was a significant watershed. And they deserved it. Now, I didn't know how to draw -- how am I going to draw the American voter? I thought about doing a banana man. I finally decided to draw an ugly white male.

Michael Grant:
That's a good point. Particularly when you choose a subject like this, how do you go about getting, I don't know, I guess you're searching for the typical American voter?

Brian Fairrington:
That's why they actually used a computer on the cover to avoid all this.

Michael Grant:
Also didn't they do the mirror scene?

Steve Benson:
"Time" magazine had a picture of three GI's and called it -- there were three of them. They couldn't even get their tense right.

Michael Grant:
They've done a lot of bizarre things with that thing. All right. Let's go to immigration.

Brian Fairrington:
Immigration.

Michael Grant:
That was a dominant issue in 2006.

Brian Fairrington:
You bet. You bet. In one of the contradictions in the whole immigration situation is big business and how they've looked the other way in hiring illegal aliens. This is part of the problem. And there's been a lot of people including McCain who advocated certain guest worker programs and things like that. So it will be -- it's going to be a huge issue in 2008 particularly with McCain being the frontrunner and probably will be.

Michael Grant:
It probably -- unless you see some movement on that early in 2007, the deeper you get into the presidential election cycle, nothing's going to happen on that.

Steve Benson:
Everybody said the same thing this time. It was going to be a big issue. It wasn't the pivotal issue.

Michael Grant:
You could make a strong case on the Arizona ballot that all four of the props passed overwhelmingly.

Brian Fairrington:
True.

Michael Grant:
Two candidate races that it played in, both J.D. and --

Steve Benson:
And reviewed by the judicial branch as they should and hopefully some will be found unconstitutional. But I think that of course all these people yapping about the brown hordes so-called sweeping over the border and inundating us like a racial tsunami. Easy for these white folks to say. They're not the ones working. We depend upon these people who send most of the money home to support their own families to do the dirty work that we won't do. And on that point I will agree with George Bush. He's made that point several times.

Michael Grant:
When dollars sent home to Mexico, is there a second economic engine? I mean are, we doing ultimately Mexico any favor?

Steve Benson:
I think one-third of their g.n.p. comes from --

Brian Fairrington:
We're selling a lot of stamps in America.

Michael Grant:
or western union telegrams.

Steve Benson:
A significant amount of their national revenue comes from the money that comes back to Mexico through the undocumented worker labor force here. That helps stabilize Mexico.

Brian Fairrington:
When we get a reward we get taco bell trying to poison us. There you go.

Steve Benson:
Racial eating now. Not just profiling. [laughter]

Michael Grant:
Now, the pope, he had a hard time getting out of this one.

Steve Benson:
Not only did he have a hard time getting out of it, I had a hard time getting it into the paper. This did not run in the paper. And I got permission from my editor to show it. But it was magnanimous in victory to let me show a cartoon that didn't run. The reason for he said it not running was that we would get phone calls. And of course, some people would have been upset.

Brian Fairrington:
That's a position I think is right. The criticism of that was. [overlapping speakers]

Michael Grant:
His whole talk taken out of context.

Steve Benson:
Of course.

Steve Benson:
It's not taken out of context when he quotes a 14th century Byzantine empire saying the only thing they've brought to the table is blood and guts.

Michael Grant:
It struck you as Byzantine.

Steve Benson:
Okay. If a 14th century emperor resonates with you, so be it. That's how we had him when we had Mechum.

Michael Grant:
I think John Kerry was the only guy who perhaps had any heavier foot in mouth problems in 2006. Brian, we got the dragon here.

Brian Fairrington:
Yeah, you know, the pope went over and criticized Islam and there was a big backlash against that. My criticism of that is, you have the extremists coming out against the pope. But why aren't the moderate Muslim population, why aren't they speaking out and recognizing the faults of their own religion in terms of advocating violence and these things that happen? They've been suspiciously quiet. And I think if a man who was catholic went out in the name of Catholicism or Mormonism or Lutheran or whatever and did something in the name of that religion, you would see a large part of that population saying that is not us.

