WorldMag.com WORLD Magazine / Central Ideas / Chapter Nine
Of Muckrakers and Presidents


CONTENTS

PART ONE:
Rise of the Corruption Story

PART TWO:
Macrostories in Conflict

PART THREE:
Breakthrough of the Oppression Story

The Irrepressible Conflict in the Press
Obstacles to Power
Of Muckrakers and Presidents

APPENDICES

 

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The first developer of better press packaging for the rising oppression story was Joseph Pulitzer, a native of Hungary whose own ragtoriches tale began when he tried to join the Austrian army in 1864 and was rejected due to "weak eyes " and an "unpromising physique. " In America, however, a Union Army decimated by 3 years of warfare was desperate for soldiers and wary of relying on a draft that was provoking riots in northern cities. The north sent recruiters to comb Europe and sign up anyone who could hold a bayonet, weak eyes or not. Pulitzer enlisted, ended up spending a year in the cavalry cleaning up after mules, and came out at war's end never having fought Confederates but ready to turn the tables on those who had taken advantage of his poor knowledge of English to make him the frequent butt of practical jokes.[1]

For Pulitzer, journalism became a weapon to avenge himself on his oppressors. In the late 1860s he became a superb reporter in St. Louis, working 18 hours a day and learning to hit the bullseye with dartlike English sentences. He also saved his money, studied the financial aspects of newspapers, and during the 1870s was able to buy first a small, Germanlanguage newspaper, the Westliche Post, and then (using his profits) a virtually bankrupt Englishlanguage newspaper. When he merged that cheap newspaper with another in similar distress, he suddenly had a publication with an Associated Press franchise and a name that would become mighty in journalism, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Post-Dispatch built circulation, and profits for Pulitzer, by slamming into individuals who found it hard to hit back; Pulitzer found a market for gossip and salacious stories.[2] The Post-Dispatch particularly liked going after ministers not just ministers engaged in scandalous conduct, but any who inadvertently provided opportunities for assault. When one sick reverend, on doctor's orders taking medicine with an alcoholic base, inadvertently breathed into the face of a woman who sat down next to him on a streetcar, she moved to another seat. The incident would have been forgotten immediately, except that a Pulitzer reporter who happened to be at the scene wrote a story that appeared under the following decked headline:

ROCK AND RYE. Rev. Dr. Geo. A. Lofton Goes Upon a Saintly Spree/ He is Said to Have Been Intoxicated and Grossly Insulted a Lady/ A Terrible Clerical Scandal Involving the Pastor of the Third Baptist Church.[3]
This story proved typical of local coverage that often came under attack but was enormously successful at building circulation.

In coverage of national politics, Pulitzer was a liberal Democrat who learned the usefulness of character assassination by studying the Radical Republican press of the 1860s and 1870s. For example, the Post-Dispatch used headlines such as "GRABBER GARFIELD " to attack in 1880 Republican presidential nominee James Garfield. The murkier the charges were, the more the Post-Dispatch shouted that they were "so clear, so well founded . . . so thoroughly convincing, that there is nothing left but to believe them."[4] Even one of Pulitzer's sympathetic biographers has noted that "a strain of irresponsibility was evident in Pulitzer's developing style of journalism."[5] Increasingly, the Post-Dispatch showed little concern for accuracy. Once, when it misidentified a young man who supposedly had urged adultery upon a chorus girl, the Post-Dispatch corrected itself but at the same time made fun of the man who was irate because he had been defamed.[6]

Pulitzer used his St. Louis profits to buy the New York World in 1883. He bullseyed the new immigrant market (one he understood well from personal experience) by combining easytoread, gripping stories (good for learning English) with economic envy.[7] Pulitzer's first edition of the World, on May 11, 1883, hit the pavement running with its frontpage stories about a Wall Street plunger, a Pittsburgh hanging, a riot in Haiti, and a wronged servant girl. Typical World headlines were like a dragon's fire: "DEATH RIDES THE BLAST, " "SCREAMING FOR MERCY, " "BAPTIZED IN BLOOD, " "A MOTHER'S AWFUL CRIME, " "A BRIDE BUT NOT A WIFE, " and "VICTIMS OF HIS PASSION. " Readers who paid a penny in response to such appeals would encounter, on inside pages, Pulitzer's political agenda: tax large incomes, tax corporations, tax inheritances, redistribute income.

In the early 1890s, Pulitzer stopped short of calling for outright socialism, style; yet, the World's constant juxtaposition of current horror with future social salvation transmitted the message of hope through science and material progress, evenly distributed by benign government agents. Features such as "Experimenting with an Electric Needle and an Ape's Brain " showed that scientific transformation of man's thought patterns was just around the corner, and stories such as "Science Can Wash Your Heart " suggested that immortality was possible. In the meantime, however, monstrous crime and terrible scandal rode mankind. In one sense Pulitzer was merely imitating the methodology of the Puritan press two centuries before: emphasize bad news so that the need for the good news becomes even greater. But the message was totally changed: Instead of pointing readers toward man's corruption and God's grace, the World portrayed itself as the battler against systemic oppression, and proposed running over anyone (including business owners in American, Spaniards in Cuba, and Boers in South Africa) who stood in the way of "progress. "[8]

