Opinion: The prestige of being a muckraker

It's special to be known as a muckraker.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/jakeli0/" target="_self">Jake Li</a>

Jake Li

July 5, 2022
In the early 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt used the term “muckraker” as an insult to journalists whom he believed had gone too far in their pursuit of the truth. The term has been redefined as someone who searches publicly to expose the misconduct of an individual or business. Journalist Jessica Milford was given the title of a “muckraker” for her prying actions in the news industry, and she is definitely right in believing it is an honor to be given that title.

The definition of a muckraker is less of a condescending phrase and rather more about giving a certain level of respect to the recipient. Roosevelt’s 1906 speech used the term “muckraker” as an insult, while the newer definition portrays a muckraker as a stealthy infiltrator who works to take down corrupt businesses and individuals by finding legitimate evidence that holds these people accountable for their unethical actions.

Monsanto, a grain company, had its company exposed for using patented GMOs and suing anyone who accidentally used their altered variant of crops. According to Time, anyone caught trying to expose Monsanto was hunted down while others were paid to lie about the true intentions of their company. This went on for decades until eventually, someone was brave enough to reveal the truth behind Monsanto’s unethical business practices.

Although not necessarily a single person but rather a collective group of individuals working together, these muckrakers managed to uncover all the lies and wrongdoings of Monsanto and eventually filed a lawsuit, reducing the company to a fraction of its former glory and power. Because of this and other investigations into large corporations, muckrakers are often given to title bearers as a symbol of honor and prestige for their courageous actions, rather than being a derogatory term.

Being deemed a muckraker also brings fame and publicity to the title-bearer. Many people working normal 9-5 jobs would love to take the opportunity to have a leadership position in big enterprise companies such as Microsoft or Apple. Watching companies grow and expand through millions of dollars of revenue is an amazing thing, but only if done fairly. 

During the 2016 presidential election, Facebook allegedly allowed the spread of propaganda and misinformation on their website through political ads, stating that it was within the company’s legal rules that those ads were allowed. According to Time, what politically oriented parties like Cambridge Analytica did was that they took advantage of Facebook user activities to place targeted ads on Facebook. Although technically abiding by regulation, this was heavily unethical and gave Cambridge Analytica a heavy upper hand in their political agenda. 

Muckrakers would eventually expose the dark secrets of companies like Facebook and many others. Being given this title puts fame and recognition on journalists, which some would gladly take their due credit for.  A “muckraker” in modern-day terms announces to everyone what good deeds you have done for the community and how you combat the wealthy and corrupt industries of America.

Although being called a “muckraker” certainly brings advantages to your life, there are also negative aspects of being a muckraker that shows how journalists go too far in the pursuit of their stories.

Muckrakers are journalists known for overexaggerating the news they find often to bring in more recognition on social media; this causes readers to be warier in their search for accurate news. Flashy headlines and stretched-out truths are often found in many news articles as a way to grab the reader’s attention.

A journalist, more often than not, will turn boring headlines into an attention-grabbing hook; instead of giving an ordinary weather report about the heavy rain in a city, he could say how a thunderstorm threatened to cut off the city’s power. This often causes journalists to lose their credibility through the frustration of their audience who are repeatedly deceived by these “fake” news articles.

In some cases, Muckrakers who have a proper claim may be viewed by the public as fake, due to previous incidents. In the case of Monsanto, for example, although this multi-million dollar corporation was exposed for misconduct, its case is not well known.

Most of the corn and soybeans in the U.S. used to be produced by Monsanto, and yet their unlawful GMO and pesticide usage on their crops did not cause prominent discontent among the people, especially because, as we can see right now, almost all the food we eat on a daily contains GMOs. Regardless of over-exaggerating news or not, there is still a level of truthfulness and accountability to the muckraker’s work as a journalist that gives these professional truth-tellers their well-deserved prestige.

Mitford should bear her title of being a “muckraker” with honor and respect. Being recognized as a journalist who holds true to her word is a great deal in the reporting world, and Mitford’s viewers will be more than inclined to give her the respect she deserves.

Although there will probably be occasions in which Mitford does exaggerate her reported events, being given the title of the “Queen of Muckrakers” already provides her with reliability that establishes her reputation as a great muckraker.