Thursday, August 18, 2011

And Thus Was Born Modern "Journalism"

Speaking of muck raking.

By 1906 the combined sales of the ten magazines that concentrated on investigative journalism reached a total circulation of 3,000,0000. Writers and publishers associated with this investigative journalism movement between 1890 and 1914 included Henry Demarest Lloyd , Nellie Bly, Jacob A. Riis, Frank Norris, Ida Tarbell, Charles Edward Russell, Lincoln Steffens, David Graham Phillips, C. P. Connolly, Benjamin Hampton, Upton Sinclair, Rheta Childe Dorr, Thomas Lawson, Alfred Henry Lewis and Ray Stannard Baker.

President Theodore Roosevelt responded to investigative journalism by initiating legislation that would help tackle some of the problems illustrated by these journalist. This included persuading Congress to pass reforms such as the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1906) and the Meat Inspection Act (1906).

Those were the days, eh? Look at that lineup of journalist names. And imagine a president addressing the issues they uncovered.

Alas, it was not to be long-lived.

Roosevelt was seen to be on the side of these investigative journalists until David Graham Phillips began a series of articles in Cosmopolitan entitled The Treason in the Senate. This included an attack on some of Roosevelt's political allies and he responded with a speech where he compared the investigative journalist with the muckraker in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress: "the man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hands; who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth on the floor."

These investigative journalists objected to being described as muckrakers. They felt betrayed as they felt they had helped Theodore Roosevelt to get elected. Lincoln Steffens was furious with Roosevelt and the day after the speech told him: "Well, you have put an end to all these journalistic investigations that have made you."


David Graham Phillips believed that Roosevelt's speech marked the end of the movement: "The greatest single definite force against muckraking was President Roosevelt, who called these writers muckrakers. A tag like that running through the papers was an easy phrase of repeated attack upon what was in general a good journalistic movement."

Some of the magazines such as Everybody's, McClure's Magazine, and the American Magazine continued to publish investigations into political, legal and financial corruption. However, as John O'Hara Cosgrave, editor of Everybody's admitted, the demand for this type of journalism declined: "The subject was not exhausted but the public interest therein seemed to be at an end, and inevitably the editors turned to other sources of copy to fill their pages."

Look up. Look forward.

Speak the word "treason" and they all bow down. Today, it may be substituted with the word "terrorist."

....but hey, do what you will anyway.

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