The World's circulation soared to 60,000 in 1884, 250,000 in 1886, and 1 million during the SpanishAmerican War of 1898. For journalists yearning to transform society and have fun and profit, the World became the New York workplace of choice, much as the Tribune was a generation before. The World's fulltime force numbered 1,300 in the mid1890s, and the growing arrogance of what had become a major institution soon was apparent: Pulitzer argued that "The World should be more powerful than the President, " because the President came from partisan politics and was elected to a 4year term, while the World "goes on year after year and is absolutely free to tell the truth."[9] By 1900, Pulitzer was spending most of his time on his yacht, with 75 employees trained to cater to his whims. As one biographer put it, "The yacht represented the logical end toward which the eccentric despot, so concerned with democracy, had been working for decades. It gave him complete control. It was an absolute monarchy."[10]

Pulitzer began the process of framing the oppression story for twentieth century popular consumption, but it was William Randolph Hearst who took Pulitzer's insights, spread them across the nation, and in doing so enabled proponents of the rising macrostory to go on the attack once more. As one reporter described his excitement upon going to work for Hearst,

At last I was to be the kind of journalist I had dreamed of being. I was to enlighten and uplift humanity. Unequaled newspaper enterprise, combined with a farreaching philanthropy, was to reform . . . the whole United States. The printing press, too often used for selfish ends, had become a mighty engine for good in the world, and I was to be a part of the directing force. Proudly I was to march under the banner of William R. Hearst, helping to guide civilization's forward strides. The banner was a yellow one, to be sure, but yellow probably only the better to attract that part of humanity which otherwise might remain indifferent to Mr. Hearst's principles. Glaring headlines of various hues, and an occasional scandal would easily be excused, I thought, if they hastened the millennium.[11]
Hearst's union of rhetorical violence and centralizing vision was in turn picked up by a group of early 20th-century magazine writers who became known as "muckrakers " and heavily influenced practice for decades to come.

Hearst, unlike Greeley or Pulitzer, was born in 1863 with a silver spoon in his mouth and bars of silver to stack; George Hearst was owner of rich mines and a California seat in the U.S. senate. George Hearst paid for young Willie to meander through Harvard, work for a short time on Pulitzer's World, and decide that the pleasure of journalistic power was greater than anything life as a playboy could offer. George Hearst had won a failing newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, in a poker game; when Willie begged for it, his father handed it over. Young Hearst loved newspapering. He would examine newspaper proofs by standing above them and turning pages with his toes while manifesting curious emotional reactions. One young editor, James Coleman, recorded his first experience with this curious procedure:

My eyes strained wide and I tried vainly to keep from swallowing my bubble gum when Hearst suddenly spread the proofs on the floor, and began a sort of tap dance around and between them . . . . The cadence of it speeded up with his reactions of disturbance and slowed down to a strolling rhythm when he approved. Between dances, he scribbled illegible corrections on the margins and finally gave the proofs back to me.[12]
Hearst made the Examiner profitable by adopting Pulitzer's combination of sensationalism and exposure of oppression. In 1895 he purchased the New York Journal and soon became famous for sending dozens of reporters to the scenes of crimes on bicycles or in carriages pulled by fire and cavalry horses; Hearst himself could be seen "leaping wildeyed and longlegged into a carriage, to be whisked like a field marshall to the scene of battle."[13]

Hearst ordered his editors to "make a great and continuous noise to attract readers; denounce crooked wealth and promise better conditions for the poor to keep readers. INCREASE CIRCULATION. " As one historian has noted, the "yellow journalism " pioneered by Pulitzer and Hearst was characterized not only by big headlines and exciting stories, but by "ostentatious sympathy with the underdog . . . .' "[14] Hearst's capital-S Sympathy was his first step toward making readers think he cared about them; calls for socialism came next. Hearst wrote in one signed editorial that socialistic management was the key to advancement, for

Combination and organization are necessary steps in industrial progress. We are advancing toward a complete organization in which the government will stand at the head and be the trust of trusts. It is ridiculous to attempt to stop this development.[15]
By 1904 Hearst was explicitly arguing that "the greatest need of this republic today is an aggressive and well organized radical party."[16] Liberal Herbert Croly compared Hearst to Robespierre, writing that Hearst's ambition was to bring about a "socialistic millennium. "[17] Hearst evidently believed that the press had the power to "so exert the forces of publicity that public opinion " would compel such an outcome.[18] His editorial writers worked hard to press issues into a class struggle mold; one of the Journal's classic editorials portrayed
the horse after a hard day's work grazing in a swampy meadow. He has done his duty and is getting what he can in return. On the Horse's flank you see a leech sucking blood. The leech is the trust. The horse is the labor union.[19]
The New York Journal ran big cartoons showing Mark Hanna, McKinley's campaign manager, as a fat bully dressed in clothes filled with dollar signs, with McKinley a puppet on his lap. Hearst's viciousness seemed unlimited; as one observer noted, Hanna was depicted as "an amalgam of all sins. He was foulness compact . . . He sent poor sailors, forced on his ships by bestial labor masters, out to sea on the wintry lakes cold and starving, unpaid and mutinous."[20] Hearst's discretionary coverage screamed that he favored the poor; such posturing was worth millions of dollars to him. Hearst sold enough newspapers to make Louis Wiley, business manager of the Times, cry out that crusading should be considered "a commercial trade."[21]

Day after day, Hearst's newspapers in San Francisco, New York, and then across the country, provided an artful combination of sensation and hope. On the one hand, the present was tragedy, with headlines such as "He murdered his friends " or "He ran amuck with a hatchet."[22] A woman already in jail for beating a man senseless with a beer bottle, stabbed her jailer with a hatpin; a maidservant poisoned her mistress' SOUP.[23] In New York, a boy shot and killed his father, who was beating his mother; another woman told "How She Horse-whipped Husband, " and an 11-year-old drank a bottle of acid because she did "not want to live."[24] On the other hand, the future would be much better. Someday, wealth now used for "barbaric " displays of wealth could be used to fight "distress and misery."[25] Science (actually, pseudoscience) would help: the San Francisco Examiner reported that one professor had produced "solidified air " and another had found out that what a woman eats determines the gender of her baby.[26]

