The Original ‘Fake News’: Opper Takes Aim At Newspapers

Before Frederick Burr Opper became a pioneer of early newspaper comics (Happy Hooligan) he was a critic of the medium. In this cartoon from the March 7 1894 issue of the top humor magazine of the day, Puck, Opper targets the increasingly sensational mass circulation city newspapers. While not called out by name, the caricature is clearly Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), publisher of the New York World. Ironically, Opper would sign on with Pultizer’s rival William Randolph Hearst and his New York Journal. In fact, Opper’s cartooning skills would be one of the main weapons in the Pulitzer/Hearst newspaper wars of the 90s.

Before the rise of newspaper comics over the next decade, cartooning was the domain of American humor magazines like Puck, Judge and others. And Opper was one of Puck‘s most popular illustrators. In many ways the rapid expansion of daily newspapers rang the death knell for the humor weeklies, so it wasn’t surprising to see them come after the dailies as “vulgar,” profiteering and sensationalist. Indeed, the newspapers were even accused of peddling “fake news,” as you can see depicted in the upper left quadrant.