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Muckreads Podcast: ‘The Bully Pulpit’ With Doris Kearns Goodwin

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Portrait by Eric Levin

Today ProPublica’s Stephen Engelberg is joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin to talk about her new book, “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.”

The book centers on sketches of key figures in the Progressive Era, which gave rise to sweeping reform driven in large part by a new brand of investigative reporting that came to be known as “muckraking.” Coined as a derisive term by President Roosevelt – who was himself very friendly with the press – it came to be a badge of honor for journalists of the time. 

Roosevelt courted reporters in his efforts to clean up corruption, Goodwin says, because “he recognized that they were the channel to the public, and without the public pressure, he couldn’t get through what he wanted to.”

“He has said before that the idea of trusts and monopolies was sort of abstract; it was hard to get the people to pay attention,” Goodwin continues. Because the muckrakers knew how to write narratively, the stories became a weapon to be used by the politicians like Roosevelt to push change. “Together, there’s no question, I think, that they pressured a Congress who would have bottled up these bills – once they got to the floor, they had to pass them, because the public demanded it. “

You can listen to this podcast on iTunes and Stitcher; for more about Goodwin’s book, visit her website.

Doris, wherever you are, my dear lady, this is a superb read. Actually fun but also incredibly informative.‘Ol Teddy was REAL in many, many ways and as a progressive (fix it guy at core)  is a good man to remember when we get mentally involved in the current fuzzball of national politics. I loved the way he and the reporter hit 20+ tenement houses and were sickened by the way occupants were living. This had to be the wake-up shock to his semi-patrician mind.

I cannot believe that an organization whose mission statement is, in part, “To expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions” (and presumably individuals) would promote such a serial plagiarizer as Goodwin!  She even paid a bribe—er, sorry, “settled with”—an author whose words she stole.  ProPublica interviewed David Barstow on his investigation into the Mexico Walmart bribery scandal.  I maintain that Goodwin’s plagiarism and “settlement” money has far more damaging consequences that what happened in Mexico with Walmart.  At any rate, this is a major swing-and-a-miss for ProPublica.  I’d like to know what the thought process was that led to the decision to plug a plagiarist writer (I won’t even call her an historian).

@Scott Quinn…it’s really too bad you’ve blinded yourself with indignation, and apparently deafened yourself as well…because the podcast was actually a substantive discussion of journalism and political interaction, and how journalism of that time greatly contributed to the public welfare.
Of course, as you “maintain” that Goodwin’s plagiarism is worse than WalMart’s illegalities in Mexico, I think I see a political agenda in your nasty, off topic screed.

Barbara Brooks

Dec. 23, 2013, 5:02 p.m.

Teddy Roosevelt didn’t coin the term “muck raker”  Muck Raker was a character in Pilgrim’s Progress (which was still very popular) who stayed among the filth in the Slough of Despond rather than pursue higher things.

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