Muckraking!: The Journalism That Changed America

In collecting the kind of reportage that all too rarely appears in this age of media triviality and corporate conglomeration, Muckraking! documents an alternative journalistic tradition, one marked by depth of vision, passion for change, and bravery. From the Stamp Act to the abolition movement to the Vietnam war, from the fight against patent medicines to the elimination of labor spies, from the integration of baseball to the safety of government atomic workers, and from putting people in jail to getting them out, this book illustrates the great journalism that has made America a better country.

With more than 125 entries that range across three centuries, Muckraking! brings together the greatest moments of American journalism. Supplying historical context and critical commentary, the book also includes a selection of influential photographs and illustrations. By turns compelling and shocking, Muckraking! is an anthology for anyone who feels passionate about the heights that journalism can climb or its ability to illuminate the darkest depths.


  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (June 1, 2002)

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Like the little girl with the curl….
The original meaning of the word “muck” is “excrement”; the more general term “dirt” is a 14th century development. Given this etymological context, the contemporary meaning of the term “muckraker” is obvious. What we have here in this volume, edited by the Serrins, is a detailed and enlightening examination of “the journalism that changed America.” since the mid-eighteenth century. Certainly there has been no shortage of material to attract the interest and reward the efforts of journalists such as Robert S. Abbott, Ray Stannard Baker, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, Nellie Bly, Frederick Douglass, David Halberstam, Seymour Hersh, Arthur Jones, Edward R. Murrow, Tom Paine, Drew Pearson, Lincoln Steffens, Randy Stilts, and Ida M. Tarbell. For many readers such as I, at least a few of these names are unfamiliar as are several of the publications represented (e.g. Chicago Defender, Grand Forks Herald, Jewish Frontier, and McClure’s) in which many social and political reforms were eloquently advocated.
The Serrins skillfully organize more than 100 works of varying length within 13 sections, each of which has a general subject (e.g. sports, poverty, war, politics). No doubt many of the journalists represented in this volume had little (if any) idea of what would eventually be uncovered when they began their “raking.” Of special interest to me are Douglass’ appeal for support to abolish slavery (“Escape to Freedom,” 1834), Steinbeck’s examination of migratory workers (“Harvest Gypsies,” 1936), Nader’s indictment of the automobile industry (“Unsafe at Any Speed,” 1965), and Hersh’s expose of atrocities committed by American troops in Viet Nam (“The My Lai Massacre,” 1969). Actually, I found all of the authors well-worth reading (or re-reading) and am grateful for the opportunity to share the thoughts and feelings of several previously unfamiliar to me.
The Serrins have assembled material which suggests how principled as well as passionate investigative journalism can help to achieve at least some reforms within a society which continues to be a “work in progress.” Today, journalists continue to investigate allegations concerning corporate fraud (e.g. Enron, Arkadelphia, Global Crossing, and WorldCom), pedophilia (e.g. American priests within the Roman Catholic church), insider trading (e.g. Martha Stewart), and self-serving investment counsel (e.g. Merrill Lynch). It remains to be determined to what extent (if any) any of these current investigations result in any legal or social reform. Meanwhile, it is imperative that those now under investigation, unless confirming the allegations against them, be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Too often, in my opinion, the reverse has been true and the news media must share at least some of the blame for damage done. Investigative journalists should not be exempt from the same rigorous and relentless scrutiny to which they subject others. Question: Who will do that?

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