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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: They are: Doug Marlette of Newsday; Steve Kelley of the San Diego Union-Tribune; Ann Telnaes of the North American Syndicate; and Michael Ramirez of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Welcome to all of you. Michael, are the campaign finance hearings giving you some great material?
MICHAEL RAMIREZ, Memphis Commercial Appeal: You know, these hearings are always great material. You know, we’re anticipating who’s going to be the next Ollie North. And it’s just a lot of fun. In fact, it’s covered three or four days worth of material. And I’m sure it’s going to get more and more exciting as they reveal more and more information.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Show me something you’ve done.
MICHAEL RAMIREZ: Well, the one that I just–I did recently was I was viewing the Democrats really as an impediment to the process. So I drew them in the old three monkeys–See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Speak No Evil–with Fred Thompson kind of sitting on the side. And it was just generally–it was actually a literal interpretation, I think, of the events when you see what John Glenn was doing, even before the hearings started. He had this campaign out there to kind of sidetrack it, and then following Bob Torricelli’s comments, it just seemed like they didn’t really want the information to come out. So I just kind of do that in the cartoon.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Steve Kelley, are cartoons generally great for cartoonists–I’m sorry–I mean, are hearings generally great for cartoonists?
STEVE KELLEY, San Diego Union Tribune: Well, I don’t think generally they are. In fact, there’s been a lot of criticism of these hearings, if they are deadly dull. I don’t know what the public expects. You can’t really have the–you know–the Rockettes come out there doing high kicks during these hearings. But what amazes me is that although they find–the public finds these hearings dull, they can’t get enough pictures of the surface of Mars. That, to them, is really exciting. So actually the cartoon that I did on the hearings was pin the donkey’s tail on the scapegoat. I had the Democratic donkey walking over the old party game, getting ready to stick a tail on–the blame on John Huang, who is shown as a goat in the cartoon. A lot of the Democrats are saying that this John Huang character–well, he was just a rogue fund-raiser and, you know, he wasn’t really working on behalf of us. He was sort of out on his own, sort of the way Republicans talk about Ollie North.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Doug Marlette, what about House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s troubles, what have you been doing on that?
DOUG MARLETTE, Newsday: I drew a couple of tourists in Washington saying, “Didn’t you used to be Newt Gingrich?”.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes. Let’s see that.
DOUG MARLETTE: But Newt is–
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: There it is.
DOUG MARLETTE: I find Newt Gingrich to be very much like Bill Clinton. I just got in this–the last time I was here–you know, black-eyed peas in a pod. They’re both kind of–Gingrich is kind of Clinton’s evil twin. And I think of them as–as a matter of fact, I think of them as like this movie “Face Off,” with John Travolta and Nicholas Cage. It’s like they’ve exchanged faces, and they have, you know–Clinton is not sufficiently mean-spirited for the right-wing Republicans, and Gingrich is now, you know, shifting–mutating into kind of a more liberal–and so they’re both–I think it’s because they’ve exchanged souls.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ann Telnaes, is Newt Gingrich, in general, a really good subject for cartoonists?
ANN TELNAES, North America Syndicate: Well, lately, yes. I mean, we have just gone through that coup in the House of Representatives.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Or attempted coup.
ANN TELNAES: Or attempted coup. That’s right. It didn’t actually happen, but I actually did a cartoon on Newt Gingrich about a month ago when they were trying to pass the–
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let’s see that one.
ANN TELNAES: –flood relief bill. And at the time, they were having a lot of problems because the Republicans had attached some provisions to the bill. And Newt Gingrich, when he finally did talk to the press about it, said, oh, you know, you guys are making a mountain out of a mole hill; we’re not having any problems; we’re just all very tired because we’re staying up all night long, trying to pass this bill. So I drew Newt Gingrich tied to a stake with a bunch of little Republican elephants running around with their spears and their axes and things. So it’s kind of funny since I did this cartoon a whole month ago, and now it actually has come true.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Let’s look at some of the substantive issues that are being dealt with this summer–taxes, for example, tax reform, the budget. These are pretty dry and difficult issues. How do you approach such a complex subject?
