Study Guide

The Man with the Muckrake Main Idea

By Theodore Roosevelt

  • Main Idea

    Journalists and the American Mood; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Telling People to Stop Worrying

    Teddy Roosevelt's really calling for self-policing among journalists, as much as the speech makes a show of condemning corrupt corporate Monopoly Man interests. Deep down he's holding a fear that the media's helping to foster a widespread bad mood over America.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

    Between all of the exposés of political corruption, big corporations eclipsing all of the competition, and the constant flare-ups of violence in the labor movement, things look pretty bleak already. It's a really dark time, and with newspapers constantly publishing one exposé after another, people might just flat-out lose hope.

    On the surface, TR's asking journalists to stop slanderous attacks, but certain passages hint at his underlying message: newspapers need to tone it down on the darkness overall. After all, there's more than enough darkness to go around.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Why target journalists? What kind of journalists is Teddy Roosevelt addressing in particular?
    2. Who does he believe is capable of good?
    3. What does he think is the one dividing line in society?
    4. What social issue should the government make its main concern?

    Chew on This

    Roosevelt, as Mr. Prez, is trying to steer a pretty new proverbial ship in American history—the organized press. Mass media is really emerging in the 20th century as a possible tool to sway hearts and minds, and the government is becoming increasingly aware of how the press can move the public.

    Teddy Roosevelt's condemnation of all evil acts as the same might work better in theory than in practice…because a corrupt business has a lot more power to flex than a corrupt worker does. A corrupt exec can bend the ear of Washington, while a worker has nowhere close to that kind of power to leverage.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    The rich and the working class are in a knockdown, drag-out cage-match, and the press is making sure everyone has ringside seats. Things are getting tense, in a not-infrequent-casualties kind of way.

    Not good.

      

    The Text

    Roosevelt starts his speech off by calling journalists out. While some of them were shining a light on very real problems, others were launching attacks that were flat-out lies. Even the people telling the truth were going a bit overboard on the doom and gloom.

    While he thinks it's important to call corporations out on their crimes, there are some people who are stoking the fire with broad attacks against the wealthy. Instead of fussing over haves versus have-nots, America should be concerned with the individual character of its citizens. Not all businesses spend their free time twirling their Snidely Whiplash mustaches and petting their white cats, and if we kill that stereotype, we can acknowledge the businesses that are actually doing some good out there.

    At the end of the day, America has a lot of problems. But they're only going to be solved if people understand that the problems are solvable to begin with. There are so many powers for good in the world, and people need to keep the faith and keep trudging on.

    TL;DR

    Teddy's working on some great reforms behind the scenes, but the only way that change is going to get done right is if people understand that wealthy corporations don't get to stack the deck in their favor and deal themselves five aces.

  • Questions

    1. Teddy Roosevelt has a reputation for being a Trust Buster and a fighter against corporate corruption. Do you think he deserves his rep, or is he more moderate?
    2. Why does he feel like reporters are particularly dangerous? Does he have specific journalists or periodicals in mind?
    3. Teddy Roosevelt believes in absolute good and absolute evil. Do you think, given his forceful use of the American navy to help police the Western Hemisphere, that he thinks America globally is a force of absolute good?
    4. Do you think asking a journalist dedicated to exposing corruption to stop because it's bumming people out is a fair thing to ask?
    5. Does all reform have to come slowly? What are the disadvantages of waiting for reform?
    6. Do you think, out of all the people Teddy Roosevelt could be giving a speech to lecture, journalists are the most deserving?
    7. Do you think you could take on Teddy Roosevelt in a fight, and what form of martial arts do you think would help the most?

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