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Muckrakers in US Politics and Journalism

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Published: Thu, 21 Sep 2017

Janet Hopkins

By definition Muckrakers was the name given to US journalists and other writers who exposed corruption in politics and business in the early 20th century. The term was first used by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Typically these journalists “Muckrakers” attacked established institutions, businesses, and leaders. In modern day it would be called investigative journalism. It is said that muckrakers and their intrepid reporting style had opened the eyes of many readers to the unknown harsh side of industrial capitalism. (Perry, 2004)

Muckrakers were to some named heroes. (It may be a cliché, but it was all too true for journalists at the turn of the century. The print revolution enabled publications to increase their subscriptions dramatically. What appeared in print was now more powerful than ever. Writing to Congress in hopes of correcting abuses was slow and often produced zero results. Publishing a series of articles had a much more immediate impact. Collectively called MUCKRAKERS, a brave cadre of reporters exposed injustices so grave they made the blood of the average American run cold.) (unknown, 2008-2016)

Muckrakers effected business and politics in ways no one could have imagined. They wrote stories and investigated to blow the top off what some would call scandals and secrets. They called out people and businesses for fraud and corruption. (The first to strike was Lincoln Steffens. In 1902, he published an article in MCCLURE’S magazine called “TWEED DAYS IN ST. LOUIS.” Steffens exposed how city officials worked in league with big business to maintain power while corrupting the public treasury. ) (unknown, 2008-2016) After the publication from Lincoln Steffens more and more journalists published articles and even a book to follow. Soon public outcry demanded reform of city government and gave strength to the progressive ideas of a city commission or city manager system. (unknown, 2008-2016)

There is one Muckraker that stands out from the others due to the stir he made with his publication “THE JUNGLE”. Upton Sinclair, an avowed socialist who hoped to illustrate the horrible effects of capitalism on the workers in the Chicago meatpacking industry. (unknown, 2008-2016) (The book detailed workers sacrificing their fingers and nails by working with acid, losing limbs, catching diseases, and toiling long hours in cold, cramped conditions. He hoped the public outcry would be so fierce that reforms would soon follow.) (unknown, 2008-2016) (Sinclair also uncovered the contents of the products being sold to the general public. Spoiled meat was covered with chemicals to hide the smell. Skin, hair, stomach, ears, and nose were ground up and packaged as head cheese. Rats climbed over warehouse meat, leaving piles of excrement behind. Sinclair said that he aimed for America’s heart and instead hit its stomach. Even President Roosevelt, who coined the derisive term “muckraker,” was propelled to act. Within months, Congress passed the PURE FOOD AND DRUG ACT and the MEAT INSPECTION ACT to curb these sickening abuses.) (unknown, 2008-2016) As you can imagine this affected businesses, politics, and citizens in a negative way.

By the time the muckrakers were through, no one could doubt the reality of corruption between business and government was a historical fact. Not a single person could doubt the terrible consequences of this system for human lives in a time of untrammeled corporate greed. (Oppenheimer, 2017) The Muckrakers goal was to uncover such things as bribery, political corruption, fraud, and anything wrong with the government. Things the people of these cities should be aware of or know about that are kept secret by our “leader” or people in a seat of power.

Muckrakers targeted many turn-of-the-century injustices brought on by the large increase of immigrants, the rapid growth of the cities, unregulated big business and the influence of political machines, as well as many other social problems. (Click, 2003-2017) The muckrakers exposed corruption in business, including unfair trusts, insurance fraud and dangers of patent medicines, were exposed. Muckrakers also criticized abuses of power in politics and government. (Click, 2003-2017) In most cases, muckraking articles took on a very serious nature. Magazine editors would often go to great lengths to check the facts as they were reported in their publications. Some muckrakers even lived in the slums they wrote about or worked in the factories they investigated. The factual nature of the muckrakers’ articles leant credibility to the message the authors were sending to the American readers. (Click, 2003-2017)

Muckrakers are still around today you really just don’t here that term too much. In the progressive era muckrakers exposed so much and did what they could to inform the people of America. We still see that today on news channels, in papers, even on social media such as Facebook. Just this past election things were exposed like scandals, and fake votes or votes being changed. We see and hear it all around us. That is why these people weather called muckrakers or just investigative journalists are sometimes named heroes. People of America need to know the truth about stuff. We need to know the corrupt horrids of our society so we can be cautious. If it wasn’t for them we would all be blind to things around us.

References

Click, L. (2003-2017). The Muckrakers of the Progressive Era: Definition and Influence. Retrieved from study.com: http://study.com/academy/lesson/the-muckrakers-of-the-progressive-era-definition-and-influence.html

Oppenheimer, M. (2017). The Rise and Fall of the Muckrakers. Retrieved from New Politics: http://newpol.org/content/rise-and-fall-muckrakers

Perry, E. L. (2004). Exposes and excess: Muckraking in america, 1900/2000. Retrieved from proquest: https://search.proquest.com/docview/205353999?accountid=10435

unknown. (2008-2016). muckrakers. Retrieved from us history: http://www.ushistory.org/us/42b.asp


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