Written by: Krysta Ryan
Muckraking is a style or type of journalistic reporting that seeks out to uncover scandals, problematic relationships, and questionable behaviors of public officials and public elites. By publicizing information from the investigation, as to arouse the public and mobilize the masses to seek policy changes. There are three muckraking models-the simple muckraking model, the leaping impact model, and the truncated muckraking model. One story that has been repeated aired in hopes of gaining attention from policymakers and in some cases fall into the simple muckraking model, is the ongoing opioid crisis.
At the beginning of this nationwide epidemic, stories were aired at a local level framed around the crime and arrest made in relation to heroin and opioids.
Those stories did not move politicians as easily as hoped and the news media shifted towards stories that had emotional elements.
Politicians accordingly may feel safe in ignoring swells in public opinion, believing that they involve relatively few people (Graber & Dunaway, 2015). By framing the societal issue less around crime and more around the people involved, the media hoped to mobilize the public, which in turn calls for political action. By reporting on the diverse types people affected by this widespread epidemic, the media began to show that this problem was not limited to one economic class which soon caught the attention of politicians.
Once the crime frame was eliminated and news people began to expose the problem wasn’t limited to criminals the simple muckraking model of reporting had been used to catch the attention of policymakers. The media began to cover more and more cases of opioid addictions and how normal citizens initially became addicted to pain medications.
This investigative reporting allowed for this type of addiction to become less stigmatized by showing it affects all types of people and families. Graber and Dunaway (2015), explain modest or long-delayed outcomes are typical in situations that reflect the simple muckraking model. This is indeed the case with this ongoing societal issue being reported in the news.
The stories finally caught the attention of policymakers at the state level and push for federal aid soon made its way to Washington.
It was quickly shot down in early August when President Trump would not declare a national emergency about the opioid crisis.
Until that point, journalists had not brought up that some states such as Ohio are suing the pharmaceutical companies.
Semuels (2017) writes the lawsuit which accuses the companies of spending millions on marketing campaigns that
“trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.”
Very rarely did the news outlets blame pharmaceutical companies and after Trump’s refusal to address the problem, local governments decide to act. The muckraking model at this point shifts to leaping impact. Looking at news stories through the lens of a journalism student, we tend to have a trained eye to read between the lines, so to say and therefore identifying bias, agenda and framing often come easy.
Moreover, I often feel that many stories and articles published nowadays apply some sort of muckraking technique. It seems that journalists have adopted a web 2.0 style of muckraking which integrates hyperlinks, text variations, embedded social feeds and even custom ad placement can add to the story and subliminally impose messages to its viewers, shaping public opinion.
In general, the muckrakers traditionally targeted corporate wrongdoing, government misbehavior, and social injustice (Feldstein, 2006). This type of coverage is still very much the target of muckraking journalism in the 21st century, but in today’s world, reporters have a wider variety of scandalous behaviors and topics that they can cover. Changing societal norms have allowed taboo or inappropriate behaviors to become more mainstream and with this shift, new types of investigative topics can emerge.