Muckraker Essay

Muckraker Essay-38
There, a dusty copy of Tarbell’s innocuously titled expose, The History of the Standard Oil Company, awaited me.

There, a dusty copy of Tarbell’s innocuously titled expose, The History of the Standard Oil Company, awaited me.The book had not circulated for three decades; it contained the serialized investigation of Rockefeller and Standard Oil that appeared month after month in Mc Clure’s magazine from 1902 to 1904, all combined into an expanded book version of 815 pages.

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Funerals in the aftermath of oil well explosions and fires occurred often around Hatch Hollow and the nearby city of Titusville.

Every day the local gossip was about one get-rich-quick hustler or another.

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When I became executive director of the group Investigative Reporters and Editors in 1983, I realized I had to be a spokesperson for several thousand of us and I needed to learn more about the early 20th-century journalists known as the Muckrakers—people like Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, David Graham Phillips, and Paul Y. She was not born to an influential family; she was an independent woman at a time when women had few options beyond wife, mother, or schoolteacher; and she was a late bloomer—age 37 before she found her footing as an editor and reporter.

She was a thoroughly modern woman, though she had died four years before I was born.

Just as the rich are still with us, so are the investigative reporters.

I have been an investigative reporter for 45 years. On the surface, Tarbell seemed an unlikely figure to rock the world of the Robber Barons.

She and her siblings often came home from play covered in oil after a neighborhood driller hit a gusher.

Tarbell’s parents opened the family home to people, often strangers, badly burned or otherwise injured because of their carelessness around a substance that ignited easily.


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