Society Magazine

Muckraking Vital to a Healthy News Media

Posted on the 26 February 2011 by ---
Muckraking Vital to a Healthy News MediaConsidered to be the one of the first of a line of muckrakers, Upton Sinclair exposed the squalor of the meatpacking industry in his 1906 book The Jungle.  It precipitated a wave of expository pieces that tore apart the iron cage 19th century magnates had constructed to shield their corporations from public outcry.  This newfound muckraking aroused people to action and became a strong force to effect change.  One notable example was Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (above).  The 1962 publishing of this book that documented the environmental effects of DDT culminated in the banning of the agricultural chemical ten years later.  Investigative journalism still exists today; the most notable example is the magazine Mother Jones, in which every issue is dedicated to such pursuits.  However, influential works like those of Sinclair and Carson are increasingly few and far between.  One explanation is the markedly different nature of today's news world.  Small, independent news is virtually extinct.  ABC, MSNBC, CNN, CBS, and FOX have an oligarchic command over televised news, gobbling up ratings and easily outdistancing nonprofit competitors such as PBS and CSPAN.  Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation alone owns The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, FOX News, The Daily (for iPad)  and hundreds of other newspapers, radio stations, and media outlets (MySpace and 40% of Harper-Collins, for instance).  For a complete register, see this list of assets.  Murdoch has not been shy about giving to overtly partisan causes and promoting his personal views through his empire, which is maintained with the aid of offshore tax havens (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/1999/02/99/e-cyclopedia/302366.stm).  Mogul Ted Turner gobbles up another monstrous chunk of the information pie, and even local papers are frequently owned by conglomerate agencies.  In short, there is a lot less variety, which means less room for bold journalism.  This lack of spine applies except when convenient.  Seizing on a readership hungry for scandals, the presses have taken to producing the news they report.  One premier example is the Shirley Sherrod incident, which has proven a huge embarrassment to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and has now transformed into a high-profile lawsuit.  Sadly, news aggregations have too much of a stake in manufacturing outrage.  For instance, MSNBC talks about FOX's alleged lack of accountability, while FOX takes to task poor word choice from the Obama Administration.  When society has thus developed into this landscape of finger-pointing and blame distribution, it by no means constitutes hard-hitting journalism, though many would love it if you thought that.  True muckraking is organic.  It comes from someone deciding to look deeper into a curious observation or pattern and reporting their results candidly.  True muckraking is a dying breed.  The "Deep Throat" of the past has been replaced by the gaffe patrol of the present.  It's something that shouldn't have happened.  Unfortunately, it will continue to happen, unless the rise of news corporations is stemmed by the rise of a robust independent media that is self-policing and reports the facts how they are, not how they will sell.  Blogging has the potential to take an integral role in this process.  Let's hope it does.  However, right now it seems that the corporate interests continue to dominate; the blogosphere is clogged with those who regurgitate the talking points of Murdoch and others.  This has the potential to change.  I would encourage everyone who reads this - be a voice against the throng and stand up for independent news.  It's what we need more than anything. Muckraking Vital to a Healthy News Media Muckraking Vital to a Healthy News Media Muckraking Vital to a Healthy News Media Muckraking Vital to a Healthy News Media Muckraking Vital to a Healthy News Media Muckraking Vital to a Healthy News Media

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