Bashing Bush

The Chronicle's film critic doubles as a pinko commie naysayer

The Web site www.buzzflash.com bills itself as the antithesis of the Drudge Report, and it lives up to its claim: The links to mainstream-media anti-GOP stories are summarized with blurbs like "The Bush Politburo 'Unlimited Powers' Executive Branch Gets More Fascist/Soviet Every Day. Boy George Is Our Eddie Haskell With a Smile." Or "A 'Widening' Enron Probe. When We See Ken Lay In Handcuffs, We'll Believe It."

So it's no surprise that they regularly feature editorial cartoons that show, for example, SEC chairman Harvey Pitt jumping into bed for a ménage à trois with Big Bidness executives, one of them a shapely topless female. Or another cartoon showing Pitt battling with his conscience as Ken Lay lures him into an orgy, the salacious sounds of which come pouring through a closed door.

What's slightly surprising is who the editorial cartoonist is: Eric Harrison, the movie critic for the Houston Chronicle.

Harrison, it turns out, has a lively second career as a decidedly lefty, few-holds-barred Herblock-in-the-making. He has his own Web site, www.synergisms.com, featuring an archive of his work. It's not exactly subtle stuff -- one shows a monkey-eared George W. Bush giggling stupidly at the funny pages while a secret report on Al Qaeda's plans sits unread on his desk.

Harrison comes by his cartooning honestly. As a Houston schoolkid, he often visited the office of Chronicle cartoonist Clyde Peterson, and he had a one-year fellowship at the University of Michigan to study cartooning. (The Web site, in fact, began as a class project.)

"I actually started out planning to be either a movie critic or a cartoonist," Harrison says. Both careers got put largely on hold as he spent 17 years as a straight-news reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times.

At the Times he made the jump to movies, and came back to Houston to become the paper's lead film critic two years ago. He says he may one day switch again, to full-time cartooning, so keeping active through outlets like Buzzflash is important.

"In four or five years, the editors at the Chronicle would laugh in my face if I turned to them and said I want to be the paper's editorial cartoonist, unless I had a track record," he says. (They probably won't laugh at Ken Lay orgy cartoons, though.)

"I see what I'm doing as a way of keeping in shape -- and, I hope, improving -- and establishing credibility should I decide to make a change at some point," he says.

Harrison's got some newfound paranoia since Chron reporter Steve Olafson was fired last month for running what his editors called a "gonzo" anonymous Web site (see "Banjo Blues," August 8).

But the critic notes that he's paid to express opinions, not be an objective reporter. And his occasional opinion pieces for the Chronicle reveal a penchant for strongly held views: "Show me a black man who isn't angry, and I'll show you a fool or a corpse," the very black Harrison once wrote.

"It's not a secret. Everybody knows I'm a freelance cartoonist," he says. "I'm not hiding behind a pseudonym."

When we talked to Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen, he knew nothing about either Harrison's sideline or the nature of Buzzflash. But it's true enough that Harrison hasn't tried to hide his other job -- the Chron's story introducing him to readers noted that he was "a talented editorial cartoonist."

Talented enough to be shown at the Chron? We'll see. Maybe they'll use the one featuring a flag-draped Bush standing in front of a photo of World Trade Center firefighters. Bush says "Even I'm starting to think we crossed the line," only to be told by an aide, "Can we discuss it after the next fund-raiser?"

Then again, maybe not.

Stand-Up Comedy

Viewers who tuned into Channel 2 for the 10 p.m. news July 30 were greeted with a blaring, flashing banner of "Breaking News"!!! (While there were no actual exclamation points, the code-red visuals more than made up for it.)

Wow -- news breaking right at 10 p.m.? How convenient. And how so like KPRC, which throws up that "Breaking News" graphic for everything that has happened within the last 24 hours.

At any rate, the breathless anchors speedily tossed to Krista Marino, their reporter on the scene of a "road rage" shooting incident.

The incident had happened over an hour before, she didn't tell us. But she didn't really have to.

"You can see this Ford Explorer over here," she told viewers, pointing to an SUV and a fire truck from her strategically placed spot in front of a cop car. At that point, however -- just as we were led to believe that the smoke from the gunshots was still curling through the air -- the Explorer calmly and slowly was driven away by a woman who looked like she was headed home.

They cut away to some video of close-ups of the vehicle, and then it was back to Marino. At which point the fire truck breezily packed up and left, with a friendly toot of the horn as it passed the reporter.

Something was breaking, but we're not sure it was news.

Lorena Bobbitt, Editor

A recent New York Times story on comedian Sarah Silverman offers valuable insight into the philosophy of Chronicle editing. The story ran in the August 4 edition of the Times and in the next day's Chronicle.

And, as far as we can tell, it proves:

1. Abortion jokes are fine in the Chronicle. ("I want to get an abortion," Silverman is quoted as saying, "but my boyfriend and I are having trouble conceiving.")

2. Child-molestation jokes? Go right ahead. ("As a teenager I was molested by a doctor, which for a Jewish girl is, you know, so bittersweet.")

3. But whatever you do, DO NOT dare to print the word "penis." Both stories end with Silverman faux-moaning that HBO aired Richard Pryor specials, but won't let her on. "And he's black!" she's quoted as saying. "I'm white and pretty. I don't scare men. I practically have a penis. I should be easy."

Well, she's quoted as saying that in the Times. In the Chron, it was "I don't scare men...I should be easy."

Thank you, Chron editors. If not for your steadfast vigilance, we surely would have come down with the vapors.

Catch It! (Please)

It's been impossible to avoid "Texans Fever" in the media the past few weeks. Wall-to-wall coverage of every ankle sprain, every pass David Carr completes at practice, every thought that occurs to owner Bob McNair, has been the norm.

Houston is just simply fanatically ablaze with obsessive love for everything Texans, we're told over and over again.

Somehow, all this jibes with the large print advertisements and the constant blurbs during preseason games telling us that plenty of good seats are still available for the home opener. Against Dallas, of all teams. We imagine there might even be seats left for the Jacksonville Jaguars game, in that case.

Somehow, these two seeming opposites -- obsessive Texans love and "plenty of good seats available" -- can coexist. We're sure we'll find out how someday, whenever McNair delivers his spin on it.

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