Time Essay: Editorial Cartoons: Capturing the Essence

"Boss" Tweed, corrupt Tammany chief of the 1860s, raised little objection when muckraking reporters prowled city hall. What the papers wrote had no meaning, Tweed liked to boast; his constituency was illiterate. The only criticism that ever bothered or threatened him, the Boss confessed, was "them damn pictures."

Thomas Nast's editorial cartoons were worth fearing; the savage caricatures showed Tweed variously as a vulture, a bag of money and, when Nast had sufficiently aroused the civic conscience, a felon in prison stripes.

A century of history has brought little change. Corruption is still ubiquitous—but so, happily, is the editorial cartoon, grinning out from...

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