Just Merveilleux

Life at № 42

The Mother of All Muckrakers

“… Tarbell was the nemesis of John D. Rockefeller, the creator of Standard Oil, precursor of ExxonMobil. But she was a lot more than that — as a journalist she was the first to understand and challenge the power of the modern corporation, the first to dig deep into the way corporations bought and used politicians and the first to force a president to check that power.

And all this at a time, the age of the robber barons, when white males dominated not only big business and politics but also journalism. Indeed, there has never been a woman who so single-mindedly cleaved her way through all the male hierarchies and vanities and humbled them.”

Full text: The Mother of All Muckrakers – TDB

Yet another superbly written and fascinating article by Clive Irving. There’s a line that stands out: are there enough reporters literate enough in the way that corporate power is developed and exploited, particularly the way in which it effectively covers itself with opacity and uses deliberate deception in the promotion of its policies?- That’s the one thing that should set off alarm bells every time. If deliberate deception is a necessary part of promoting an(y) idea, that probably means there aren’t enough facts to support it in the first place.

A perfect example is the Climate Change debate. In the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s the debate was over pollution and films like Erin Brockovich convinced the general public that clean water and clean air were probably something we might want. Realising the pollution debate was lost, corporations and the politicians who are funded by them reframed the pollution debate as one of climate change. A topic complex enough as for them to be able to create confusion around it. The thing is when you break it down, denial of climate change has just one objective: no pollution controls. It’s that simple.

Another interesting example was the Christian Right’s anti-gay campaign tactic of saying their issue was with the use of the word marriage. This created an entirely false scenario. One in which their image was softened and they gave the impression the debate was merely semantic. In reality they opposed not only homosexual unions of any kind, including civil unions, but homosexuality itself. That’s deception.

And we can apply that standard across the board. Sarah Palin once said the Affordable Care Act would involve death panels. That’s a necessary deception to make health insurance sound like a bad thing. This is where the media is failing now. It’s allowing the deceptive framing of issues to go unchallenged. Whence that happens, the rise of demagogues is sure to follow.

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37 comments on “The Mother of All Muckrakers

  1. metan
    January 14, 2017

    Ah, if only there was someone who could rake the same level of muck on trump! We can only hope there is someone right now quietly beavering away in their office collecting those specks of muck and piecing together the details of an equally scandalous story on him.

    The only problem I see is that any of his other mistruths (just plain lies really) which have been exposed were just brushed aside, I wonder what level of scandal people are going to need before they start turning against him?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think there’s a single good example of a demagogue with significant staying power. Especially not in a democracy. Chavez in Venezuela lasted 13 years and that required repression, media control, persecution of the opposition and a huge spike in the country’s budget (based on oil at that time.)
      The undoing of Trump is Trump himself.

      Liked by 2 people

      • metan
        January 14, 2017

        He doesn’t really need staying power though, does he? (Although he’s shown a desire for media control and loves to persecute the enemy, and who knows what he’ll do to the country’s finances!) I can’t imagine its too easy to remove a president from office, and surely he’ll only do one term before he wants to start running a new show.

        Four years from now he’ll step down saying he’s achieved everything he wanted, regardless of reality, and endorse someone as his successor (ooh, Kushner! 😉 ). His fans will believe him and vote as instructed because they are still drinking the kool-aid, and if Pence did his job and curbed some of the worst excesses of trump he’ll be able to choose any position he wants as his reward.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hariod Brawn
        January 14, 2017

        I give him 8 months, Metan. He’s got to go. One way or another.

        Liked by 2 people

      • metan
        January 14, 2017

        Eight months would be awesome, but I just can’t imagine an ego like his letting him walk away from such power.

        I’d love to be wrong though.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hariod Brawn
        January 14, 2017

        He may not be walking . . .

        Liked by 1 person

    • Clare Flourish
      January 14, 2017

      That he is Putin’s puppet is not enough, it seems. As Kasparov says, Trump has criticized: Republicans, Democrats, the Pope, US elections, CIA, FBI, NATO, Meryl Streep. Trump hasn’t criticized: Vladimir Putin.

