By Christopher B. Daly
In her newest book, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin takes a turn toward the history of journalism. Actually, she is working at the intersection of Presidential History and Journalism History in The Bully Pulpit: TR, Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism. In any case, I am happy to welcome her to the ranks of journalism historians, and I am always glad to see any professional historian from another specialty stray into journalism’s past.
I am also intrigued by her discovery of a “golden age” in the journalism at the turn of the last century. It was certainly a time of great achievement, thanks to the “Muckrakers” who investigated so much wrong-doing, corruption, and squalor. I look forward to reading the book and seeing why she considers that period so wonderful. (Personally, I would nominate the period from about 1968-74: rise of rock journalism/ heyday of “new journalism”/ Pentagon Papers / Watergate. Your nomination?)
Until then, here’s an interview Goodwin did recently with NPR.
One stunning excerpt: Goodwin recounts that the great muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens decided to examine the performance of the U.S. government. So, Steffens wrote to the head of the outfit — none other than President Theodore Roosevelt.
“Mr. President, I want to investigate corruption in the federal government.”
According to Goodwin, TR’s reply was quite a stunner. He gave Steffens a calling card that he could use in his reporting and present to government officials as needed, which read, in part:
“Please tell Mr. Lincoln Steffens anything whatever about the running of the government that you know (not incompatible with the public interest) and provided only that you tell him the truth.”
Now, that‘s the way to treat a reporter! Just tell the truth.