Word of the Day: muckrake
Muckrake (verb) MUCK-rayk
: to search out and publicly expose real or apparent misconduct of a prominent individual or business
Arn is an aggressive reporter, never afraid to ask difficult questions, hound evasive sources, or muckrake when things appear suspect.
“From his groundbreaking days of editing the iconic liberal magazines Ramparts and Scanlan’s Monthly in the 1960s and ’70s to his reliably irreverent columns for newspapers …, Mr. [Warren] Hinckle delighted in tweaking anyone in charge of anything and muckraking for what he fiercely saw as the common good.” — Kevin Fagan, The San Francisco Chronicle, 26 Aug. 2016
Did You Know?
The noun muckrake (literally, a rake for muck, i.e., manure) rose out of the dung heap and into the realm of literary metaphor in 1684. That’s when John Bunyan used it in Pilgrim’s Progress to represent man’s preoccupation with earthly things. “The Man with the Muckrake,” he wrote, “could look no way but downward.” In a 1906 speech, President Teddy Roosevelt recalled Bunyan’s words while railing against journalists he thought focused too much on exposing corruption in business and government. Roosevelt called them “the men with the muck-rakes” and implied that they needed to learn “when to stop raking the muck, and to look upward.” Investigative reporters weren’t insulted; they adopted the term muckraker as a badge of honor. And soon English speakers were using the verb muckrake for the practice of exposing misconduct.
Muckrake is a term that I rarely use but understand its meaning. At least I thought I did…till now. I learned that it is an actual tool or the act of raking up muck. Done that often enough and it makes sense. Growing up in the part of the country I did, I came to know it as a derogatory slang term for someone who digs up dirt on other people, just to be mean and hurt them. That’s not quite accurate.
What I didn’t know, was that, in a way, I was right. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt coined the term during the turn of the twentieth century. Fair enough. What I didn’t know was that he used it for political gains, to target his opponents by encouraging everyone to be a muckraker, on the premise that if his opponents short-givings were exposed, it would help advance his political career. Well, I can’t blame him for that.
However, I wonder what our country would be like if we left well enough alone. Up until after the Kennedy era, journalists respected the privacy of sitting officials, allowing them to have their flings, affairs and such, without shouting from the mountain tops their private affairs. Granted, if it involved their public life, then by all means, it was fair game. Private lives remained…private.
In today’s world, the private lives of anyone are fair game to be broadcast around the world, via social media, actual journalism or the pretend journalist outlets, such as the nightly news et.all. If you want to hide something, of if you have a skeleton in your closet, sooner or later, it’s going to come out.
To me, the only way that it won’t matter is if you already lead a life where you, one, don’t care who finds out your inner most secrets, and two, lead a life of an open book. There once was a time where I cared whether someone figured out my inner most secrets. Not anymore. Because one, I don’t care whether you like it or not, and two, ask me anything. I’ll tell you the truth. Just don’t ask me anything you really don’t want the answer. I will tell you and then refer you to number one.
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I love learning the different contexts of these words of the day. Do you? Please share your comments. I’m sure we would all like to read them.
Have a great day.