Hearst made an idol out of circulation, but he also tried making one out of himself. He began instructing his reporters and editors to praise him at every possibility. He posed as a benefactor of the poor, sending pale children on jaunts to the beach. A reporter sent to cover one expedition, however, later wrote that she was given only one container of ice cream to be dealt out on a Coney Island trip:

When at last I placed a dab on each saucer, a little fellow in ragged knickerbockers got up and declared that the Journal was a fake and I thought there was going to be a riot. I took away the icecream from a deaf and dumb kid who couldn't holler and gave it to the malcontent. Then I had to write my story beginning: "Thousands of children, palefaced but happy, danced merrily down Coney Island's beaches yesterday and were soon sporting in the sunlit waves shouting, `God bless Mr. Hearst.'"[27]
Once, when Hearst ordered all his reporters to mention his newspapers' "comic supplements " in their stories whenever possible, one reporter filed this report from a disaster scene,
I was the first to reach the injured and dying. "God bless Mr. Hearst, " a little child cried as I stooped to lave her brow. Then she smiled and died. I spread one of our comic supplements over the pale, still face.[28]
Some Hearstian efforts were serious, not ludicrous. When Governor Goebel of Kentucky was assassinated early in 1901, the Journal printed a quatrain by reporter Ambrose Bierce: "The bullet that pierced Goebel's breast/ Can not be found in all the West;/ Good reason, it is speeding here/ To stretch McKinley on his bier."[29] Soon afterward the Journal editorialized that "if bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done. " When the anarchist Czolgosz assassinated President McKinley later that year, the killer was said to have been arrested with a copy of the Journal in his coat pocket.[30] Hearst was hanged in effigy, circulation for a time dropped, and President Theodore Roosevelt said that Czolgosz had probably been led to his crime by "reckless utterances of those who, on the stump and in the public press, appeal to dark and evil spirits."[31] But Hearst bounced back, changing the name of his New York morning edition to the American.

Hearst showed through such conduct that he was the prototypical solipsistic journalist of the 20th century, moving around real individuals as if they were makebelieve characters.[32] Some opposed him: Congressman John A. Sullivan called Hearst the Nero of American politics for his attempts to incite class conflict, and others labeled Hearst a socialist and hung his picture with red flags underneath it.[33] For a time, Hearst was able to convince some voters to accept their role in his dreams. He used his newspaper clout to win election to Congress by a big margin, and wrote after the landslide:

We have won a splendid victory. We are allying ourselves with the workingman, the real Americans. This is just the beginning of our political actions. Our social aspirations have a greater chance than ever to be realized.[34]
Hearst was on his way. But the movement he represented was, with its newspaper base, a big city phenomenon. The key question was whether his emphasis on oppression would spread around the country. As it turned out, it did, at least in part through the influence of national magazines such as Munsey's, McClure's, Cosmopolitan, Everybody's, and The Arena, which provided an outlet for freelancing radicals, particularly in the years 1903 through 1906. Munsey's for a time was the most popular, with popular fiction and reportage covering ownership of popular utilities and similar subjects attracting a circulation of 700,000 monthly.[35] The Arena was less popular but more consistent in promoting socialist ideas, as it pushed its 100,000 readers to "agitate, educate, organize, and move forward, casting aside timidity and insisting that the Republic shall no longer lag behind in the march of progress."[36]

The hopes of the radicals, although diverse in some aspects, tended often to parallel those of Horace Greeley two generations before. For example, Upton Sinclair, at first a believer in communalism, invested profits from his book The Jungle in a New Jersey commune, "Home Colony "; it failed, but Sinclair thought it a good try, an "industrial Republic in the making. "[37] After seeing what went into some cans of meat Sinclair espoused another of Greeley's favorite causes, vegetarianism, and also argued that meat eating had no place in an agricultural system managed on principles of efficiency and nutrition.[38] Sinclair for a time had new causes every year, but eventually, like Greeley, became an apologist for terrorismin this case, that of Lenin rather than John Brown.[39] Like Greeley, Sinclair also confused holiness and hatred, eventually declaring that Jesus had been an anarchist and agitator whose vision of violent upheaval was covered up by church institutions.[40]

Sinclair was one of the first major journalists to explicitly adopt socialism; others moved in that direction more slowly as they abandoned youthful Christian allegiances and sought a new faith. Ray Stannard Baker, after reading Bellamy's Looking Backward and Henry George's Progress and Poverty, was among those who became annoyed at the idea that God, not journalists, brought salvation; as Baker wrote in his memoirs, "I was temperamentally impatient. I wanted explanations promptly. I wanted to know what 1 should do to help save the world. "[41] When Baker's father suggested other ways to save the world, Baker responded, "I'm on my way up. If my strength and grit hold out I'm going to make my influence felt before I get through with it."[42] In 1899, after 2 years of New York journalism, Baker wrote to his father that "The longer I am in my present work, the greater seem the responsibilities and opportunities of high grade journalism."[43] Five years later, he was still writing that he had "a mission to perform, " and felt successful: "I think we have struck the right Grail."[44]

The most famous of the radicals, Lincoln Steffens, wrote that he began his quest as a student at the University of California during the 1880s, where professors "could not agree upon what was knowledge, nor upon what was good and what evil, nor why. "[45] To find out about good and evil, Steffens wrote that he had to become a journalist. He certainly saw evil "graft and corruption " were everywherebut he did not see them as coming from within. Once, discussing the Biblical fall within the garden of Eden, he said the culprit was not Adam, or Eve, or even the snake: "It was, it is, the apple. " Good people were corrupted by a bad environmentand the goal of journalists, Steffens believed, was to change the environment by working to eliminate capitalism, which he saw as the 20th-century equivalent of the apple.