Steve Benson:
A lot of the moderate Muslim population here and abroad has --

Brian Fairrington:
They need to do more. That's the problem with the whole war and post-9/11. They haven't been as vocal as they need to be. That's been a big problem.

Michael Grant:
I think that's a theme consistently sounded that a lot of people would ask for the moderates to be more vocal in condemning what is obviously the extremes of their religion.

Steve Benson:
I've seen a lot of vocal opposition among the moderate Muslims to the extremist factions in the world of Islam. When is enough? When, I beg you, is enough so you'll stop whacking them? Besides, your hair looks like a turban all wrapped up like that.

Brian Fairrington:
I want to point out Steve didn't wear his 1985 sweater, he wore his 1986 sweater tonight.

Michael Grant:
I think you wore that last year.

Brian Fairrington:
Or the year before or the year before.

Steve Benson:
I haven't washed it since.

Michael Grant:
Yes. Mr. Jeffs. You got the stop.

Brian Fairrington:
Steve is related to him somehow.

Steve Benson:
Talk for yourself, buddy. But yeah, Mr. Jeffs of course has been brought over for trial. The question is did he participate in facilitating a rape by condoning a marriage between a youngster and adult?

Michael Grant:
How long did it take you to pen this one? You got a lot of stuff going on in this?

Steve Benson:
Bonnets and kids, bonnets and kids. It never stops.

Brian Fairrington:
We hate to interrupt you, Michael, but this is a special going away thing, a surprise that producers have suspiciously and quietly planned.

Michael Grant:
Engineered?

Brian Fairrington:
And don't take this as a -- they probably wouldn't have us on anymore. Go ahead.

Steve Benson:
You mentioned, Mike, officiating --

Brian Fairrington:
You think that's bad.

Steve Benson:
I may be done with Horizon but I'm not Horizontal yet. The Bela Lugosi of broadcast journalism --

Steve Benson:
Either my paper is getting smaller or the appendages are getting larger.

Brian Fairrington:
I had to throw some color on mine. My only regret in leaving after 25 years behind the desk is that I'm going to have to start wearing pants. [Laughter]

Steve Benson:
I think public funding of the -- in the wake of pornography.

Michael Grant:
You guys are just laughing.

Brian Fairrington:
How big should I go?

Brian Fairrington:
He says, go as big as you can.

Steve Benson:
Bigger is better.

Michael Grant:
Well, guys, thank you very much, really, I think.

Steve Benson:
Thank you.

Brian Fairrington:
It will look good in your new law office, wherever that might be. When you defend obscenity cases. This would be exhibit number one, actually.

Steve Benson:
I saw this actually down at the post office, the FBI poster. So ran off some copies.

Michael Grant:
Listen. We got about 30 seconds left. Let's skip to the -- yeah. This is a good one. The Michael Richards-Mel Gibson cartoon. This was a true meltdown.

Steve Benson:
A true meltdown. This is actually quoting Mr. Richards. I used -- loosely. And of course, Mel Gibson, to analyze him I said all traffic tickets and wars in the world he can blame on the Jews when he was drunk.

Michael Grant:
Well, gentlemen, with that we are out of time. I'm going to collect these and hold these close.

Brian Fairrington:
Yeah. [Laughter]

Steve Benson:
Don't show them in public. You're not going to be in public so what does it matter?

Michael Grant:
That's right. No one's going to know.

Brian Fairrington:
Michael, you'll be sorely missed.

Michael Grant:
I appreciate that. And I'm going to miss bumming around with you guys as well. But I'll have your cartoons to keep me warm.

Brian Fairrington:
Every year you can get them out.

Michael Grant:
And thanks for being here.

Brian Fairrington:
Thank you, sir.

Michael Grant:
Steve Benson, good to see you again, guy.

Steve Benson:
Mike, thanks for having been here. [laughter]

Michael Grant:
And our thanks to you for joining us on this semi-special edition of "Horizon."I'm Michael Grant. You have a great one. Good night.

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