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Stories that Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century

Stories that Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century

Carl Jensen in his work Stories that Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century demonstrates the power and importance of a journalists’ pen. In particular, the improvement of the socio-economic and political life in the 21st century is considered to be facilitated by the work of journalists. The group of people was called muckrakers and was misappropriated by the US President Roosevelt for the investigations and disclosing of the facts of corruption. The main thesis of Jensen’s work is that a pen is more powerful than a sword. As a result, journalists have become responsible for improving the situation in the country and building democracy.

Investigative journalism indeed contributes to addressing the number of issues. Instead of dealing with the private lives of famous people, the investigative journalists address more serious problems. In particular, they enclose the facts of corruption. Investigative journalists increase the awareness of the public in a political sphere, reveal the issues of the national interest, and establish the fairness within a society. The main aim of the investigative journalism is to address the occurrence of the corruption cases, exploitation, abuse of power, and other acts representing a threat to the society. It also protects the community from illegal and questionable activities taken by the government and reveals illegal actions of business corporations. As a result, investigative journalists are often criticized by governments. However, journalism has become an integral part of the development of democracy.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, America was known for its prosperity and accessional power of the elite. The US government represented little or no interference into the affairs of businessmen. The society became disintegrated by the number of issues, such as increasing poverty, unsafe food, inadequate health and education systems, fraud, and exploitation of children labor. The responsibility for highlighting the existed problems has become a task of journalists.

In order to understand the main ideas of the book, it is necessary to examine a background of an author and factors, which contributed to the creation of the work. In particular, Carl Jensen is a professor of sociology and communications at the University of Sonoma, in California. He is also known for the works that analyze and demonstrate the importance of freedom of information in the United States, such as Censored – the News that Didn’t Make the News and Why (from 1976 to 1996), and 20 Years of Censored News. In addition, Jensen has established the Project Censored. The Project has become an internationally recognized media research platform that advocates and protects the rights as well as freedoms of the US citizens. At the same time, the Project has represented a different approach to the journalists’ work. The main task of the organization is to achieve the freedom of information in the United States and, thus, provide an alternative view on existing issues. In particular, Jensen underlines the importance of disclosing the facts of fraud, corruption, and social injustice within the representatives of the government. It proves that Jensen has an enormous journalism experience. Thus, the author’s biography and experience in the sphere of journalism is relevant to understanding the purpose of the work, in general.

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The main theme of the book addresses the role of journalism in a society. In particular, Jensen proves that the work of independent journalists has contributed to the expansion of rights and freedoms, as well as increased the living standards within the American community. The example of works of 21 investigative journalists demonstrates how the power of word can change a country. Another theme of the book discusses the importance of keeping the public being informed. Jensen also states that in the 21st century the role of journalism was lost. In particular, the American society considers journalists to be greedy people who soak the public for a good story. The work of Jensen provides an overview of ethics and morality of journalism and underlines its importance in building the democracy.

Besides this, Jensen analyzes the changes in the American society that have made major improvements in social-economic and political spheres. The experience of several writers demonstrates their contribution to the shifts in the United States. Among the pioneers of muckrakers, there was Ida Mae Tarbell. The activism of this journalist has led to the dissolution of monopoly in the oil industry of the country. Ida began writing stories about Napoleon Bonaparte and Abraham Lincoln. However, he soon took more serious issues, such as the disclosure of monopolistic activities of the Standard Oil. As a result, Ida Tarbell has succeeded completing a research on the organization, which included essential documents and was considered to be “the most important business book ever written”. The Standard Oil has made an effort to discredit the work of Ida. However, the journalist has succeeded in ending the monopoly of the company in the oil sphere. In particular, the US Congress has passed the Hepburn Act and the establishment of the Bureau of Corporations that controlled the activities of the petroleum industry.

Another journalist analyzed in Stories that Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century is George Seldes. He has become the most censored journalist in the United States of America. After working in the newspapers, Seles established his own periodical In Fact. Seldes has disclosed the existence of unions of American businessmen, such as the National Association of Manufacturers. It has been created to protect the interests of the particular groups. The journalist has also criticized the existence of the Nazism approaches within the US society. Except analyzing f political and economic issues, the journalist began the company against the tobacco. In particular, he wrote about the negative effects of smoking, underling the following facts. The bad habit can significantly decrease the life expectancy. The significance of Seldes’ works is represented by the fact that the theme of danger of cigarettes was ignored by the main US newspapers. It was determined by the fact that the tobacco companies had been the biggest advertisers in the United States. At the same time, smoking became a legal poison for the American population. In addition, Seldes has contributed to the development of access journalism. For example, journalists did not rely on rumors, but all the time conducted their independent investigations.

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Jensen has also described the activities of a civil rights’ activist Jessica Mitford. The journalist has contributed to the movement for the civil rights in the United States. As a result, Jessica Mitford has participated in the riots and has been attacked by the Ku Klux Klan. Except pursuing a fight for freedom, Jessica Mitford has investigated the issues representing an outmost importance for the American society. In particular, the journalist has criticized the funereal industry of the country. In her works, she has disclosed business strategies of funereal companies in taking an advantage of the death. The journalist has also criticized the prison system of the United States. Thus, apart from discussing the main problems of the US society, Jessica Mitford has contributed the development of investigative journalism.
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At the same time, Jensen underlines that the amount of journalists’ disclosing has significantly reduced during the 20th century. In particular, according to the author’s estimations, at the beginning of this century, four out of twenty stories have changed America. During the next four decades, there were three impressive narratives. Between the 1960s and 1970s, activism of journalists had increased. There were 13 stories that influenced a change of American lives. However, at the end of the 20th century, the activity of journalists decreased. Among the reasons for decreasing of the popularity of investigative journalism, there is the development of corporate group activity, pressure made on muckrakers, increasing the cases of litigation against media, and growing censorship. Thus, Jensen also determines the problems that journalists usually face while working.

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The United States of America has succeeded in achieving prosperity and security. However, the country still has a number of problems; and the public is not aware about them. Thus, there is a necessity in increasing the number of investigative and skeptical journalists that will provide real facts. Free and open press can facilitate the changes within a society. As a result, the necessity to develop independent journalist activities did not disappear in the 21st century. The importance of disclosing some urgent issues is proven on the examples of journalists. Indeed, the book provides an overview of the works of people, who have influenced the establishment of justice within the American community. Journalists contribute to an increase in the knowledge about the particular society. They also disclose illegal activities of people in power and prevent the appearance of corruption, fraud, and breaking the laws. At the same time, the investigative journalists reveal a number of social problems, such as an excessive usage of chemicals or negative effects of smoking. Thus, the works represented in Stories that Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century increase the general awareness of the public in other spheres.