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Muckraking, Media's Progressive Movement

Muckraking, Media's Progressive Movement

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Published by Rizqi Arifuddin

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Published by: Rizqi Arifuddin on Jun 17, 2010
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American History IIAmerican Studies Program, English Department, Letters and Fine Arts FacultySebelas Maret Univeristy, SurakartaMuhammad Rizqi A./C0306035
When we talk about Progressivism in Theodore Roosevelt¶s era (1901 ± 1908),we must always remember on the term muckraking. In the early of 20
century, UnitedStates was in a despair life after Civil War. More machines were used. Life wascontrolled by people having more capitals. (Horton, Rod W. & Edwards, Herbert W.1974: 253). The gap between the rich and the poor was so big. The nation was under theshadow of monopoly by big companies. Low class society should struggle so hard toearn their lives. In addition, corrupt government made matters worse. To this extent,muckraking emerged to uncover the covered reality. Muckraking is a kind of journalismemerging in Progressivism era exposing the real condition of living in U.S. It covered thehard lives of low class society, monopolies done by big companies, until coveringcorruption done by government. Their works were packaged in a naturalist literature suchas in short stories, novels, fictions, and even magazines (VanSpanckeren, Kathrin, 1994:53). The Muckrakers at that time were accused for only publishing sensational news or stories to get profits and thus, muckraking was considered unworthy by government.However, the muckrakers kept on doing they believed to be true to open people¶s eyes of the corrupt life they lived in. Therefore, muckraking was an important part in the historyof United States. In this paper, there are three reasons of the importance of muckraking.The reasons are related to the benefit of muckraking for government and society. For thegovernment, muckraking, as a media, exposed the real problems in society and hence,they could base their actions on it. As for society, muckraking shaped public opinion andfunctioned to watch over government.Muckraking as a product of naturalism exposed the real problem that even,government did not know. It was true that government under Theodore Roosevelt¶sleadership tried to make life better. But, government, in particular federal governmenthad no power to know all things happening in society. For example, Roosevelt moreextensively used Sherman Antitrust Act in his antitrust policy. But, who knew the practice in states? Monopolies still occurred. In this case, muckraking became the mediato inform the world of the reality that was happening. Muckraking based its action oninvestigative journalism, a legacy that is useful up to now. Upton Sinclair, one of thenotable muckrakers, said that muckrakers worked risking their security, energy, and time
2to make people awake of the corrupt truth surrounding them (Crow, Herman L. &Turnbull, William L., 1971: 209 ± 210). Their actions were based on genuine desire torevolutionize their sick country. They committed a thorough investigation on a certaincase and then they wrote facts they gathered. Their sensational publications becamenational hit and as expected, federal government responded to them. For example, MeatInspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act were passed in 1906 after the publication of Upton Sinclair¶s the Jungle in the same year. Hence, it was considered as the mostsuccessful muckraking writing. The Jungle exposed an unhealthy meatpacking inChicago, 1905. It was said that the workers should sacrifice their fingers and nails because of acid used in the factory. It also exposed about rats eating the would-be packaged meat. Workers poisoned breads as the bait to kill rats. The workers were alsonot bothered to remove the dead rats from the meat piles. Hence, many of the dead ratswere processed along with meats and together, meats and rats were processed to besausage as a daily food. (Cooke, Eben: http://www.slideshare.net/eben_cooke/muckrakers-presentation). Theodore Roosevelt read this novel, the Jungle. Then bothActs stated before were passed as the impact of the Jungle. This phenomenon indicatedthat muckraking could be very beneficial to government because it exposed the real problem that needed a quick response. Muckraking was then useful as one of considerations for government to react.For society, Muckraking benefited in the shaping public¶s opinion and hencemade the culture of public¶s critical thinking. In early 1900s, U.S. senate, was accusedcorruption. The chronicle news about Senate¶s corruption by David Graham Phillipswere published in the Cosmopolitan magazine in 1906 entitled ³Treason of the Senate´.Before the news was published, surely people would not notice the corruption done in thefederal government. They were busy to survive without realizing that their conditionswere worsened by the corrupt federal government in Senate, a chamber in Congress.Senate is built under the power of Constitution in 1789. It remained untouched for morethan 100 years. Until 1906, U.S. Senate member was elected by Government. Hence,corruption was likely to happen. After the publication of ³Treason of Senate´, publicsdemanded to change the membership system of U.S. Senate. Even so, direct change didnot happen until the passage of seventeenth amendment in 1911. However, if onlyPhilips had not revealed the story, public¶s demand for Senate reformation would havenot emerged. With the passage of the seventeenth amendment, members of Senate werethen chosen from direct votes. This example shows how muckraking shaped publicopinion. In doing so, David Graham Philips even spoke directly in front of working class
3 people saying ³it is not enough to work, it is also necessary to think´(http://www.jasonmorrison.net/content/1998/the-treason-of-the-senate-and-its-place-in- journalism-of-the-time/).Another function of muckraking toward society was as a tool to watch over government. There was no other way to watch over government at that time except frommuckraking. It could only happen because freedom of press is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Hence, muckraking could criticize not only companies, but also government.Early in 20
century, many major cities were controlled by a single major party, either Democrats or Republicans ruling city with physical intimidation, bribery, voting fraud,and ballot stuffing (Cooke, Eben: http://www.slideshare.net/ eben_cooke/muckrakers- presentation). This system was called Political Machine. These people were onlyinterested in power and they maintained it by appointing criminals in important position.To response this case, Lincoln Stuffens emerged with his writings The Shame of theCities (1904) and The Struggle for Self Government (1906) exposing corrupt politicalmachine in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. After his publication, many political machines were broken down by the demand from society. None of this betterment condition of U.S. government would have happened, if the muckraking hadnot emerged. Muckraking lays its legacy in the making of a society that has a criticalview toward their government. With muckraking, people were awakened from their ignorance. They were forced to think for the better life that could only be started from thereformation of governmental system. Nowadays, U.S. media is one of the most criticalmedia and most advance ones in the world. The power lays on the investigative journalism and also in the mindset of U.S. people to develop critical thinking.Muckraking as a product of journalism in the early 20
century plays a big role inshaping the modern-day America. From muckraking, a reformation of Senate that hadnot been altered for over 100 years since its foundation in 1789 happened. Thereformation brought U.S. government one-step closer to the ideal governmental form based on democracy. Muckraking also contributed in building the mindset of American people to think critically and hence, they could maximize the use of media as a tool towatch over government. Not only for society, Muckraking was also beneficial for government because it could be used to measure problems needed a quick action.Muckraking as media¶s progressive movement obviously played a big role in guardingthe democracy in America. Hence, it is not outrageous to say that media is the forth branch of U.S. government based on our studies of Muckraking¶s importance.

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