Steve Benson (cartoonist)
Stephen Reed Benson
Benson, grandson of former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former LDS Church president Ezra Taft Benson, attended Brigham Young University, from which he graduated cum laude, and became the cartoonist for the Arizona Republic in 1980. He moved to the Tacoma Morning News Tribune in 1990, but then returned to the Arizona Republic in 1991, where he remained until he was laid off on January 23, 2019 in a "national cost-cutting effort by Gannett, the paper's parent company."
Benson was awarded the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, was a Pulitzer finalist in 1984, 1989, 1992, and 1994, and has received a variety of other awards. He has served as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. His cartoons have been collected in a number of books.
In the late 1980s he was at first a supporter, then a prominent critic, of Evan Mecham, the first Mormon to be elected governor of Arizona. Benson's criticism stirred controversy among Arizona's Mormon population, leading some LDS Church members to seek the intervention of Benson's grandfather in the matter. In the midst of the scandal, Governor Mecham telephoned Benson and told him to stop drawing critical cartoons about him, or his eternal soul would be in jeopardy. Benson was later relieved of his position on a church council.
In 1993 Benson faced further controversy within the LDS Church, when he stated that his grandfather, then nearing his 94th birthday, was suffering from senility that was being concealed by church leadership. Later that year, Benson publicly left the church. He has since become a critic of religious belief, appearing at Freedom From Religion Foundation's annual conventions and stating in its paper Freethought Today, "If, as the true believers claim, the word 'gospel' means good news, then the good news for me is that there is no gospel, other than what I can define for myself, by observation and conscience. As a freethinking human being, I have come not to favor or fear religion, but to face and fight it as an impediment to civilized advancement."
In 1997, a Benson cartoon used the image of a firefighter carrying a dead child to comment on the death sentence that had just been imposed on Oklahoma City bombing defendant Timothy McVeigh. Benson forcefully defended his work against some readers' contentions that the cartoon was insensitive.
- Elizabeth A. Brennan, Elizabeth C. Clarage, Who's who of Pulitzer Prize winners (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999), ISBN 9781573561112, p.159. Excerpt available at Google Books.
- "Cartoonist leaves Arizona for Tacoma", Moscow-Pullman Daily News, October 5, 1989.
- Heinz Dietrich Fischer & Erika Fischer, The Pulitzer Prize Archive, vol 13: Editorial Cartoon Awards, 1922-1997 (Walter de Gruyter, 1999), ISBN 978-3-598-30183-4, pp. 277-280 & pp. liv-lxi. Excerpt available at Google Books.
- "Editorial Cartooning" at The Pulitzer Prizes official website (accessed December 9, 2010).
- "Steve Benson" at azcentral.com (accessed December 9, 2010)
- Lindsey Gruson, "A Family Gathering Shows Split Over Mecham Goes Deeper Than Politics", New York Times, March 19, 1988.
- Eduardo Pagan, "Razing Arizona: The Clash in the Church over Evan Mecham", Sunstone Magazine, March 1988, pp. 15-21.
- Pat Flannery, "Former Ariz. governor Mecham dies", USA Today, February 22, 2008.
- Peg McEntee, "Pres. Benson Knows About Flap", Associated Press in Deseret News, May 24, 1989.
- "Cartoonist Ousted From Mormon Post", Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1989 (pay site).
- "Mormon President's Health Raises Questions; Succession: Famed grandson says church hierarchy is presenting a misleading image of Ezra Taft Benson, who serves as the faith's prophet for life." Associated Press in Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1993.
- Jennifer Skordas, "Grandson Of President Asks To Be Removed From LDS Church Rolls", Salt Lake Tribune, October 11, 1993 (pay site).
- Steve Benson, "From Latter-Day Saint to Latter Day Ain't" (1999), Freethought Today, December 1999.
- "Oklahoma bombing cartoon causes protests; Artist defends anti-death penalty drawing", CNN.com, January 19, 1997.
- Benson, Steve (Fall 1997), "Good-bye to God", Nieman Reports, 51 (3): 29–35
- Carriell, Lisa (June 19, 1997), "Oklahoma bombing cartoon causes protests: Artist defends anti-death penalty drawing", CNN.com, CNN