Steffens and other leading muckrakers generally shared two biographical elements. First, most came from elite colleges: Burton Hendrick came from Yale, Baker from the University of Michigan, Will Irwin from Stanford, David Graham Phillips from DePauw and Princeton, George Kibbee Turner from Williams College, Lincoln Steffens from the University of California at Berkeley, Ida Tarbell from The Sorbonne.[46] Second, many had experience with the newspapers of Pulitzer, Hearst, or both. Charles Edward Russell, for example, served as city editor of Pulitzer's New York World, managing editor of Hearst's New York Journal, and publisher of Hearst's Chicago entry, the American; he left those posts to freelance and become a Socialist Party politician. Lincoln Steffens, David Graham Phillips, and others had Pulitzer/Hearst reporting experience.[47]

Such apprenticeships often were vital in the development of writing styles that could both appeal to magazine readers and proselytize them for causes of the left. The sense of mission also tended to grow during years of training; many Pulitzer and Hearst alumni felt that their mission was

to set forth some new and wonderful truth of worldwide importance, in a manner to make the nations of the earth sit up and take noticeto cause the heart of humanity to throb and thrill, from Greenland to the Gangesa message in words that would enthuse and enthrall, gleam and glitter, dazzle and delight.[48]
Liveliness often tended to slide into viciousness, however, as it had in coverage of Andrew Johnson. Apparently, when journalists believe or argue that poverty and war can be ended if only certain steps are taken, those who refuse to step lively are commonly depicted as villains; as French revolutionary writers showed during the Reign of Terror, the furor is doubled when the journalists have keen personal ambition.

In America's 20th century, William Randolph Hearst was the first journalistic leader to assault regularly those who stood in his path. When Hearst could not get the Democratic presidential nomination in 1904, he called Judge Alton Parker, the party's nominee, a "living, breathing cockroach from under the sink, " and labeled the party's chairman "a plague spot in the community spreading vileness. "[49] At one time, Hearst's New York newspaper had 2,000 names on its S-List (persons to be mentioned only with scorn), and a reporter had to be assigned to read copy just to make sure mistakes of honesty were not made. Through all this, Hearst retained the support of leading journalists of the left; Charles Russell praised him, and Upton Sinclair declared in his book The Industrial Republic that a bright socialist future would not be far off if Hearst became president.[50] Steffens wrote a sympathetic profile of Hearst and explained that the publisher "was driving toward his unannounced purpose to establish some measure of democracy, with patient but ruthlessforce."[51]

Members of the media elite who learned from Pulitzer or Hearst also tended to follow them in their virulence. For example, when the U.S. Senate in 1906 debated the Pure Food and Drug Act, Senator Joseph W. Bailey of Texas spoke in opposition, saying:

I believe that the man who would sell to the women and children of this country articles of food calculated to impair their health is a public enemy, and ought to be sent to prison. No senator here is more earnestly in favor of legislation against adulterated food and drink as I am .... But I insist that such legislation belongs to the states and not to the general government. When something happens not exactly in accord with public sentiment, the people rush to Congress until it will happen after a while that Congress will have so much to do that it will do nothing well.[52]
But David Graham Phillips ridiculed that statement, saying that Bailey opposed good food and was participating in the "treason of the Senate." Within Phillips' understanding, anyone opposing federal legislation in a good cause was corrupt and uncaring.

The term muckraking, which came to describe journalistic behavior during this century's first decade, grew out of President Theodore Roosevelt's response to the early articles in Phillips' series. Before the series Roosevelt already was a media critic: After meeting Steffens and publisher S. S. McClure in October 1905, Roosevelt told McClure

It is an unfortunate thing to encourage people to believe that all crimes are connected with business, and that the crime of graft is the only crime. I wish very much that you could have articles showing up the hideous iniquity of which mobs are guilty, the wrongs of violence by the poor as well as the wrongs of corruption by the rich . . . [showing] that you stand as much against anarchic violence and crimes of brutality as against corruption and crimes of greed ....[53]
When the series began Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 could have let the attacks on certain senators slide by; he had been personally friendly to several of the magazine writers and needed their help in passing his own reform package. But Roosevelt was a fighter, and he had long been critical of Hearst on both ethical and ideological grounds. (Hearst, for his part, had called Roosevelt one who "has sold himself to the devil and will live up to the bargain."[54] Roosevelt complained that
the man who in a yellow newspaper or in a yellow magazine makes a ferocious attack on good men or even attacks on bad men with exaggeration or for things they have not done, is a potent enemy of those of us who are really striving in good faith to expose bad men and drive them from power.[55]
In1906, the president felt, it was time to oppose those magazine writers who peddled Hearst's politics and defamatory tendencies on slick pages rather than newsprint.

Roosevelt let fly in a speech full of such memorable critiques of journalistic practice that it deserves quoting at length. He said:

In Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress you may recall the description of the Man with the Muckrake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muckrake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muckrake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.

In Pilgrim's Progress the Man with the Muckrake is set forth as the example of him whose vision is fixed on carnal instead of on spiritual things. Yet he also typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing. Now, it is very necessary that we should not flinch from seeing what is vile and debasing. There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muckrake; and there are times and places where this service is the most needed of all the services that can be performed. But the man who never does anything else, who never thinks or speaks or writes, save of his feats with the muckrake, speedily becomes, not a help to society, not an incitement to good, but one of the most potent forces for evil.

