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John Simkin

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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).

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."

After Roosevelt's speech these investigative journalists became known as muckrakers. 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."

In his book, The Era of the Muckrakers (1933), C. C. Regier argued that it is possible to tabulate the achievements of investigative journalism during this period: "The list of reforms accomplished between 1900 and 1915 is an impressive one. The convict and peonage systems were destroyed in some states; prison reforms were undertaken; a federal pure food act was passed in 1906; child labour laws were adopted by many states; a federal employers' liability act was passed in 1906, and a second one in 1908, which was amended in 1910; forest reserves were set aside; the Newlands Act of 1902 made reclamation of millions of acres of land possible; a policy of the conservation of natural resources was followed; eight-hour laws for women were passed in some states; race-track gambling was prohibited; twenty states passed mothers' pension acts between 1908 and 1913; twenty-five states had workmen's compensation laws in 1915; an income tax amendment was added to the Constitution; the Standard Oil and the Tobacco companies were dissolved; Niagara Falls was saved from the greed of corporations; Alaska was saved from the Guggenheims and other capitalists; and better insurance laws and packing-house laws were placed on the statute books."


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An interesting article. It seems, to me, that it could delve further into why the muckrakers are said to have caused this change, which is the readers and all statistics indicate that one reader distributes the info to some number of others, I've read of about ten. I think perhaps a look at the Wobblies is warranted as well as the establishment of the FBI.

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