Study Guide

The Man with the Muckrake Analysis

By Theodore Roosevelt

  • Rhetoric

    Ethos

    If this speech were a Spike Lee film, it'd be Do the Right Thing…and not just because it deals with tensions in lower-class neighborhoods.

    Teddy Roosevelt in this speech is moralizing, from top to bottom. He wants people to follow his advice because he considers what he's saying the right thing to do, that good and evil are fixed things, and that people should follow his advice because it's morally correct. For example, take this sentence on for a spin:

    The fool who has not sense to discriminate between what is good and what is bad is well nigh as dangerous as the man who does discriminate and yet chooses the bad. (41)

    First, he's setting up a strict dichotomy between good and evil. For an extra dash of uncompromising, he sets up in this and many other quotes an absolute relativism of crimes. For him, crimes are crimes and not-crimes are not-crimes, and there's not much wiggle room in his reasoning.

    Yeah, TR probably wouldn't like Do the Right Thing all that much.

  • Structure

    Variations on a Theme

    This speech is a hard one to break down.

    Teddy Roosevelt is, in this speech, awfully fond of repetition. He pretty much goes in a circle, saying (roughly), "Lying is bad and journalists cause problems, no I love journalists and hate corruption, there are good bankers and bad laborers."

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    There are no clearly defined sections, no new ideas brought up in further parts of the speech, just variations on a theme.

    The one distinction occurs around the halfway point, where he generally stops talking to journalists and starts talking about the social climate in America more broadly. It's at this point where he stops giving advice to specific people and starts talking about the national character.

    How it Breaks Down

    Dear Journalists

    In this part, TR's trying to set guidelines for investigative journalists, trying to get them to stop creating a toxic public atmosphere. (The talk about getting businesses to stop making a literal toxic atmosphere would come later.)

    He has a lot of complaints about attitudes toward businesses and corruption in the United States and he starts with asking journalists to have a hand in changing that.

    The People and Public Malaise/Hysteria

    About halfway through the speech, TR shifts gears and talks about the public climate that he assumes journalists had a hand in creating. He speaks out against two ends of the spectrum—complete apathy and fanatical hatred of the wealthy—and ends by saying that we need to think about things in his two favorite flavors: good and evil.

  • Writing Style

    Persuasive

    With the amount of backpedaling and dwelling on the same points that he does, you can definitely tell Teddy's trying to sell the audience on ideas that they might not find intuitive. There's plenty of (we paraphrase) "Don't get me wrong"s and "It's easy to misunderstand what I've said"s.

    He puts the same idea through twenty different kinds of lenses throughout the speech, iterating upon the same ideas until he finds an anecdote or an example that might gel with the audience. This sentence is a dead give-away:

    Now, it is easy to twist out of shape what I have just said, easy to affect to misunderstand it, and if it is slurred over in repetition not difficult really to misunderstand it. (21)

    He knows that his speech might be implying things that he's not necessarily down with, and he has to work extra hard to grapple with the audience and make sure that he's understood.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The speech was initially unnamed and had the scintillating title of "Address at the Cornerstone Laying Ceremony of the Cannon Office Building." (Yawn.)

    But considering how resonant its first metaphor was to the public, it's no surprise that the speech took on the name it did: the Man with the Muckrake. Thanks to the speech, investigative journalists took on the name "muckrakers," so calling TR's speech "The Man With the Muckrake" helps people link the two together.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    Over a century ago Washington laid the corner stone of the Capitol in what was then little more than a tract of wooded wilderness here beside the Potomac. We now find it necessary to provide by great additional buildings for the business of the government. (1-2)

    Before he gets to the moral lecturing, TR starts things off with a lighter note by showing some of America's baby pictures, so to speak. He talks warmly about how much progress America's made since its founding, how powerful it's become, how cool its new buildings are, and then eaaases the audience into his moralizing.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    The foundation stone of national life is, and ever must be, the high individual character of the average citizen. (96) 

    Just like Captain Planet, TR ends his speech with saying, "The power is yours!" 

    The character of the average citizen is paramount in Teddy's view of the world, and he wants to stack the deck with the right kind of people in the upper and lower classes alike. The emphasis has been placed on individual actions throughout the speech, and here he just wants to hammer that point home.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (2) Sea Level

    As long as "The Man with the Muckrake" speech is, it really has only one core idea that he restates throughout the piece. If you're willing to Google some of the more obscure references he drops (or check out our "Shout-Outs" page, where we list them for you—you're welcome), this speech should be no problem at all to understand.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Literary and Philosophical References

    Bishop Richard Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, Book I (1592)
    John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress from the World to That Which is to Come; Delivered Under the Similtude of a Dream (London: Nath. Ponder, 1678)

    Historical and Political References

    Aristides

    Biblical References

    Exodus 20.15

    References to This Text

    Literary and Philosophical References

    Cook, Fred J. (1972). The Muckrakers: Crusading Journalists who Changed America. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. p. 179.

    Historical and Political References

    Lincoln Steffens, after hearing the speech, said that by condemning journalists he put an end to a legacy of good work—a legacy on which Roosevelt had built his reputation. (Tom Buk-Swienty, The Other Half: The Life of Jacob Riis and the World of Immigrant America. [W.W. Norton and Company, 2008] pg. 258.)

  • Trivia

    Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, actually wasn't specifically targeting the meat-packing industry. As a lifelong socialist, he wanted to draw attention to the kinds of conditions that modern capitalism helped create, but instead he got Teddy Roosevelt to form the FDA. Like he said, he aimed for the public's heart, but hit them in the stomach instead. (Source)

    Teddy Roosevelt drank a gallon of coffee a day. He was born, sadly, far too early for ordering Starbucks Trentas. (Source)

    In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt was shot in the middle of giving a speech. It would have hit his heart, but he was saved by his steel-lined glasses case and the thick speech in his coat pocket. The bullet stayed in his chest for the rest of his life, and he didn't let one measly bullet stop him from finishing his speech. (Source)

    President William McKinley was killed on the operating table after also being shot. There were some professional blunders, and there weren't suitable medical facilities at the Pan-American Exposition fairgrounds. At one point someone had to hold a mirror and reflect sunlight toward the wound because there wasn't enough light in the room. (Yikes.) (Source)

    Teddy Roosevelt was made vice president thanks to the corrupt New York political machine. They were tired of him as governor always threatening reform, so they conspired to have him put in the most ineffectual position they could think of: the Vice Presidency. The joke was on them when McKinley died in office, catapulting their enemy straight into the highest office. (Source)