Muckraker

From Academic Kids

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McCluresCoverJan1901.jpg
McClure's Magazine (cover, Jan, 1901) published many early muckraker articles.

A muckraker is a journalist, author or filmmaker who investigates and exposes societal issues such as political corruption, corporate crime, child labor, conditions in slums and prisons, unsanitary conditions in food processing plants, fraudulent claims by manufacturers of patent medicines and similar topics.

The term muckraker is most usually associated with a group of American investigative reporters, novelists and critics from the late 1800s to early 1900s, but also applies to contemporary persons who follow in the tradition of those from that period.

Although the term muckraking might appear to have negative connotations, muckrakers have most often sought to serve the public interest by uncovering crime, corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in both the public and private sectors. In the early 1900s, muckrakers shed light on such issues by writing books and articles for popular magazines such as Cosmopolitan, The Independent, and McClure's.

An example of a contemporary muckraker work is Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed (1965) and one of the more well known from the early period is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, (1906) which, respectively, led to reforms in automotive manufacturing and meat packing in the United States. Some of the most famous of the early muckrakers are Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Ray Stannard Baker.

The rise of muckraking in the late 19th and early 20th centuries corresponded with the advent of Progressivism yet, while temporally correlated, the two are not intrinsically linked.

Contents

History of term muckraker

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt coined term 'muckraker' in 1906
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U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt coined term 'muckraker' in 1906

President Theodore Roosevelt is attributed as the source of the term 'muckraker.' During a speech in 1906 he likened the muckrakers to the Man with the Muckrake, a character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678).

While Roosevelt apparently disliked what he saw as a certain lack of optimism of muckraking's practitioners:

...the Man with the Muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck-rake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.

His speech nevertheless strongly advocated in favor of the muckrakers:

There are, in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, in business, or in social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful."

Early muckrakers

Contemporary muckrakers

External Links

  • Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/) - Classic muckraker texts and magazines including issues of McClure's magazine
  • The Center for Investigative Reporting (http://www.muckraker.org/index.php)- describes itself as "a nonprofit news organization dedicated to exposing injustice and abuse of power through the tools of journalism."
  • The Center for Public Integrity (http://www.publicintegrity.org/default.aspx) - nonprofit, nonpartisan, tax-exempt organization that conducts investigative research and reporting on public policy issues in the United States and around the world.

Roosevelt Speech Reference Note

Theodore Roosevelt Describes the Muckrakers, 1906

"In Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck-rake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.

In "Pilgrim's Progress" the Man with the Muckrake is set forth as the example of him whose vision is fixed on carnal instead of on spiritual things. Yet he also typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing. Now, it is very necessary that we should not flinch from seeing what is vile and debasing. There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck-rake; and there are times and places where this service is the most needed of all the services that can be performed. But the man who never does anything else, who never thinks or speaks or writes, save of his feats with the muck-rake, speedily becomes, not a help to society, not an incitement to good, but one of the most potent forces for evil.

There are, in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, in business, or in social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.

  • Source: The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt, Condensed from the Original Edition, Supplemented by Letters, Speeches, and Other Writings, Wayne Andrews editor (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913, rep. 1958) pages 246-247...

See also

de:Muckraker

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