Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Media Helped Fuel the Age of Reform

In Chapter V of The Age of Reform by Richard Hofstadter, he traces part of the stimulus of the reform movement to the rapid increase in the number of newspapers in the United States from 1870 to 1899 and the explosive growth of newspaper readers. Associated with the growth were a dramatic increase in exposes and human interest stories, content which drew readers' interests. The changes also brought new sources of income to the papers and diminished their dependence on the political sources that they had previously needed.

By the turn of the 20th century, the public was learning about corruption not only as a theoretical problem, but as something that identified people were doing in their cities and states, corruption that was affecting them personally. The human interest stories were (metaphorically) rubbing the public's nose in the destitution of a large part of the population of the United States and the pain that that poverty caused.

In some sense, I am reminded of the current situation in which the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement are fueled by an awareness of the inequities of the current situation. On the other hand, it is not clear what the media have done or are doing to create this awareness. Of course, many people are out of work and many have lost their homes -- so many that most of us know someone affected.

The media have done a good job of explaining that the very rich have not suffered while so many of the rest of us are in economic trouble. They have shown the gridlock in Washington as politicians jockey for position in the upcoming elections rather than working hard to find solutions to the nation's problems. They perhaps could do a lot more to show the degree to which politicians have sold out to corporations and the rich, and to return to the muckraking that brought down the Nixon administration and so embarrassed the Reagan administration.

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