The Duty of Newspapers Is To Comfort the Afflicted and To Afflict the Comfortable

Mr. Dooley? Finley Peter Dunne? William Randolph Hearst? Willmott Lewis? Frederick W. Burnham? Clare Boothe Luce? Kara V. Jackson? Lawrence Weschler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here are four phrases describing the duty of a newspaper or religious institution:

  • Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable
  • Comfort the tormented, torment the comfortable
  • Comforting the disturbed, disturbing the comfortable
  • Comfort the troubled, trouble the comfortable

Would you please explore which phrase was crafted first and determine the identity of the creator?

Quote Investigator: Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne wrote a popular syndicated column featuring the distinctive voice of Mr. Dooley. The fictional character’s pronouncements used Irish dialectal speech and spelling. The following appeared within a 1902 column titled “Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, conthrols th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.

Here is a rendering using standard spelling:

The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead and roasts them afterward.

Finley Peter Dunne was not solemnly describing the duties of a newspaper; instead, he was comically outlining the comprehensive power of newspapers of that era.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Duty of Newspapers Is To Comfort the Afflicted and To Afflict the Comfortable


  1. 1902 October 4, The Province, Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity by F. P. Dunne, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Newspapers_com)