Investigated Reporting: Muckrakers, Regulators, and the Struggle over Television Documentary

Article excerpt

Raphael, Chad. Investigated Reporting: Muckrakers, Regulators, and the Struggle over Television Documentary. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005. 304 pp. $45.

Chad Raphael, an associate professor of communication at Santa Clara University, has written an insightful and valuable book about the history of television documentaries. He is successful, especially in offering perspective through the dissection of some particularly controversial documents from an era in which that particular variety of program prospered. He also fills important gaps in coverage through resourceful use of archival material and a focus on the people involved in the productions, including personal interviews and memoirs published since that time.

In the course of uncovering long lost details about the most controversial of films, such as Accuracy in Media's role in the controversy over The Selling of the Pentagon (characterized in the book as that organization's "first major target"), the author's observations on the way these films developed in concert with other things happening at about the same time in the social and political environment provide many insights about why things unfolded as they did. The major challenges to American life portrayed in the programs closely examined in the book-the health care system (Hungers America), banking methods (Banks and the Poor), and retirement issues (Pensions: The Broken Promise)all reflect on network television's movement towards investigative reporting, while employing methods that called out for more careful scrutiny.

The tides of most of these documentaries will be familiar to those who typically take the time to incorporate the documentary genre into their media history courses. But with few exceptions, the reader may be a surprised at the level of detail in the analysis and review of such things as information-gathering techniques, reporting and editing mediods, and the manner in which the subjects are portrayed. …