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Chapter X. Government by Magazine WHEN A question has arisen about the nature of muck­ raking, some have responded in this spirit: Muckraking "consisted in adhering strictly to the literal truth, but in so arranging and proportioning statements of fact as to show most disadvantageously some person, corporation, or other organization of which the public was predisposed to believe the worst."1 The writings of the journalists themselves may be quoted to substantiate this. Steffens thought, "Mr. McClure was interested in facts, startling facts, not in philo­ sophical generalizations." Baker agreed, "that it was not the evils of politics and business, or the threat to our demo­ cratic system, that impressed him most, but the excitement and interest and sensation of uncovering a world of un­ recognized evils—shocking people! Many of Sam McClure's ideas were the ancient and more or less banal stand-bys of editors who sought large circulations."2 Such disparaging remarks can be supplied almost indefinitely from other sources. To Hamlin Garland, who wrote voluminously for the magazine in its early years, "Sam McClure represented the conquering side of the editors' guild. . . . Striving for wider 'circulation' and knowing that for every added hun­ dred thousand readers, advertising rates could be advanced, the business man consulted the wishes of the average read­ er—or the reader below the average."3 Even Richard Hofstadter has adopted this image of McClure as a busi­ nessman for whom muckraking "was the most successful of the circulation-building devices. . . ."4 These judgments for the most part originated with the pens of men like Ellery ι Cambridge History of American Literature (3 vols., New York, 1917-21), πι, 317. 2 Steffens, Autobiography, 393; Baker, American Chronicle, 96. SHamlin Garland, Roadside Meetings (New York, 1930), 341. * Hofstadter, Age of Reform, 192. G O V E R N M E N T B Y M A G A Z I N E Sedgwick, Theodore Roosevelt, and jealous newspaper edi­ tors, and have not been demonstrated.5 As already seen, after 1903 McClure's circulation grew but slowly, and after 1907 the magazine gradually fell be­ hind its competitors. While some journals such as Every­ body's reaped benefits from their exposures, McClure's did not. In 1905 McClure made his last profit on the magazine. Lincolniana paid far more handsomely than muckraking. Advertising, circulation, and profits were of interest to McClure , as they are to any publisher, and he calculated well the effect of articles upon circulation. But muckraking can­ not be solely explained, at McClure's or elsewhere, as Luther Mott and others have done, as only a circulationbuilder .® McClure and his staff were very conscious of par­ ticipating in a political and economic movement intent upon reshaping many of the country's institutions. Their close ties first with Roosevelt, then with La Follette and Wil­ son, evidence this. The criticism of progressive journalists, based on the assumption that they were economic men, publishing with an eye on income and circulation and un­ able to attack the economic and political power structure without a vote of confidence from the "average reader," has only limited value. Criticism of a capitalistic society can, and did, emanate from a capitalistic press. McClure's principal intent was to publish a credible, exciting journal. In imitation of the new historians or the new naturalists, London, Dreiser, and Hopper, he and his journalists evinced an unusual preoccupation with facts and possessed a desire to let events and documents speak for themselves. Baker, long before he remembered McClure in his autobiography, explained it well. He wrote Oswald Garrison Villard, then editor of the Nation, "I remember once in the old days at McClure's of getting a red-hot let­ ter from a man out west about one of my articles on the Beef Trust, in which he trounced me soundly for my fail5 See American Magazine, LXII (May, 1906), 112. β Mott, American Journalism, 573®. G O V E R N M E N T B Y M A G A Z I N E ures, after describing the villainies of these men in Chi­ cago, to 'skin them alive,' as he expressed it."7 Baker re­ sponded to the old man, he continued, "if I got mad, you wouldn't." "I always had a feeling," he added, "that if I let off steam in my articles the reader himself would feel quite relieved and never want to do anything." The men who trained in the McClure "foundry" consid­ ered well...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400872305
MARC Record
OCLC
614006860
Pages
360
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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