Roosevelt argued, much as Marchamont Nedham and other Puritans had, that exposure of wrongdoing was vital, but that writers must remember
that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful. The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander, he may be worse than most thieves. It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth. An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does not good, but very great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed.
Roosevelt concluded that:
The effort to make financial or political profit out of the destruction of character can only result in public calamity. Gross and reckless assaults on character, whether on the stump or in newspaper, magazine, or book, create a morbid and vicious public sentiment, and at the same time act as a profound deterrent to able men of normal sensitiveness and tend to prevent them from entering the public service at any price.
Hundreds of favorable responses to Roosevelt's speech indicate that his concern about press bullying was widely shared. Protests about the media elite's ideological agenda were common:
Socialism-that's where these leaders of the magazines and newspapers are headed for. The Sentimentalist who looks to find there the Kingdom of Brotherly Love upon Earth, the honest man, hysterical with anger at the crimes of high finance, the brave fool spoiling for a fight, the good citizen who says to himself, `that the evil is so great the whole must be swept away' all alike are following the lead of the statesmen of the yellow press towards the ruinous experiment of straightout socialism.[56]
Such complaints, although addressed to a modern ideological development, had an oldfashioned ring to them. After all, Andrew Bradford, editor in Philadelphia of the American Weekly Mercury two centuries before, had opposed "that unwarrantable License which some People of much fire, but little judgment have taken of endeavouring to subvert the Fundamental Points of Religion or Morality."[57] A downward curve for the political prospects of William Randolph Hearst may be dated from the time of Roosevelt's speech, although other factors contributed to the failure of the publisher's ambitions.[58] For a while, Hearst retained the support of journalists on the left, but as he lost elections and the sensationalism of his newspapers seemed a bit embarrassing, radicals edged away from him. Hearst in turn lost his patience with them, and by the 1920s and 1930s was stoutly opposing governmental control of the economy. (Perhaps because of Hearst's "treason " to the left after 1920, he is often regarded by journalism historians as a bad guy, and Pulitzerwho left money to found a journalism school at Columbia and to hand out prizesis given a white hat.[59])

Although the muckrakers abandoned their onetime standard bearer, they did not drop their flag. The media elite's opposition to Roosevelt was particularly intense in that the president was himself at times a writerreformer; it is especially hard for those who see themselves as altruists to be depicted as malefactors by one of their own. A few lesser known reporters wrote confessional statements backing up Roosevelt's charges; one Hearst veteran acknowledged himself to be "a veritable Hessian of the press, even a hired assassin of character, striking from the dark, or from behind the mask of journalistic zeal for public welfare . . . "[60] But the leaders soldiered on, unrepentant.

Upton Sinclair claimed to speak for those journalistic leaders= `I know, more or less intimately, nearly every man who at present is raking muck in America "in issuing a strong reply to Roosevelt's accusations.[61] Sinclair wrote of how all the leading muckrakers shared a belief:

that the history of humanity up to the present time represents a series of failures. Races emerge from barbarism. They are joyous and proud and strong; they struggle and conquer, they toil and achieve .... But all the time there is a worn within the bud, which gnaws at it; and just when the flower seems most perfect, its petals fall, and it is scattered and trampled into the dust.[62]
The worm for Sinclair was private property, and he wrote of how he and the other leading muckrakers had realized that to kill it, they needed to lead "a revolt against capitalism."[63] The problem, however, was that people were forgetful, so it was up to journalists to be no less than "the faculty of recollection in the growing social mind. " The muckraker, Sinclair wrote, "represents the effort of the race to profit by experience, and to do otherwise than repeat infinitely the blunders which have proved fatal in the past. " The muckraker "as forerunner of a revolution, " Sinclair concluded, "will be recognized in the future as a benefactor of his race. "[64]

Those reporters who had little thought of being benefactorsthey had a job to do and a paycheck to getmight scowl at such notions. And yet, with all the cynicism that journalists love to show, the streak of pride would grudgingly show itself: one reporter reminisced of how, for a time, he had been

battling for the people, and making tyrants quail, in a truly heroic journalistic style. I was forging shafts of ripping, tearing words that would demolish the fort of the robber chiefs who were taking unlawful tribute from the public. I called the gas company `the Gorgonheaded monopoly,' `the banded infamy,' and 'a greeder gorger from the public purse.' I felt myself as heroic as those who had led the crusades of old. I was a lieutenant of a modern Godfrey or a Richard the Lionhearted in a holy war. Pen and typewriter, mightier than sword and cannon, were my weapons. In the press was concentrated the strength of an army, and this I directed.[65]
Top college students who enjoyed writing began gravitating more and more toward journalism; Walter Lippmann, for example, went from Harvard to an internship with Lincoln Steffens, and also became a protege of Charles Edward Russell.

Steffens and Russell, in turn, set the standard for "the right stuff' in leadingedge journalism much as had Horace Greeley two generations before; they trained a generation of young journalists to see not only poverty and corruption as the responsibility of capitalism, but all war as the result of capitalist desires to find "a dumping ground abroad for a surplus domestic product . . . for all times, and in all places, and under all conditions, Capitalism is War. "[66] When the young journalists came to editorial power during the 1930s, some would argue as did their elders that the solution to all problems was socialism, which could be achieved only through raising interclass hostility. (And, because the oppression was go great and the final victory so crucial, smearing some individuals along the way would not matter.)

