Shaking the Foundations: 200 Years of Investigative Journalism in America/All in the Day's Work: An Autobiography

Article excerpt

Shapiro, Bruce, ed. (2003). Shaking the Foundations: 200 Years of Investigative Journalism in America. New York: Nation Books, pp. 320.

Tarbell, Ida M. (2003). All in the Day's Work: An Autobiography. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, pp. 448.

Historically, the role of investigative journalism has been rooted in the "watchdog role." Driven by the premise, journalists strove to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The mind-frame led to stories about social injustices and governmental corruption. This led to the ultimate in investigative journalism-Watergate. Woodward and Bernstein's bringing down of the president inspired thousands of idealistic students to enroll in journalism schools, intent on uncovering the truth. But rather than a continuation of investigating government and shining a light on social ills, the ensuing years gave television viewers and newspaper readers stories about consumer issues and sensationalized crime stories.

The image of investigative journalism was publicly tarnished by NBC Dateline's expose on side-mounted fuel tanks on GM trucks. The investigation claimed that when the vehicles were struck, they would explode into flames. An investigation of the investigation found that the truck had been rigged with explosives in order to produce the outcome the show wanted. It was a humiliating time for investigative journalists. If there was a question about how the public felt about investigative journalism, it was answered by the Food Lion case. The case was a result of a 1992 ABC News' Primetime Live report that Food Lion workers mixed out-ofdate beef along with new beef, bleached rank meat to remove its odor and re-dated products. The report included tapes of Food Lion workers secretly made by ABC employees who had been hired by the food chain. In January 1997, a Federal Court jury awarded $5.5 million to Food Lion finding that ABC engaged in fraud to get its story. A divided Federal appeals court threw out all but $2 in damages, ruling that the case was an "end-run" around the First Amendment. While the media won, media legal experts said the message was clear-journalists need to examine the sometimes questionable way that they gather their information.

Two recent books attempt to show a more positive side of investigative journalism-one an anthology, Shaking the Foundations: 200 Years of Investigative Journalism in America, and the other an autobiography, Ida Tarbell's All in the Day's Work. The anthology, edited by Bruce Shapiro, is a historical look at the role of investigative journalism, going beyond Watergate and the muckrakers, the Progressive-era crusaders who investigated injustices in the first half of the twentieth century. The anthology consists of thirty-eight stories from newspapers, magazines, and books from 1798 to 1999. It includes the uncovering of corporate and governmental corruption, as well as the investigations of social inequities and environmental destruction.

Two of the most impressive stories are Vera Connelly's 1929 investigation of degrading conditions on Indian reservations and Seymour Hersh's 1968 story of U.S. troops wiping out Vietnamese fishing villages, killing 600 civilians. Connelly's story ran in a women's magazine, an underapprociatod source of investigative journalism; her work put a spotlight on cruel treatment of children on Indian reservations that had been hidden for years. Her series of three stories led to congressional hearings and the resignation of the commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hersh's My Lai expose set an important precedent in journalism-the first time investigative reporting documented a large-scale mass murder. Historians note that nothing like it had been done during the Holocaust or during the early cold war.

The stories in this anthology add to the relatively undocumented women in journalism history literature. Among the women authors are Rachel Carson, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Ida B. …