Wednesday, November 11, 2009


^^ Lincoln Steffens

A muckraker seeks to expose corruption of businesses or government to the public. The term originates from writers of the Progressive movement in America who wanted to expose corruption and scandals in government and business. Muckrakers often wrote about the wretchedness of urban life and poverty, and against the established institutions of society, such as big business. They were often accused of being socialists or communists.

People in the United States had long been displeased with the unsafe conditions, political corruption and social injustice of the industrial age, but it was not until the late 19th century that the proliferation of cheap newspapers and magazines galvanized widespread opposition. Writers directed their criticisms against the trusts (oil, beef and tobacco), prison conditions, exploitation of natural resources, the tax system, the insurance industry, pension practices and food processing, among others.

Theodore Roosevelt, however, became angry when he read a bitter indictment of the political corruption of the day. The president, clearly one of the most fervent reformers, believed that some of the writers were going too far, and cited the muckraker image in a speech criticizing the excesses of investigative journalism. The writers, many of whom had been Roosevelt's ardent supporters, harshly criticized him for apparently deserting their cause.

Historians agree that if it had not been for the revelations of the muckrakers the Progressive movement would not have received the popular support needed for effective reform.