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Muckrakers

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Muckrakers

Jake Crisafulli        

Ms. MacCord

Accelerated U.S History 2

18 October 2014

Muckrakers

        As they became to be known as muckrakers these reporters, authors, and critics sought to expose the evils and injustices of Gilded Age society, hoping to expose such social ills before they strangled democracy. Most muckrakers attacked corruption in businesses and politics but others went after exposing city and living conditions along with unchecked food sold to the public.  The muckrakers' influence in society reached its peak between 1904 and 1908, when the exposes on patent-medicine fraud, meat processing, insurance swindles, monopolies, political corruption, and racial violence led to criminal indictments and reform legislation. A muckraker usually focuses on the public interest. They worked to expose cases of government and corporate corruption, child labor, environmental abuse, and rising crime. Informers are often used to go on the inside of an issue being covered, and provide concrete information which will allow a journalist to go live with a story. Sometimes a muckraker would go investigate an issue their selves by getting inside a factory or building and first hand seeing the corruption and wrongdoings occur.

        Most of these problems that muckrakers exposed were formed during the gilded age. Political bosses and machines paid off big businesses to keep them in power and used processes like padding bills and submitting false receipts. Political machines worked through exchanges of favors that only a muckraker could find out. The living conditions of mainly the poor and immigrants were awful. Most of them lived in tenements which were small rooms housing several families. The city life at the time was poor, there was little sanitation and overpopulation due to factories which led to an increase in disease and pollution. Muckrakers like Jacob Riis would write books about how people lived during this time in order to get the conditions fixed and shown to government. In factories child labor was an issue because businesses used children to work on dangerous machines that needed small fingers to operate. Due to a lack of factory regulations unchecked safety hazards led to deaths of many like the Chicago fire which killed many trapped with nowhere to go. Muckrakers attempted to show these problems to the public and get laws set in place to fix them.

        The term muckraker derives from the word muckrake used by President Theodore Roosevelt in a speech in 1906, in which he agreed with many of the charges of the muckrakers but asserted that some of their methods were sensational and irresponsible. Some famous muckrakers of the progressive era were Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, David Graham Phillips, Jacob Riis, Ray Stannard Baker, Samuel Hopkins Adams, and Upton Sinclair. Lincoln Steffens exposed corporate monopolies and political corruption, working under Sam McClure’s magazine. He is most famous for his investigation on the political and municipal corruption in Minneapolis. He stated and believed that "power is what men seek and any group that gets it will abuse it." Ida Tarbell worked to expose big business and political scandal. She most famously exposed the actions of John D. Rockefeller and his oil company. In her book “The history of the oil company” she revealed the unethical decisions Rockefeller made. Another muckraker that exposed corruption was David Graham Phillips; he exposed campaign contributors being rewarded by certain members of the U. S. Senate in his book "The Treason of the Senate”. Ray Stannard Baker focused on the social and political position of African-Americans. His series of articles drew so much positive feedback that Baker turned them into a book, Following the Color Line. With its strong, episodic human interest appeal on such subjects of lynching, Jim Crow laws, and mulattos, the book is considered the most significant piece of journalism of Baker's career. Jacob Riis wrote about the horrible working conditions of the poor in his book How the other half lives. He used disturbing and very sad photos of children and mothers lining in small cramped rooms or on the streets.

        Two muckrakers who focused on the food and drug industry were Upton Sinclair and Samuel Hopkins Adams. Upton Sinclair arguably the most famous muckraker wrote a book titled The Jungle which showed the bad working conditions in meat factories. He exposed horrible, unclean, and disgusting conditions of meat factories. This leads to the passing of the meat inspection act which made food have to be inspected before sold and the pure food and drug act which regulated any sold food and medicines at pharmacies. He stated, "I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit the stomach.” He meant to show meat industries as awful to an emotional sense but instead showed them as disgusting, usually infested with rats that workers would just throw into the meat after they were killed by poison. Even though he hit the public in the stomach rather than the heart, Sinclair got his point across and changes were made. Samuel Hopkins Adams focused on the public health conditions regarding medicines sold in pharmacies. He exposed patent medicines in his series of articles for Collier’s Weekly. His works were a direct linkage to the passing of the pure food and drug act in 1906.

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