Academic journal article Journalism History

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

Article excerpt

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013. 867 pp. $40.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, the popular historian of presidents, writes masterfully of the lives of early twentieth-century politicians and the muckraking journalists who collaborated with them. While Goodwin does not reveal significant new information or infuse her analysis with theory, her chorography of the lives she chronicles enlivens historical figures from progressive politics, government, and the press, showing how closely the politicians worked with and relied on the muckrakers.

Indeed, her evidence of the close relationships-Roosevelt often showed drafts of speeches to and discussed political strategy with Ray Stannard Baker and Lincoln Steffens and took advice from William Allen White-reinforces research of modern investigative journalists that found reporters often worked in collaboration with political operatives to effect change that otherwise would not happen if they relied solely on outrage from their readers to spur political action. In the early twentieth century, the relationship was extremely close. Roosevelt learned from his early political experience that press coverage was essential to effecting reform. Throughout his career he avidly read newspapers and magazines, and formed close friendships with several of the muckrakers who often wrote articles to help Roosevelt achieve his political aims.

Roosevelt's stump speech attacking the muckrakers has previously been debunked as a reason for muckraking's demise. Goodwin reveals communications between Roosevelt and Baker and Steffens after the speech. Roosevelt did not back down from the criticism, but he insisted his attack was against William Randolph Hearst and his magazine, The Cosmopolitan, which had published David Graham Phillips's attack on U.S. Senate corruption. Roosevelt worried that the article would harm his ability to get reforms through Congress. Steffens, for his part, told Roosevelt that the president's 1906 muckrake speech had put an end to all the investigations that had helped him win the presidency. While Steffens's prediction did not prove correct in the short term, the speech certainly has become important to the history of muckraking.

Goodwin creates well-rounded characters built methodically from exhaustive research using letters, diaries, memoirs, and contemporary interviews, news reports, and editorials, supplemented with previously published biographies and histories. The cast of characters given close attention, in addition to Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Baker, and Steffens, includes William Allen White, Ida Tarbell, John Phillips, and Samuel S. …

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