ANN TELNAES: You know, I do find it difficult. Anything to do with the budget or tax cuts, because there’s so much information you have to take all the information and put it into one little cartoon. You know, it’s not like you have a column, and you can write words and words and words and describe what’s going on or how you feel about it. But the whole thing about the tax issue now, you know, the three different plans from the House, the Senate, and President Clinton, at least what I got out of it, they’re pretty similar. So I just thought, you know, where is all this talk that we had during the elections about tax reform? You know, everybody hates to fill out their taxes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tax simplification.
ANN TELNAES: Right. The simplification of actually having–
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So what did you do? Show us what you did.
ANN TELNAES: So what I did is I drew a maze, and I stuck Clinton in the middle of it, along with a Democrat and a Republican. And, of course, that’s Joe Public there. And I just had them proudly proclaim to us we’ve expanded it, like, it’s supposed to be wonderful; all we’re going to have to do is spend more time filling out our tax forms.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Steve Kelley, do you have to understand a subject to do a cartoon on it?
STEVE KELLEY: Well, I think–
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I know this is a very intimate question.
STEVE KELLEY: I get phone calls and letters from readers suggesting otherwise, but I like to think that I understand issues before I comment on them. I find the budget process fascinating because it’s where the two–the two grand philosophies collide is at the budget. You know, what people talk about is one thing; what gets funded is the actual business of government. So that’s right where the rubber hits the road, is the budget process.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Michael, what about you, do you think that these subjects are inherently so difficult it’s hard for cartooning, or no?
MICHAEL RAMIREZ: Well, no. I think they lend themselves to cartooning really because I think Steve is correct. These are the battles that are fought, and especially with the budget process, when you look at all that’s going on, the different proposals, they’re balancing the budget for the first time in twenty-eight years. I think that’s an amazing accomplishment. But, yet, with this budget plan that they’re putting forward right now, I think they’re going to be more–the deficit’s going to grow like $97 billion. If they left it alone, it would be $67 billion. And these are things that I think people are interested in, and ask any American around tax time if they’re concerned about their budget and their taxes and, believe me, they’re dedicated to find out in detail what’s going on. And it’s kind of complex. If we can fashion it into a good visual metaphor, it really represents what is going on out there, I think we’ve accomplished something.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you fashion it into a good visual metaphor? What do you do, Doug?
DOUG MARLETTE: Well, you know, it is our job to enliven these subjects. There’s a reason economics is called the dismal science. I mean, I frankly am bored by these topics. But I try to find something to keep me interested. And whenever we have these topics like the Mike Tyson–you know, we have–it seems like we have tabloid subjects, like the Cunanan thing, and then we have, you know, taxes and–
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cunanan–
DOUG MARLETTE: We have the weird extreme. So whenever I can use those–as I did with Mike Tyson–
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let’s see this cartoon, the one that you did about the–
DOUG MARLETTE: I have Clinton stand there with a tape over his ear looking at tax cuts. And a couple of aides are saying, the Republicans are getting desperate; Gingrich bit his ear. Trying to find an off-the-nose way to talk about what’s going on and something that is interesting. I mean, I naturally associated that because Gingrich and Tyson remind me of each other. You know, Gingrich has–they both speak in an adenoidal register. And they’re both, you know, fairly vicious, so naturally I was attracted to that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Naturally. Moving on to space. Michael, lots of news from space this summer with the Mars and Mir. Tell me what you did on space.
MICHAEL RAMIREZ: Space is the final frontier for editorial cartoonists. It’s just been wonderful. And there are stories about John Glenn at 65 wanting to go into space. A lot of editorial cartoonists believe that he’s actually already there. I did a cartoon on the Mir spaceship, though, and it kind of seemed to me, with all the things that they are doing, they are pretty much putting it back together with duct tape. And it kind of reminded me of that neighbor down the street with the old Chevy Impala just trying one last thing to get it to run, so my cartoon is basically–I’ve got the cosmonaut out in the back, and he’s fiddling around under the hood of the Impala, which is kind of a combination of Russian Volga and an Impala, trying to get it to turn over. And he’s going to try it one more time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Steve, what about–you had an interesting take on Mars.
