Too Harsh For Comfort p.9

By: Stacy Jones BRIGHAM YOUNG University's student newspaper has thrown Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Steve Benson off its pages.
"It's gotten to the point where a number of Benson's cartoons weren't the kind of thing our audience would approve of," said John Gholdston, faculty adviser for the Daily Universe.
Benson, he said, is "portraying his concepts in a harsher light than our audience is comfortable with."
"That claim is a smoke screen behind the real reason," charged Benson, who works at the Arizona Republic. The BYU alumni and former Mormon Church member believes the Universe dropped his cartoons because he left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1993 and has spoken publicly against church leaders.
According to Benson, Gholdston thinks the Universe "should not be subsidizing an apostate."
One example of a Benson strip that was too dicey to put in the Universe showed an Army drill sergeant demonstrating a push-up while a female recruit lies on her back, underneath the sergeant. The editorial's caption read: I will now demonstrate the push-up. . . .
Regarding the spiked cartoons, Gholdston said Benson's stance on various issues wasn't the problem, but the manner in which the BYU alumni said it. "It's not that we didn't agree with what he was saying."
Furthermore, said Gholdston, the cartoonist's attacks on the church did not play a role in the paper's choice. In fact, he said, after Benson left the church, his work was still used by the Universe "because he did great cartoons."
"If it had been a religiously oriented thing, we would have done it years before," said Gholdston.
The cartoon yank didn't arouse too much protest in the paper's newsroom, said Universe editor Craig Craze, who felt Benson's work had become "dark and gloomy."
"I didn't have strong feelings either way," he said.
Actually, staff editors were more concerned with filling the hole regularly created when Benson's cartoons were rejected and "paying for editorials we couldn't run," Craze said.
Although Craze admitted he thought the drill sergeant cartoon was funny, he was certain many of the paper's readers wouldn't have the same reaction.
"I guarantee there are those in our audience that would be very offended by it," he said, acknowledging that there are "certain sacred cows" at BYU, which is owned by the Mormon Church.
Far from censorship, faculty and Universe staff say the decision follows one of the basic tenets of journalism: knowing your readership.
"If we allowed some of these things to get into print, it would distress church leaders and our audience," explained Gholdston, former religion editor at the Orlando Sentinel. Our decision is "rooted in that very scenario."
Talk of eliminating the Benson cartoons actually began last summer among the paper's management team, and it was eventually decided to discontinue it. However, the group didn't follow through on its decision. "We let the ball drop," said Gholdston.
A November letter to the editor, from a student outraged at the paper's use of Benson's work, got the management team back on track.
The discontinuance of Benson's cartoons marked the end of a professional relationship that spanned nearly 15 years. The Universe picked up Benson's editorials soon after he went into syndication in 1981.
While convinced his "firing" by the Universe was personal, Benson didn't deny that his work may offend, especially at a conservative institution like BYU. Interestingly, Benson's boss, Louis A. Weil III, publisher of the Arizona Republic, squashed his drill sergeant cartoon, calling it "too graphic."
Still, Benson considers the paper's move a badge of honor.
"Having my cartoons killed by the Daily Universe is equivalent to being on Nixon's hit list," he said, explaining that most editorial cartoonists evoke negative responses.
"We are disagreeable . . . insensitive. . . . We skirt the line of taste," he said. "Sure, people are offended, but that's part of the territory. If I didn't offend people, I'd think I was a failure."
?("We are disagreeable . . . insensitive. . . . We skirt the line of taste. Sure, people are offended, but that's part of the territory. If I didn't offend
people, I'd think I was afailure.") [Caption]
?(? Steve Benson) [Photo]
?(One example of a Benson stip that was too dicey to put
January 25, 1997 n Editor & Publisher #


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