In Praise of Muckraking

Welcome to ‘Til Twangdom Come.  This is a trial drive to see if I can find the gears, pop the clutch, and drive this thing (those of you who’ve only experience automatic transmissions, that last figure ran off the road and is wheel spinning in the ditch).  So in that spirit of test driving, I’ll keep this first one short and sweet (or, depending on your politics, short and sour).

A cousin of mine who I knew slightly when I was just about a teen and he a few years younger, was kind enough to read something I posted on FB and to worry I’d been taken in by the yellow journalism of the far left.  I suggested that “yellow journalism” was historically a right wing phenomenon (ah, the good ole days of William Randolph Hearst as he stoked the fear of the masses and reaped a bundle of cash, erected Hearst Castle, and set himself up to be imagined by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane), and I suggested that the tradition of yellow journalism might be counterposed to the tradition of muckraking.  I offered a few comments in support of muckraking.

Here, I’d like to add an additional comment: yellow journalism and muckraking both involve distortion.  Yellow journalism distorts in order to obscure or contradict a truth for the private benefit of an already empowered individual or group.  Muckraking distorts in order to intensify a truth in order to serve a broader, public good (and usually on behalf of those who are economically and politically exploited and marginalized).  Fear mongering is a feature of yellow journalism.  Creating awareness of abuses and dramatizing the plight of the exploited is a feature of muckraking.  Rachel Maddow’s sustained coverage of the Flint, MI water debacle is a case in point: journalistically informed advocacy on behalf of those without power and whose lives were being destroyed in order to economically benefit those in power.

Back in the early 20th century muckraking as a term fell out of favor.  Perhaps it’s time to bring it back into play.  Guess I’ll go talk to the used car salesman and see what sort of price he’ll give me on this thing and if my credit is good (oh wait! speech is still free, isn’t it?).

So in closing, as my buddy Mark Twang likes to say:

Remember, the dif’rence tween “hail” and “heil” is a single letter.

Tim Hunt

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