CNN’s Jake Tapper may be a revered, expressive newsman these days, but back as a teen in 1980s Merion, his high school classmates knew the future anchor as the kid who drew a dirty cartoon in Akiba Hebrew Academy’s senior yearbook.
Tapper, 47, was born in Staten Island but grew up in Queen Village and Merion, where he attended the independent Jewish day school now known as the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy and located in Bryn Mawr. During his time there, Tapper served as class president and editor of the school paper, and gained notoriety as a cartoonist and prankster by his senior year.
Back in his Akiba Hebrew Academy days, Tapper was more about the mischief than about studying. Years later, fellow students and teachers still remember him clearly: some because he was class president, others for his cartooning talent (in the school paper and on the gym wall), but most for the pranks. And it was the end-of-year prank that made him famous schoolwide. Tapper drew an elaborate cartoon for the school’s senior yearbook. But when folded over (as in Mad magazine cartoons), the page commemorating the school’s 40th anniversary revealed a penis.
Tapper reportedly was briefly suspended and assigned 75 hours of community service due to the stunt, but the school still allowed the future anchor to graduate. He also later apologized for the prank “years later, and for years,” Tapper’s 12th-grade history teacher, Sharon Levin, told the Forward.
WXPN host and producer Eric Schuman, however, told Philly.com the legend of Tapper’s phallic sketch lived on as recently as 2006, when he graduated from Akiba. Schuman says he was on the school’s yearbook staff during his senior year, and caught a glimpse of the drawing when a teacher brought in a copy of the yearbook to an afterschool meeting.
“The illustration was just as funny as you would expect a giant [expletive] in a private school yearbook to be,” Schuman says. In a tweet, he called the yearbook issue that contains the drawing "legendary."
That type of prankster behavior seems in line with Tapper’s own self-described “obnoxious” streak, as he described himself to the Inquirer in 2001. In 2014, he reiterated to Politico that he is “acerbic,” a description he told the site he’s “not going to dispute.”
“We were all obnoxious,” schoolmate Uri Monson told the Forward. “We were confident that we were the smartest people in the room.”
Tapper still seems to show some of that attitude today, most recently in a pain-faced interview with White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. During the interview, Tapper punctuated inaccurate statements with a staccato “False” to keep things on track.
“How about the president’s statements that are false, like the murder rate is the highest it’s been in half a century?” Tapper asked Conway. “False.”
That attitude, classmates say, can be traced all the way back to Tapper’s days in the Philly 'burbs.
“He was unafraid to challenge the authority structure,” classmate Hazan Harold Messinger told The Forward about Tapper. “He was unafraid, and when I watch him on TV and I smile, I see that quality has completely carried him to where he is now.”
Tapper currently serves as an anchor and chief Washington correspondent for CNN. His shows, The Lead and State of the Union, air weekdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. and noon, respectively. He does not draw phallic cartoons — on air, anyway.