Professor's Book Stresses Journalists' Commitment
NEW PALTZ -- A need for social change drove muckraking journalists' efforts in the early years of the 20th century, but SUNY New Paltz Professor Robert Miraldi argues in a new book that these investigative reporters' eagerness to expose wrongdoing often came from their strong spiritual values.
The book, The Muckrakers: Evangelical Crusaders, recently published by Praeger Press of Westport, Conn., has nine chapters and six contributors. Miraldi wrote two chapters. SUNY New Paltz Professor Howard Good wrote one chapter.
In the last 25 years, there have been few new critical and scholarly assessments of the turn-of-the-century muckraking journalists. Miraldi, an award-winning columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal who teaches journalism, provides a fresh look at the ideology behind America's first investigative reporters. Miraldi and the other writers demonstrate how the muckrakers were often driven by spiritual values.
"It was a religious-like passion for reform and progress that often drove their crusades and exposes," Miraldi said. He added, "Even in small towns the crusading spirit often permeated some of the press."
Driven by their evangelical fervor, these journalists exposed the richest church in America -- also New York City's biggest slum landlord -- and forced the church to clean up its tenement houses. Crusading journalists -- outraged at corruption and injustice -- brought civic improvements to communities throughout America, as one chapter about Buffalo and another about a small town in Wisconsin, show.
Miraldi said the book demonstrates that the muckrakers were "principled, purposeful, powerful and progressive," even though their exposes may have so dispirited the public that they began to stay away from voting in elections.
Miraldi, a 1992 Fulbright Scholar who lectured in Europe on the American press, believes that what America needs now is a return to this style of zestful journalism. "It might help awaken a sleeping and disinterested public, as well as provide a moral center in American journalism," he said.
Miraldi's argument for a return to a crusading press is echoed by Good, also a journalism professor. Good's epilogue is titled "Muckraking and the Ethic of Caring." Other contributors to the book include Stephen Whitfield, the Max Richter Professor of American Studies at Brandeis University, and Thomas Leonard, a dean at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
Miraldi has written numerous scholarly articles on press history and a book titled Muckraking and Objectivity: Journalism's Colliding Traditions, which was published by Greenwood Press in 1991. He has taught at New Paltz since 1992.
Miraldi, who was an investigative reporter in New York for 10 years, lives in Stone Ridge, N.Y., with his wife and two children. He is presently working on a biography of Charles Edward Russell, a well-known turn-of-century journalist and author.
Good has a bachelor's degree from Bard College, a master's degree from the University of Iowa, and a doctoral degree from the University of Michigan. He and his wife have four children.
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