Pulitzer-Winner Fiore Puts Modern Mark on Political Cartooning

JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight: a Pulitzer Prize for pointed political satire that's drawn online.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels has the story, produced in conjunction with KQED San Francisco's art program "Spark."

ACTOR: From New York to San Francisco comes word across the wires of a — a — a Pulitzer on the Mark? What's the story, ink-stained Fiore?

SPENCER MICHELS: The story is that 40-year-old Mark Fiore is the first Internet animator to win a Pulitzer Prize for political cartooning. His work appears only online, on his own Web site, plus that of The San Francisco Chronicle, National Public Radio and other outlets.

ACTOR: Now is not the time for party-crashers.

Fiore's range is broad, his perspective left-of-center.

ACTOR: We tackle war, warming, health care, torture, spying, and the impact of the great economic implosion.

SPENCER MICHELS: His cartoons were among the first to go online, but, today, there's a growing body of animated Internet satire, with their roots in print.

MARK FIORE, animated cartoonist: First year in high school, I drew a little cartoon in class, and it was politically oriented. And the teacher looked at it, and he said, oh, yes, that's a political cartoon. You know, people — there's jobs like that.

SPENCER MICHELS: Twenty-five years later, his Pulitzer is the first for an animated cartoon, and signals a new acceptance of online material.

MARK FIORE: I like to think that I won not because it's new and different, and uses the media in a different way, but I think I — I think I won because it has a message and it says something, and it really packs a punch.

SPENCER MICHELS: Fiore diligently reads and watches the news for something that gets him angry.

MARK FIORE: It starts by getting worked up about an issue and then researching it more, drilling down, and then trying to simplify that into a message.

SPENCER MICHELS: At first, Fiore says, that anger really showed in his cartoons.

MARK FIORE: There was a lot of you know, ham-fisted, heavy-handed cartooning. And, after a while, it gets really old and — and boring. I still get angry, but that's internally.

And the cartoons may get that anger out more through — much more — through humor and through a little more of a finessing. You know, you can — you open a place in people's minds when you start the little humor engine going. And you can get in there with a little more — with a little more opinion and a little pointed satire if — if it's funny.

ACTOR: You socialist organ harvesters pushed through the health care bill.

ACTOR: Oh, Mr. Dan, that's wonderful — 32 million uninsured people will now have health coverage. What did you say about organ harvesting?

ACTOR: Your Obamacare tyranny has begun. I'm talking about freedom- killing, death-panel-loving totalitarianism.

ACTOR: You mean the part of the bill that makes it so you can't cancel someone's insurance if they get sick?

MARK FIORE: Health care reform was kind a of boring cartoon topic, you know, because, really, when you think of health care reform, it only got exciting because of all the battling and the fighting and the Tea Party and — you know, and the back-and-forth between the conservatives and the liberals.

SPENCER MICHELS: Fiore makes no bones about being liberal.

MARK FIORE: I really have gone pretty — pretty heavy after the Tea Party crew, mainly because there's a lot of people that are in the Tea Party movement that are just saying insanely extreme things that aren't true.

ACTOR: You can be fluent in conversational tea bag in just a few short minutes. Use tea bag's stronger, more descriptive words.

ACTOR: Nazi, Nazi, Nazi.

ACTOR: Perfect.

ACTOR: I don't want Obamunist disembowlatrons to come between me and my doctor.

SPENCER MICHELS: But he finds plenty to satirize in the Democratic White House.

MARK FIORE: I have criticized Obama for his stance on domestic spying and for continuing some of the same things the Bush administration was doing.

ACTOR: I have decided to implement the least worst plan of terribleness. I have the difficult duty of ordering 30,000 additional young service men and women to war. We will de-escalate by escalating, exit by entering. I will make good with bad.

America does not shrink in the face of — President Karzai's brother.

Please, please, do not sell drugs on stage.

SPENCER MICHELS: Fiore grew up the San Francisco Bay area, got a degree in political science from Colorado College, and then a job doing print cartoons at The San Jose Mercury News.

Ten years ago, he began freelancing his animated political cartoons, which don't sit well with everyone. He gets plenty of criticism, and puts a lot of it on his Web site.

WOMAN: Are we supposed to take you seriously, Mark Fiore?

WOMAN: I want to say to you, you're an idiot.

WOMAN: You, sir, remind me of something one vomits up after they have had a bad meal.

MARK FIORE: Well, there's a big push these days to represent both sides. And it's very hard for — for anybody in journalism to represent both sides, when one side is not based in fact or reality, let alone hard for a cartoonist to represent that, because I don't think a political cartoonist, particularly, should always represent both sides.

SPENCER MICHELS: Fiore wanted to put his cartoons into an application for the iPhone, but, last December, Apple turned him down. And he later read that the company doesn't allow ridicule of public figures.

MARK FIORE: And, lo and behold, I win the Pulitzer, this article comes out, and, that same day, I get a call from Apple saying, hey, maybe you should resubmit that app.

MARK FIORE: So, I'm in the process of resubmitting. And I hope they basically just take that part out of the contract, and realize that satire and-, you know, political discourse is important and should be — should be accepted.

SPENCER MICHELS: This month, after he received his Pulitzer, Apple relented.

Despite his prize, Fiore still has deadlines to meet — the target this time, Goldman Sachs and the fund it allegedly set up to lose money.

ACTOR: But why fix what's broken, when you can make it worse and profit handsomely?

MARK FIORE: Goldman Sachs has been, you know, just an insane cartoonist's dream over this last year.

MARK FIORE: So, you know, from God's work to the devils' work, you never know. So, it's just perfect, perfect cartoon material.

SPENCER MICHELS: The prestige that comes with the Pulitzer has not only boosted the number of hits Mark Fiore's work gets, but he's convinced it will encourage the entire field of Internet political cartooning.