When we hear the term “muck raking,” we almost automatically go in our heads to politicos and specifically those who “report” on politicians and their antics. There’s a good reason why we associate the phrase that way. And much of it goes back to the 1st decade of the 20th Century, when calls in earnest were coming from the media to chance how Senators would be elected.
In the early 1900’s, President Theodore Roosevelt began to label those in the press who attacked him or the government as “muck rakers,” a term he has borrowed from a book written in 1678 and well known to Christians even today, Pilgrim’s Progress.
But it was over the US Senate that the muck-rakers, as they even began to call themselves, really began to strike a blow against what they perceived as government corruption and the failure of the US Senate. When William Randolph Hearst began to promote the attacks against the Senators such as Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island, it became increasingly clear that facts were no longer relevant to the discussion. Whether there was or was not any truth in the accusations or the stories of gridlock and failure by the States no longer matters. When one Senator was exposed as a corrupt and evil man, it reflected upon the entire body.
When what would become the 17th Amendment was first introduced, it faced an uphill battle. As time went by, and as more and more of the muck-rakers “uncovered” scandals and perceived injustices, it gained traction. In 1912 it would be adopted by Congress and in 1913 it would be ratified by the requisite number of States.
And in that lies the story of how the press can change the vision of the Framers and the US Constitution…