texasmonthly.com: Was it harder than usual to come up with Bum Steers this year in light of September 11? Paul Burka: Yes. A national tragedy affects all of us. One of the first questions I had after September 11 was whether it was appropriate to go ahead with Bum Steers or not. In the weeks after September 11, I didn't feel much like laughing and couldn't imagine doing Bum Steers. But President Bush kept making the point that we needed to return to our normal lives, and Bum Steers is part of the normal life of Texas Monthly and of my work here.
texasmonthly.com: What was your favorite Bum Steer item? PB: It has to be the ad that Land Commissioner David Dewhurst ran in our own magazine about his position as head of the Task Force on Homeland Security. It showed a soldier in uniform standing in front of an American flag, except that the soldier and uniform are from the German Luftwaffe. That's what Bum Steers is made for.
texasmonthly.com: What's the reasoning behind letting readers vote for the Bum Steer of the Year? PB: This year there were so many gold-plated candidates that we didn't want to give the full Bum Steer treatment to just one. So we did four major write-ups on Ken Lay, the Cowboys, Anna Nicole Smith, and David Dewhurst and let the readers decide.
texasmonthly.com: What is your favorite part about working on Bum Steers? PB: Doing the headlines are the most fun. I particularly enjoy the silly pun headline that we do every year. This year the subject was nuts. "It was a matter of a pinion." You have to have "acorny" sense of humor to like them.
texasmonthly.com: What is the worst part about working on Bum Steers? PB: Finding out from the fact department that my favorite Bum Steer is going to have to be cut because the original news report was wrong.
texasmonthly.com: Who gets your vote for Bum Steer of the Year? Anna Nicole Smith? Ken Lay? the Dallas Cowboys? or David Dewhurst? Why? PB: Ken Lay, hands down. Dewhurst lost face. The Cowboys lost games. Anna Nicole lost hundreds of millions. But Lay, he lost billions—and face too.