Few journalists early in the century matched Steffens and Russell in clarity of political theology. Some, such as Ray Stannard Baker, merely found themselves attracted to the Socialist Party's "high & unselfish ideals, " with its "community spirit of service " that offered "brotherhood nearer than anything I know to the real church . . . I must join something."[67] Still, the trend was clear, and many of the media elite were ready to adopt a Marxist perspective as long as it was given a spiritual gloss. For example, David Graham Phillips, whose attacks on the Senate justified Roosevelt's famous response, also wrote novels in which heroines compared Karl Marx to Jesus Christ, not unfavorably:

They were both labor leaders-labor agitators. The first proclaimed the brotherhood of man. But he regarded this world as hopeless and called on the weary and heavy-laden masses to look to the next world for the righting of their wrongs. Then-eighteen centuries after-came the second Jew-and he said `No! not in the hereafter, but in the here. Here and now, my brothers. Let us make this world a heaven. Let us redeem ourselves and destroy this devil of ignorance who is holding us in this hell![68]
The passage concluded, "It was three hundred years before the first Jew began to triumph. It won't be so long before there are monuments to Marx in clean and beautiful and free cities all over the earth."[69]

Most elite journalists in the years before World War I were content to locate social problems in the environment rather than in man himself. Will Irwin, for example, wrote of his desire to change "an American habit of mind "; he was upset because when Americans "find any institution going wrong, we think first of individual dishonesty. " Irwin's goal was to teach readers "to attribute the unfair working of social forces to faults in the system of things. ,[70] Even "moderates" such as William Allen White argued that capitalism was a product of "diabolical self-interest" and that journalists should be "preparing the ground for a nationalization of industries that may pass from control to ownership�from industrial bonds to government bonds and then to the breaking up of great fortunes holding the government bonds by inheritance & income taxes."[71]

Although Roosevelt's attack in 1906 had an effect, muckraking remained a major journalistic genre through 1917; then, as Americans went to fight overseas, war reporting became dominant for a time. The year 1917 also marks the end of an era because the tragedy of trench warfare in France was compounded by the Soviet seizure of power in Moscow, the fall-out from which would coat much of the 20th century. After the Bolshevik Revolution a few muckrakers, including John Spargo, distanced themselves from the blood that flowed and the red flag that signified the willingness to spill more. Others took a harder line; a contemporary remembered Lincoln Steffens "talking revolution and blood�and sucking the guts out of a chocolate eclair impaled on an upright fork."[72]

Four hundred years earlier, modern journalism had begun with the sound of Luther hammering on the cathedral door. In 1917 a new dispensation appeared to be underway; Steffens baptized the Russian Revolution, writing of how Petrograd mobs made him "think of the mobs that followed lesus about." (Later he found the Exodus story a better vehicle and wrote Moses in Red, which attempted to prove that "not Lenin, but Nature required the excesses of the Russian revolution; or, if you please, God. "[73]) For centuries much of American journalism had emphasized restraint, but Steffens would praise Soviet leaders�as Benjamin Bache had lauded the French revolutionaries�for their willingness to "lay out consciously and carry through ruthlessly" a program "to arrange the conditions of social living . . . to adjust the forces of economic life."[74]

Steffens' most famous (and often misquoted) remark was, upon returning from the Soviet Union, "I have gone over into the future, and it works."[75] From 1917 on, leading American writers would look to the Soviet Union� and later to China, Cuba, North Vietnam, or Nicaragua, as each revolution was successively discredited�for hints on how to change the world.[76] Steffens set the standard for those who wanted to make sure the future would work; when other radicals still thought Steffens soft, a playful child of the despised bourgeoisie "wandering among the social battlefields," he proved himself by engaging in "slander and character assassination" against anyone who stood in the way of "progress."[77]

Earlier journalists had pointed readers toward the Bible and, later, the Constitution; but after 1917, leading editors such as Oswald Garrison Villard argued that "There are plain masses seeking a journalistic Moses to clarify their minds, to give them a program of reconstruction."[78] Leading newspapers and magazines of the next seven decades would display the words of those who saw man as possessing unlimited potential that a strong and benevolent state could help to liberate, if only journalistic influence were brought to bear on the side of perceived righteousness. A journalism that emphasized the oppression story could once again achieve the muckraking heights as "Argus-eyed guardian of the people's rights, the omnipotent champion of the oppressed, the scourge of the oppressor, the light of the land, the greatest uplifting force in civilization."[79]

The story of those next seven decades could fill another book. But, briefly, what became most ironic during this period was the tendency of many journalists to apologize for and promote new forms of oppression, while claiming that they were fighting for liberty. In doing so, they often neglected the lessons in liberty provided by their courageous predecessors, and genuflected before a future that claimed to work but was in many ways a curious merger of the official and oppression stories. Corruption story journalists had viewed centralized government as part of the problem; oppression story journalists would see it as the center of the solution, the weapon that could force social changes and coerce America into utopia. American journalism, which had developed as an antiestablishment force, had become part of a new establishment that did not have the self-understanding to recognize itself as one.

A key question for the press, as the last decade of the 20th century began, was whether the best and brightest journalists would have the grace to look at themselves and say, with Edmund in King Lear, "The wheel is come full circle; I am here."


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CHAPTER 9 Of Muckrakers and Presidents Notes

1. One practical joke actually led Pulitzer into his career. Unsure about what to do upon his discharge from the cavalry, Pulitzer decided to move to where no one knew German, so that he would be pushed into learning English to survive. He took the advice of a prankster who told him his best bet was St. Louis, but Pulitzer learned upon arrival that the city was a major German-language center, one "almost like the old country, there was so much German." He could not have moved forward so rapidly in journalism had he been in a community where German was not spoken, but in St. Louis Pulitzer was able to go to work on a St. Louis German-language newspaper, the Westliche Post.

