Chapter 6 of the book, “Mightier than the Sword”, explores various cases of investigative journalism that occurred during the latter half of the 19th century which brought to light the various excesses of corruption and disreputable practices that various politicians, corporations, government agencies and captains of industry engaged in during this particular time period (Streitmatter, 93 – 108). It showed how the practice of muckraking led to greater public insight into the “world behind the hidden curtain”, so to speak, of politics and business and proved how the American public was being taken advantage of by corrupt politicians, disreputable business practices and the laissez faire attitude of the government behind apparent actions and practices there were detrimental to both the democratized society that America stood for and the rights of its citizens (Streitmatter, 93 – 108).
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Through the work of various investigative journalists such as Lincoln Stiffens, Ida Tarbell and David Philips the American press was revitalized into a progressive instrument of change within the country resulting in journalists, magazines and newspapers examining every facet of businesses, government and society to find apparent abuses, problems and neglect that they believed the general public should be made aware of. It was based on this that the muckraker journalistic movement came about which not only brought about changes in governance but resulted in greater government controls and limitations on corporations which in the end created various government agencies and pieces of legislation which are used to this very day to protect American consumers. Through the work of muckrakers such as Lincoln Stiffens government corruption within cities and states was brought to public attention resulting in sweeping reforms in the way cities and various states were managed creating a period of reform which enabled better governing structures free from processes embroiled in corruption and graft (Glantz, 82).
As a direct result of her work, Ida Tarbell was able to bring to light the excesses and disreputable practices that Standard oil engaged in resulting in not only the break up of its monopoly over the American oil market but encouraged future muckrakers to take up their journalistic arms against corporations leading to a trend in investigative journalism that helped to expose corporate malpractices and their effects on the American economy (Glantz, 82). Lastly, based on the work of Upton Sinclair and David Philips improprieties in the U.S. Senate, the Pharmaceutical industry and the meat packing industry were made known to the general population resulting sweeping reforms that abolished the election of senators through state legislatures and enabled the creation of programs to test meat and pharmaceutical products to determine whether they are safe for public consumption (Glantz, 82). In the end the chapter showed how investigative journalism could act as force to make corrupt companies obey the law, establish new precedents in governance as a direct result of public opinion and helped to establish better public awareness regarding the activities that go on behind the closed doors of the government and various private companies (Streitmatter, 93 – 108).
Has Muckraking degenerated in the modern era as a direct result of the sudden boom in the public desire to know everything about the life of popular individuals?
Based on a personal examination of current popular practices in the world of journalism today it is becoming increasingly evident that muckraking is no longer focusing most of its efforts in discovering hard hitting facts that could institute change within society but rather a large percentage of journalists today are more concerned in investigating issues related to popular culture icons than they are in examining economic improprieties, political corruption and other forms of muckraker attitudes that were prevalent during the latter half of the 19th century. I believe this trend in investigative journalism is a direct result of the prevalence in public interest in pop culture and its various icons. In fact the scandals, break ups, hook ups and the lives of pop culture icons are so prevalent and popular in the news today that other issues such as global warming, political inconsistencies and abuses in businesses are increasingly taking the back seat as a direct result of this apparent trend in investigative journalism. This is not to say that there are no forms of investigative journalism as seen during the “golden age” of muckrakers but rather the fervor, zeal and sheer amount of investigative journalists that defined that era are strangely absent in the modern age. Efforts are increasingly concentrated on irrelevant topics that satisfy public curiosity on the lives of the stars but all in all they lack the breadth and depth of intellectual journalism that characterized the latter half of the 19th century.
Has there been recent changes in government, businesses and society which prevent muckraking?
Journalism today is increasingly becoming commercialized and commoditized with various publications becoming for-pure-profit companies rather than hard hitting and reform making organizations that were so prevalent when muckrakers such as Stiffens, Tarbell and Philips were around (Glass, 50). News companies are beholden to giant mother companies that literally have the ability to dictate the news resulting in not only watered down versions of true journalism but also result in a distinct lack of journalistic integrity by the company’s themselves (Glass, 50). In fact it must also be noted that the U.S. government has instituted new legislative measures to block investigative journalism in cases deemed “inappropriate” to be disclosed to the general public. This has actually resulted in increasing situations where there is a declining degree of oversight into the government’s actions which makes me wonder if such actions were intentional in order to prevent any form of muckraking from coming about.
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While the resulting actions of the Muckrakers did justify their methods would it be appropriate to consider the opinions of Roosevelt about the negative effects of muckraking justified today in light of the actions of “The News of the World” in their use of inappropriate methods to gain information?
The recent scandal and subsequent closure of the publication “The News of the World” brings to light the dark nature of investigative journalism and the negative impact of the culture of muckraking today. As explained by Roosevelt a century ago, the practice of muckraking is basically looking at the negative elements present within society; the scandalous, the horrifying, basically news that would sell and incite public opinion. While the actions of Stiffens, Tarbell and Phillips were justified in their time and even today are considered noteworthy accomplishments, muckraking has changed over the years to take on characteristics akin to invasions of privacy all for the sake of gaining information that would sell to the public. It is based on this that the words of Roosevelt said a century ago take on greater relevance today as the practice has apparently devolved into nothing more than a desire to sell rather than a desire to enact change within society.
It is often mentioned that muckraking brought about changes in government policies, businesses and created new method of good governance however should muckraking be considered a method of brining about public awareness which resulted in these changes or could muckraking have brought about such changes without public opinion on its side?
What should be understood is that muckraking was a form of inciting public opinion in order to enact change. It was able to bring about changes in government policies and the way businesses operated within the country as a direct result of public awareness of the issues investigated and public support behind proposed changes. If the muckrakers had investigated such issues yet there was not public support/outrage or even interest behind the issues investigated then it is unlikely that any reform/change would have been brought about. As such, muckraking should not be considered the primary instrument of change but rather a facilitator of public opinion which created sufficient impetus to enable such changes to be implemented.
Is it possible for a publication to maintain journalistic integrity as a muckraker when its income is dependent on the very company’s it is investigating?
As noted by various case studies examining the connection between journalistic integrity and advertising sponsorships it is often the case that the two cannot exist within the same framework and be expected to cooperate (Brown, 62 – 63). Companies will not support publications that look bad, it would not make sense for them to do so and as a direct result withdraw advertising sponsorships from publications or news agencies that portray them in an overly negative light. Since news agencies and publications are today more profit driven than they are in maintaining proper journalistic integrity this has resulted in news stories often being watered down or lacking sufficient follow ups in order to maintain “proper” partnerships with corporations that pay their bills.
Brown, Fred. “A good time to consider independance.” Quill 92.5 (2004): 62-63. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 10 July 2011.
Glass, Charles. “Death of our moral guardian: where has journalistic integrity gone?.” New Statesman 128.4439 (1999): 50. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Glantz, Shelley. “Muckrakers: How Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens Helped Expose Scandal, Inspire Reform, and Invent Investigative Journalism.”
Library Media Connection 26.7 (2008): 82. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Streitmatter, Roger. Mightier than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American History. 2nd. U.S.A: 2011. 93 – 108. Print.