“Muckraking” referred to the activities of investigative journalists in which reporters became immersed in an industry or activity that they were attempting to expose; by engaging in these acts, the reporters would cover waste, corruption and abuses of power in order to precipitate a public outcry that would result in reforms. The muckrakers tended to be reporters and authors as well is critics who aimed to expose the evil ways and injustices of the society of the Gilded Age, in hopes that exposing such social evils was important because they would potentially destroy the democracy itself. Typically, articles written by muckrakers appeared in magazines such as McClure Magazine and Cosmopolitan. In addition, literature involving muckraking was created as well, beginning with the book The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, a book that exposed the meatpacking industry; this was a perfect example of muckraking because it resulted in the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 (The Muckrakers.)
Prior to World War I, the word “muckraker” was used generally to describe a writer who investigated and published truthful reports in order to provide functions such as auditing or watchdog activities (The Muckrakers.) In particular, during the Progressive Era of 1890-1917, muckrakers succeeded in promoting and passing progressive legislation, i.e. laws that were designed to improve the life of citizens of a society. Because of their efforts, the administration of Woodrow Wilson passed many laws that supported the efforts of the muckrakers. Political corruption was exposed by Lincoln Steffens, who wrote exposés about government corruption, notably Boss Tweed and other high level political officials in various states in the country. The muckrakers, overall, played a tremendous historical role in the country because the United States was a nation made up of many readers; television did not exist, and the number of newspapers printed grew tremendously so that the American public anxiously devoured the news as it was presented by journalists. Their work was crucial to the foundation of American democracy because their exposés resulted in many benefits to American workers, urban residents, and many other groups whose quality of life improved because of these reforms.
- “The Muckrakers.” n.d. Boundless.com: US History/the Progressive Era. Web. 31 March 2014.