2. See St. Louis Post-Dispatch front pages, e.g. August 18, 1882; September 8, 1882; June 25 to July 4, 1883.

3. Ibid., May 16, 1882.

4. Ibid., June 15 and July 24, 1880.

5. Julian Rammelkamp, Pulitzer's Post-Dispatch, 1878-1888 (Princeton, 1967), p. 135.

6. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 29 and July 8, 1881.

7. Examples may be found in New York World, August 31 and September 8, 1883, and February 24 and September 2, 1884.

8. The World in 1898 seemed to have an "Enemy of the Month" club.

9. Robert Rutland, The Newsmongers (New York, 1973), p. 281. "Truth" for Pulitzer was not what it had been for John Peter Zenger, however; Zenger had called for individual responsibility before God, but Pulitzer demanded that all bow down to him. Wanting to be omnipresent, Pulitzer instructed his editors and reporters to spy on each other and send reports directly to him. He purposefully created overlapping authority so that he would have to be called in to break deadlocks. Pulitzer's system, according to one journalist, "produced in time a condition of suspicion, jealousy and hatred, a maelstrom of office politics that drove at least two editors to drink, one into suicide, a fourth into insanity."

10. Everyone told Pulitzer to be content, but he could not be. One reporter described how "when anything went wrong, and things seemed to go wrong with him very often, there would come from his office . . . a stream of profanity and filth." Pulitzer's friend and fellow newspaper editor Henry Watterson noted that "Absolute authority made Pulitzer a tyrant." Things became worse when Pulitzer gradually became blind during the 1890s. He called himself "the loneliest man in the world," but even his laudatory biographer noted that "the loneliness, although real, was instead the terrible isolation of the helpless megalomanic and egocentric . . ." Pulitzer was separated from his wife and children for most of his last 20 years because he wanted around him only "compliant attendants." His wife often wanted to join him, but Pulitzer raged at her, then complained that he had to eat dinner with "nobody at my table except paid employees."

11. William Salisbury, The Career of a Journalist (New York, 1908), pp. 146147.

12. Allen Churchill, Park Row, p. 70.

13. Ibid., p. 87.

14. Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism (New York, 1941), p. 539.

15. Quoted in Ferdinand Lundberg, Imperial Hearst (New York, 1936).

16. Roy Everett Littlefield III, William Randolph Hearst: His Role in American Progressivism (Lanham, Md., 1980), p. 103.

17. Ibid., p. 153.

18. Ibid., p. xiii.

19. Park Row, p. 98.

20. Description by Thomas Beer quoted in Watts, p. 316.

21. Louis Wiley, "A Comeback from the Times," Collier's, May 13, 1911, p. 28.

22. New York Journal, March 3, 26, 1901.

23. San Francisco Examiner, March 25, 26, 1901.

24. New York American, March 2, 4, 10, 1904.

25. New York Journal, February 2, 1898.

26. San Francisco Examiner, March 8, 31, 1901.

27. Park Row, p. 81.

28. Ibid. There is little evidence from Hearst's conduct of his newspaper that he actually cared about people at all. In the 1890s, when Hearst and Pulitzer had a bidding war for journalistic talent, Hearst hired many away and fired fast. When some new hires then demanded ironclad contracts, they received them, but those who did not do what Hearst wanted were forced into resignation through humiliation: Senior reporters were turned into copy boys or men'sroom attendants until they gave up. But some fought back. One caused the drains to clog every few hours by stuffing them with copies of the Journal; the business office gave in. Another announced loudly at the saloon that the humiliation was making his brain crack, he felt a strong pressure to set the city room afire. He also was paid off.

29. New York Journal, February 4, 1901.

30. The stories were apparently inaccurate but nevertheless pointed.

31. Mott, p. 541.

32. Even circulation stunts showed a lack of concern about consequences: Once, to boost sales, Hearst advertised a feature on "faithless husbands" by sending to wives throughout the city postcards suggesting they buy the Journal and learn the truth about their husbands; each postcard was signed cryptically, "A Friend." Gore Vidal, in his novel Empire (New York, 1987), gets at Hearst's conception of press power when he has one character see "herself creating a world that would be all hers, since she, like Hearst, would have reinvented all the players, giving them their dialogue, moving them in and out of wars: `Remember the Maine' . . . She too could use a newspaper to change the world. She felt giddy with potentiality" (p. 100).

33. New York Times, February 14 and November 1, 1905.

34. Littlefield, p. 123.

35.See Munsey's, January 1900, for an example of the magazine's treatment of public utilities.

36. Quoted in C. C. Regier, The Era of the Muckrakers (Chapel Hill, 1932), p. 19.

37.Upton Sinclair, The Industrial Republic (New York, 1907), pp. 280-283.

38. Sinclair's The Jungle did not lead to changes in working conditions, but led to inspections and a temporary reduction of demand for American meat. Sinclair complained that his investigative journalism had merely "taken a few millions away from the packers and given them to the Junkers of East Prussia and to Paris bankers who were backing meatpacking enterprises in the Argentine." (Fuller, p. 168.)

39. See Floyd Dell, Upton Sinclair (New York, 1927).

40. See especially Sinclair's novel of the 1920s, They Call Me Carpenter.

41. Ray Stannard Baker, American Chronicle: The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker (New York, 1945), p. 33.