STEVE KELLEY: I did Politicians on Mars get a new hot button issue, and I drew this little Martian up there at a podium–he’s a politician–saying, “It’s time to get serious about these illegal aliens,” and the Sojourner was coming off the mother ship. And I just thought it was interesting to consider what it would be like for us to be illegal aliens somewhere. And I thought that was amusing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You don’t find the space story inherently so interesting.
STEVE KELLEY: Well, you know, I found it fascinating that we landed on Mars. Now that we’ve done that, seen, you know, photographs of rocks with–I mean, think of–it has to be dull if they have to name the rocks after cartoon characters, doesn’t it, just to make it interesting.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Ann, what else has caught your imagination this summer?
ANN TELNAES: Well, like most people, I’ve been watching the Cunanan story, the Versace murder, and they actually just found him, unfortunately. He had committed suicide. But I found it very interesting that there was so much media coverage on this murder. Now–
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cunanan is the person who is suspected of being the murderer.
ANN TELNAES: That’s right. Andrew Cunanan.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Of Versace.
ANN TELNAES: Right. And I found it very interesting there was so much media coverage. You could not turn the TV on for more than a few minutes, and there would be a story about it, or there would be somebody talking about serial murders, or something that they’d have to dissect every single thing. Is he dressing as a woman? Where is he now? And I thought it was just very interesting, the fact that we had that, and then we have had Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader who has been wanted for over a year now for war crimes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let’s look at that cartoon.
ANN TELNAES: And what I did was I put them both in a “wanted” poster and for the Karadzic one, I put “Sort of Wanted,” because, you know, we’ve gone for so long. You know, supposedly he is–he’s wanted for genocide, and it doesn’t get the same media attention. And the public doesn’t seem to be as interested. No one seems to be as interested because it’s just not as sensational as the Cunanan thing. So I just thought it was interesting. It’s sometimes very effective when you put two images like that together because it kind of puts things in perspective a little bit.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Doug, what’s caught your interest this summer, besides what we’ve already talked about?
DOUG MARLETTE: The talk about apologizing for slavery has been, you know, one of those trial lead balloons that was floated by the Clinton administration. I just find the whole subject interesting.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let’s see that.
DOUG MARLETTE: I did this drawing of a bunch of Disneyesque animals, standing in the glade, and a little Thumper type character saying, “It’s an apology from President Clinton for natural selection.” You know, wondering what we’re going to–apologize for original sin the next time–I mean, you know, I worry about these kind of–this kind of public virtue being substituted for real penitence and actually doing something about problems, and the Clinton administration has a flare for this.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Michael, what’s caught your eye?
MICHAEL RAMIREZ: You know, when Mike Tyson fought Evander Holyfield and bit his ear off, I thought, you know, there’s a perfect lighter moment to comment on. So I drew Mike Tyson in the dog pound. And all the other dogs are cowering in the corner away from them, and it’s kind of a double entendre. They’re looking at ‘em as he’s grasping his money very protectively, and one dog turns to the other dog, and he says, he bites. And so I think, you know, in that fashion it shows contempt for Mike Tyson as a sports figure and the business as a whole.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Steve, what caught your eye?
STEVE KELLEY: Well, I drew a cartoon about Ken Starr announcing that he had concluded that Vincent Foster committed suicide, so I drew him as a cop at Foster’s grave site. The headstone says “Vince Foster Committed Suicide in 1993,” and Starr is saying, “notify all units, I believe there’s been a suicide.” It’s–you know–I think it was the fourth report that concluded that Foster had killed himself. And, you know, we had–we were anticipating something about Whitewater, the events of Whitewater from Ken Starr. I think the public patience is wearing thin; that he’s spending time and all this money; and he’s down there investigating a crime, rather than the events of the Whitewater real estate deal. It’s sort of like you send your kid in his room to do his homework, and he spends three hours playing video games.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Steve, Michael, Doug, and Ann, thanks so much for being with us and for giving us your unique take on this summer’s news.