      Liked by 1 person

      • metan
        January 15, 2017

        He lashes out like a two year old in a tantrum doesn’t he? It’s like he never matured past his school days, Putin is the cool kid and trump is desperate to be taken seriously enough to join that group. Unfortunately for privileged little Donald I imagine that his chances of understanding how to outwit a streetwise Putin are nonexistent.

        I just wish I could be a fly on the wall when trump realises he’s completely out of his depth and has alienated everyone who could have helped him.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. acflory
    January 14, 2017

    Damn, how come we never hear about amazing women like Tarbell? Thanks so much for this. As for the media, I’m in two minds about that. I stopped watching/listening to commercial news years ago. Now we only watch the ABC which does provide weirdly unbiased reporting, despite being govt. funded. And the reason we made the change was because of the mishandling of the GM food debate on the commercial channels. So I do know the depths to which news has sunk. Do those reporters not ‘know’ that they’re being fed a line? Or do they not care so long as it’s sensational and likely to catch the viewer’s interest for 30 seconds?
    I don’t know, and I’m rambling. Sorry, time for bed.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Same thing is true here (and in the UK), the government funded stations are more independent.
      I think the reporters at commercial stations are controlled by ratings. Everything has to be sensational, Breaking News, bombastic. Interestingly I think it’s in fact state television that saves France from Le Pen. When she baits they don’t bite. Her “shows” at the EU parliament are entirely ignored by French tv. So in fact people hear more about her on English speaking television than here 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        January 14, 2017

        Really? Wow…yet that is so non-intuitive, isn’t it? You’d think that govt. funding would lead to regimented reporting yet it’s actually the reverse [in democracies, anyway]. I suppose all those reporters who don’t chase the dollar have nowhere else to go. The public purse funding the last bastions of media integrity.

        Like

      • acflory
        January 14, 2017

        I just stumbled across Obama’s farewell speech and this bit clanged like a church bell:
        ‘..the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste — all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.’
        I’d read about this effect of social media/Facebook, but I didn’t understand it at a gut level. Now I do. 😦

        Liked by 2 people

    • clubschadenfreude
      January 14, 2017

      Rachel Maddow and her staff are doing what they can in exposing the lies of the trumpies. Unforunately, the network that has her, MSNBC, has hired some of the shills from Faux Noise.

      Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        January 14, 2017

        Meh…so she’s a lone voice in the wilderness?

        Like

      • clubschadenfreude
        January 15, 2017

        and what is wrong with that, if someone is trying?

        Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        January 16, 2017

        Nothing wrong with it! Just disappointing that other journos aren’t joining her.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Steve Ruis
    January 14, 2017

    The corporatists have gotten very used to deception, but I wouldn’t refer to it as required. It is interesting that academic economists, who have laid a smokescreen down for those corporate interests, describe markets as ideal places where both buyer and seller have perfect information. If that were so, then advertising would be an unwanted distortion of markets and would be railed against by the “pure markets” folks. Can you hear them now? No? (They aren’t railing against advertisers because they serve corporate interests, nor are they trying to incorporate the imperfect distribution of information into their market designs, because …) Advertisemenst often involved substantial deception as part of their makeup, at the very least in trying to make complicated decisions appear to be simple ones (commercials showing cars with Christmas bows affixed). Basically as long as it serves the interests of the wealthy and powerful, it goes. If it doesn’t, it does not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Diane G.
      January 14, 2017

      What do the academic economists say about labor? A resurgence of the labor rights movement (read, “unions”) is the only answer I see on the (sadly, far) horizon. Now that corporatism is international there’s only so much any given country can do.

      Even through labor relentlessly continues to become more automated there are still vastly more workers than titans. But unions have to be international to reflect the sphere of corporate control these days. The rise of unions in the US was a long, blood-shedding process and one would think an international labor movement would be even more so. The cracks in the EU aren’t helping matters, either.