42. Ibid., p. 47.

43.Quoted in Robert C. Bannister, Jr., Ray Stannard Baker: The Mind and Thought of a Progressive (New York, 1966), p. 105.

44. Ibid., loc. cit.

45. Not much has changed in Berkeley during the past century.

46. The radical journalists were a media elite, as David M. Chalmers has noted in The Social and Political Ideas of the Muckrakers (New York, 1964). Chalmers noted that "in the decade between 1903 and 1912, nearly two thousand articles of a muckraking variety appeared in the popular magazines, complemented by editorials, cartoons, and serials . . . . But of this vast outpouring, close to a third were written by a small group of twelve men and one woman who concentrated on and professionalized this kind of journalism."

47. The leading muckrakers were not united in every way politically, but they tended to see themselves as a fraternity, with frequent meetings in the backroom of Considine's Saloon on Broadway near 42nd St., luncheon discussions every Wednesday at Luchow's restaurant, and membership in the Liberal Club (President Lincoln Steffens, Vice President Charles Russell) on East 19th St. Many worked together at McClure's and, later, the American Magazine.

48. Salisbury, p. 150.

49. See Oliver Carlson and Ernest Sutherland Bates, Hearst (New York, 1936), p. 111.

50. Chalmers, p. 97.

51. Steffens' article appeared in American Magazine, November, 1906; this assessment of Hearst is from The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens (New York, 1931), p. 543.

52. Quoted in Cosmopolitan, October, 1936.

53. Theodore Roosevelt to McClure, October 4, 1905, Baker Papers, quoted in Harold S. Wilson, McClure's Magazine and the Muckrakers (Princeton, 1970), p. 179.

54. Swanberg, Citizen Hearst, p. 242.

55. Roosevelt to Ray Stannard Baker, April 9, 1906, Baker Papers, quoted in Wilson, p. 181.

56. American Magazine, May, 1906, p. 111.

57. "Sentiments on the Liberty of the Press," American Weekly Mercury, April 25, 1734.

58. Among these might have been a general public weariness with the muckraking proposals of Hearst and other journalistic "reformers." As H. L. Mencken noted, "Reform does not last. The reformer quickly loses his public . . . . This is what has happened over and over again in every large American cityChicago, New York, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Baltimore, San Francisco, St. Paul, Kansas City. Every one of these places has had its melodramatic reform campaigns and its inevitable reactions. The people have leaped to the overthrow of bosses, and then wearied of the ensuing tedium." ("Newspaper Morals," The Atlantic Monthly, March, 1914, p. 293)

59. Only one historian on the left, to my knowledge, has given Hearst the praise he deservesfrom that ideological perspectivefor stirring up class hatred. Louis Fuller, Crusaders for American Liberalism, p. 132: "Hearst, more than any other man, was the absolute expression of all the blind need and ignorance and resentment which troubled the worker and farmer. He dived to the bottom of the reader's mind and stirred up the filth and despair that had lain so quiet before . . . . Hearst was steeped in mire. His long campaign against McKinley was virulent to the degree of insanity. But did McKinley really deserve much better treatment? It would have been splendid if another, more upright, more principled man than Hearst had been present to carry on the quasiSocialist battle. But no such man existed."

60. Salisbury, p. 522.

61. Upton Sinclair, "The Muckrake Man," The Independent, September 3, 1908, pp. 517-519.

62. Ibid., loc. cit.

63. Ibid., loc. cit.

64. Ibid., loc. cit.

65. Salisbury, pp. 190-197.

66. Charles Russell, Doing Us Good and Plenty (New York, 1914), p. 156.

67. Baker's manuscript Notebook I, pp. 111-112, and J, pp. 107-128, quoted in Chalmers, pp. 69-70. Baker eventually decided not to join the Socialist Party; he continued to hug a liberal social gospel.

68. David Graham Phillips, The Conflict (New York, 1912), p. 62. The novel was published shortly after Phillips' death in 1911.

69. See also John Spargo, The Spiritual Significance of Socialism (New York, 1908); Spargo argued that only socialism would allow honest examination of the spiritual problems of life, because only then would the masses be freed from those who taught superstitution and fearful dogma.

70. Collier's, March, 1911, pp. 1820.

71. William Allen White to Baker, August 28, 1913, Baker Papers, quoted in Wilson, p. 270.

72. See Marvin Olasky, Prodigal Press (Westchester, IL, 1988), p. 55.

73. Steffens to Upton Sinclair, May 19, 1926, quoted in Wilson, p. 307.

74. See the later chapters of Steffens' Autobiography for the full panorama of his tribute to the left and his attack on those of the right or center.

75. His statement is usually reported as, "I have seen the future, and it works."

76. Books that have documented these tendencies include James Crowl, Angels in Stalin's Paradise (Lanham, Md., 1982); Joshua Muravchik, News Coverage of the Sandanista Revolution (Washington, DC, 1988); many others.

77. See Steffens' Autobiography, and Justin Kaplan, Lincoln Steffens (New York, 1974).

78. Villard, Some Newspapers and Newspapermen (New York: Knopf, 1923), p. 314. Villard wrote that the crusading journalist should provide "moral and spiritual leadership" but did not offer specifics. Villard's moral relativism was evident in his statement that journalists should "recall Isaiah's saying: `The voice said, Cry.' And he said, `What shall I cry?' But if he is true to his ideals he will always know what to say." In the Bible, of course, Isaiah had been told to emphasize God's sovereignty, not his own conceptions: "All men are like grass,/and all their glory is like the flowers of the field./ The grass withers and the flowers fall,/ because the breath of the Lord blows on them."

79. Salisbury, p. 231.