What is it politicians fear most? Guns, mobs? No, it is ideas, said Steve Benson, a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist who spoke at the Region 9 Conference of the Society of Professional Journalists Saturday afternoon at the Marriott Hotel.

"Most people will not take the time, unfortunately, to read through a lengthy editorial . . . but they will spend five seconds with an editorial cartoon," Benson said. "A cartoonist's job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."A cartoonist should not only deliver a punch line, they have to deliver a viewpoint," he said. "Editorial cartoonists are columnists who draw their work." Benson showed cartoons on an overhead projector throughout his speech.

Also addressing the members of the Society of Professional Journalists was John Wicklein, a former New York Times journalist now working and writing in Columbus, Ohio. His presentation was concerned with freedom of the press and the public's right to know about the Persian Gulf war, not what the war is over.

"Freedom of the press and the public's right to know are in greater jeopardy today than they have been for years," said Wicklein. The reason, he said, is that during the war, President Bush and his military commanders exercised the most rigid controls over the press ever seen in this century.

He said the press let the government dictate what the important stories would be. It is up to the press to convey to the public the importance of the First Amendment and the idea that it is their freedom.

"Today, it's as if most people feel the First Amendment is some special privilege granted to the media to probe into areas where they shouldn't be sticking their noses. As long as that notion prevails, this basic freedom will be in jeopardy," Wicklein said.