Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 10/21/2005 [Archive]

Meet Mallard Fillmore's Father

Meet Mallard Fillmore's Father

Interviewed by Bill Steigerwald

Bruce Tinsley, 47, is the creator of the syndicated conservative comic strip "Mallard Fillmore," a daily and Sunday fixture in 450 newspapers around the country. Mallard Fillmore -- an "Amphibious-American" who works as a newsduck at a Washington, D.C., TV station -- does daily unto liberals what Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" does unto conservatives: mock and annoy them. I talked to Tinsley recently by telephone from his home near Indianapolis:

Q: What exactly is it that you do for a living?

A: I sit around in my underwear all day and draw my comic strip.

Q: For someone who doesn't know who Mallard Fillmore is, give us a brief bio.

A: Mallard really is about as close to me as you can get. He is a conservative reporter in a liberal newsroom, if liberal newsroom isn't redundant. The difference is that I spent a long time working in print newsrooms, working for newspapers. When Mallard was going into syndication, my editor said, "Well, well, wait a minute. This might not set well with a lot of newspaper editors. You're making fun of editors in particular and mainstream print journalism in general." He said, "What do print journalists hate more than anything -- more than conservatives? They hate broadcast journalists." And so that's when Mallard became the only conservative in the broadcast newsroom in Washington.

Q: The Boston Globe said your strip was "really hateful, nasty, ill-informed and/or mean-spirited." How do you plead?

A: Wow. They didn't throw in "homophobic," "Nazi" or "baby-killer"? That's pretty much it. They're right on target for the Boston audience. I get more hate mail from Boston and Los Angeles than I get from anywhere else combined. As far as responding directly to those charges, I think they all must have the same playbook, because so much of my hate mail sounds so much alike.

Q: What are your motives for doing Mallard?

A: What I want to accomplish with Mallard more than anything is to skewer the sacred cows and smash the icons of conventional wisdom. I want to give readers information -- in a funny way -- that they can use and that they are not getting from many other places, particularly in the mainstream media and at their colleges and universities and in their pop culture. For example, I just did a series about Warren Farrell's book, "Why Men Earn More." Back during the campaign, both Bush and Kerry were saying, "Well, yes, of course, it is unfortunate that women only make 82 cents on the dollar of what men earn" and they each had their own solutions. Most people just accept that as the way it is, but the data indicate that it is a lot more complicated than that. When men and women work the exact same jobs at the same number of hours, women in many cases actually make more than men. There are a whole lot of dangerous jobs, and lonely jobs, like commercial fishermen, that women don't want to take. So it's not discrimination.

Q: Who are you political heroes -- dead or alive?

A: Dead would have to be Edmund Burke and Al Capp, who used to draw "Li'l Abner" and who had an epiphany and changed from being a liberal to a conservative about two-thirds through his career. At the top of the living list has to be William F. Buckley. I've been reading him forever, it seems like.

Q: Who are your most-hated enemies -- humans and institutions?

A: I don't think I really have any most-hated human enemies. Maybe I should. Maybe I should just for interviews like this. As far as institutions go, I really hate the status today of the public education institution. I'm often accused of being anti-education, but on the contrary, it's because I care so much about education.

Q: Is there anyone you wish you could be tougher on than you are tough on?

A: Yes there is. I can think of one person. I would be a lot tougher on President Bush if there weren't already so many people out there doing it for me. I've never been a big fan of the Iraq war. I had my doubts from the beginning. But I have been very careful in my dealings with that issue because I feel like a), so many other people have it covered, and b), I don't want to be associated with all those people who are out there calling Bush a Nazi and a terrorist -- all those Hollywood types. I like the president. I wish he were more conservative, just as I wished his father was more conservative. I just criticized him (G.W.) a few days ago for being a big spender. I've been hitting Republicans pretty hard lately. When you look at the budget and everything, I can't tell the Republicans from the Democrats anymore in Congress.

Q: Is there any issue that is too tough or too politically incorrect for you to take on?

A: I don't think so. I haven't found it. I do a lot of stuff about racial issues. My critics often charge that this cartoon is racist or whatever. But to my mind what is racist is policies like affirmative action that treat one group of people different from another, or say that Asians don't count as minorities because they are too successful.

Q: What's the worst thing a political cartoonist can do?

A: To try to see what public opinion is like, and follow public opinion, instead of being completely honest about how he or she feels.

Q: How do you keep from becoming just a right-wing version of your nemesis, Garry Trudeau?

A: I don't think I do. I'll criticize conservatives and Republicans when I think they are wrong. I'm unapologetically conservative. I'm not a journalist. The difference between me and most reporters for The New York Times is that I admit I am coming from a biased point of view.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at © Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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