An overstuffed, well-made anthology of writings by muckrakers both eminent and unknown.
“The enemy isn’t liberalism. The enemy isn’t conservatism. The enemy is bullshit.” So observed Washington-based newspaper columnist Lars-Erik Nelson, providing a motto that Pete Hamill, writing in the foreword to this volume, is only too glad to hand on to neophyte journalists. Nation contributing editor Shapiro here assembles a fine sampler of writings that take on that ubiquitous, persistent enemy; just as he notes that the term “investigative journalism” defies easy definition, he offers excerpts that range from death-defying reportage to easy-chair punditry. Among the most memorable pieces are Henry Adams’s sharp dissection of an 1869 scandal authored by Wall Street tycoons Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, one that, with a few substitutions, may remind some readers of the recent bubble; Upton Sinclair’s spirited defense of the methods and findings used and drawn from his investigation of the meat-packing industry, which yielded both his 1906 book The Jungle and reforms in the meat-packing industry; and Seymour Hersh’s extraordinary reports, published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1969, of American soldiers’ massacring South Vietnamese civilians at My Lai—reports that, among other things, recount the widespread resentment among American officers that one of their own should have been charged with murder. (“He’s a good soldier,” one officer remarks of Lt. William Calley. “He followed orders.” Adds another, “Killing becomes nothing in Vietnam.”) Though some of the selections pack less punch than others, and though the anthology highlights crusaders and reformists on the left (perhaps for the simple reason, as Hamill remarks, that, with the exception of William Safire, the right has produced few reliable muckrakers of its own), Shapiro’s editorial judgment is sound throughout, and his commentary on the texts will prove useful to readers without much background in the dig-and-disturb tradition of reporting.
A welcome addition to any journalist’s library, and an inspiring read for rising Woodward-Bernsteins.