      Liked by 1 person

    • An amusing example of that are the American food libel laws. No crazy Christians demonstrating for their freedom to criticise food 😀

      Like

  4. Hariod Brawn
    January 14, 2017

    “Are there enough reporters literate enough in the way that corporate power is developed and exploited, particularly the way in which it effectively covers itself with opacity and uses deliberate deception in the promotion of its policies?” – Undoubtedly, though when the mainstream media is very largely privately owned, and hence in the pay of shareholders’ interests, then why would they employ such individuals to work against their own interests? No, go and occupy a tiny little corner of the internet with a blogsite, you unhelpful little truth seeker. And if you get too big, we’ll buy you out and shut you down. Or we’ll buy the internet.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. appletonavenue
    January 14, 2017

    Sure, we all hate Trump, but him being impeached (a very probable scenario) would not help the US, because then Pence would be Prez and would quickly undo all that has been done to protect the LGBTQ community. I don’t trust the media to keep me at all properly informed. They sensationalize, mislead, misquote, misinform, etc. There are no longer journalists like Tarbell, Cronkite, or Woodward. All we have between us and Dump/Pence and the new Nazi regime is CNN? How frightening!

    Liked by 4 people

    • All true- but elections happen again in 2 and then in 4 years. How successful do you think the repeal of the ACA is going to be? How about women losing access to Planned Parenthood?
      They’re digging their own graves, as shortsighted idiots often do 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        January 15, 2017

        The pattern though, seems to be that no one believes ‘it’ can happen so they do nothing to stop it. Then ‘it’ happens and they cry foul, demonstrate etc but the horse has already bolted. Inertia beats even self interest. :/

        Liked by 2 people

      • appletonavenue
        January 17, 2017

        That they are. It’s true, good things do come from bad things. Like I said, Trump is providing lots of fertilizer.
        I think it’s the end of the Republican party as we know it. And the American people are starting to work together. We just have to hope N. Korea won’t nuke us after Trump makes a nasty tweet.

        Liked by 2 people

      • metan
        January 18, 2017

        He’s such a moron he even managed to add the wrong Ivanka to a tweet yesterday when he was being nice, getting a climate change lesson in return. Imagine what he could get wrong in a fit of temper! 😦

        Liked by 1 person

    • metan
      January 15, 2017

      One advantage of trump being so quick to shout about which media outlets he hates is that we are immediately notified of the kind of news (credible or otherwise) he doesn’t want anyone to hear! He would ever be able to play poker successfully would he?

      If he had any brain at all he’d just keep his opinions to himself, but that’s unlikely…

      Liked by 2 people

      • metan
        January 15, 2017

        ..he would never… damn tiny keyboard! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Are people in Australia giants? Or is it just a giant finger issue? 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • metan
        January 16, 2017

        😜 normal sized fingers, thumb typing on iPad mini while lying in bed still half asleep… Surprised an omitted letter was my only mistake!

        Like

      • You keep telling that story !

        Liked by 1 person

      • metan
        January 16, 2017

        Now I’m trying to imagine typing on this tiny keyboard with giant fingers… Actually it would be something like the man of the house doing a text message, painfully slow, and accompanied by constant swearing! (and the conversation over before you’ve managed to add your two cents worth 😀 )

        Liked by 1 person

      • appletonavenue
        January 17, 2017

        I don’t think much of the US media as a whole, but I trust more of CNN than I do Trump.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Sirius Bizinus
    January 15, 2017

    They’re not just failing to do their job; they’re part of the process of disseminating the narrative. Creating misleading narratives wouldn’t be possible without it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. midihideaways
    January 16, 2017

    Surely there must still be bastions of independent investigative journalism out there?? There’s not much we can do about things in the US, but we could all subscribe to a newspaper which is still looking at reporting truths, or at the least is searching for them. The way media has gone digital and newspapers are losing their subscribers, it’s not surprising that fewer and fewer journalists can be paid to do in-depth stories…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Phil's Personal Perspectives
    February 6, 2017

    Words do matter and those of us who are viewed as liberals or progressives tend to shy away from these terms. We accept these as having a negative connotation. Not for me I will challenge anyone who attempts to use these and other terms in a disparaging manner. We all need to talk back and speak up. There are some in the media who earn the title journalist. Fitting into a physical description or appearing in a somewhat provocative dress with a substantial income does not count. Education, knowledge and experience are needed to qualify as a journalist. Again there are a good number of journalists out there but we do need to search some and read a lot.

    Like

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