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This book is the first to examine muckraking as an enduring phenomenon from the early years of the twentieth century to the present. A six-part volume, it emphasizes journalistic muckraking, but also scrutinizes muckraking as it is practiced in other forms of mass communication and in fiction.
Initial and concluding chapters by the editors provide an overview of muckraking and its relationships with political, social, and economic forces, as well as its accomplishments and failures during the past seventy years.
Contributing author Louis Filler distinguishes between muckraking as exposure without fear or favor, on the one hand, and shabby and malicious rumor-mongering, on the other, and discusses the effect of these two points of view on middle America.
How the muckrakers dealt with two of the many societal problems to which they directed attention early in the century is investigated by Robert C. Bannister, Jr., who analyzes the pioneer work of the media in helping to span the color barrier in this country, and by David M. Chalmers, who considers the effect of muckraking in helping to eliminate inequities in law and justice.
In the section on literature, John G. Cawelti assays the use of muckraking as entertainment in best-selling novels merchandized as "blockbusters." Jay Martin appraises both the popularization and the influence of muckraking on American literature.
Carey McWilliams examines muckraking as a continuing journalistic tradition that is capable of aiding reform in our society.
Since President Theodore Roosevelt applied the term to a group of writers in 1906, muckraking has called forth strong, even visceral reactions. When muckrakers of the past discovered that the increasingly wide circulation of periodicals and newspapers provided the means of reaching a large, attentive audience, they aimed their words and images at the penetration of popular ignorance and fatalism in order to make suffering vivid and indignities real to uninvolved citizens. Never a static phenomenon, muckraking today shows signs of both continuity and change. The impulse is the same as that which produced a journalism of conscience in the first decade of this century. It may take new forms; it may address new audiences; it may displease people in high places who may seek to suppress it. The reports of its death, however, have been decidedly exaggerated.