Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man with the Muck-Rake,” Teaching-Learning Materials

Classroom Activities

A. What is a muckrake?  What are the metaphoric connotations associated with the term “muck-rake?”  Does this metaphor still apply to modern-day journalism?  If so, how?  If not, are there any updated metaphors that apply better to today’s investigative reporting?

B.  Watch a recent investigative report in class (“To Catch a Predator” from Dateline NBC works well here).  Is this an example of modern-day muckraking?  Why or why not?  What might Theodore Roosevelt have said about this kind of news reporting?

C. It has been argued that the “Address of President Roosevelt at the Laying of the Corner Stone of the Office Building of the House of Representatives Saturday, April 14, 1906 (The Man with the Muck-Rake)” is really two speeches in one (i.e., the first part of the speech is about investigative journalism and the second part is about a progressive tax).  Is such a conclusion appropriate?  If so, do you think Roosevelt made a wise rhetorical choice?  Why or why not?

D. Read the “Address of President Roosevelt at the Laying of the Corner Stone of the Office Building of the House of Representatives Saturday, April 14, 1906 (The Man with the Muck-Rake)” for its inclusion of god terms and devil terms.  Is there a balance between god terms and devil terms throughout the speech, or does Roosevelt privilege one type over another?  Assess the implications of such terms.

E. Theodore Roosevelt has been labeled a “trust-buster.”  Do you see evidence of trust-busting in this speech?  If so, where is such evidence located in the speech? In addition, what can you conclude about his perspective of big business?

F.  What might Theodore Roosevelt say about First Amendment rights today now that we have Internet, television, and cellular telephones?  Would he maintain his moderate position or would he argue that such innovations are “evil” because they extend freedom of speech too far?  Or would he argue that modern innovations are “good” for public debate?  How would you argue with or against him?

Student Research

A. How good a muckraker are you?  Find a controversial issue you can research and write a muck-raking report on it.  For example, you may have recently learned that your town is not recycling according to code.  Research the issue and write a muckrake-style report of the case.

B. Write a comparative analysis of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (or an equivalent pairing of investigative reports from Roosevelt’s era and today).  What do these investigative reports have in common?  How are they different?  Are they both muckraking?  What in their writing style helps support your arguments?

C.  Watch the movie Fahrenheit 9/11 by Michael Moore, or some equivalent film.  Now read film reviews of the movie and see how it was treated by the media.  You may find that Moore was called a mud-slinger by the conservative media, or praised as a hard-hitting, documentary film-maker by the liberal media.  Who was right?  Who was wrong?  Why?

D. Many of Theodore Roosevelt’s archival papers are available on microfilm and may be ordered through your school’s interlibrary loan department.  Locate early drafts of Roosevelt’s speech on microfilm, compare them with the speech he delivered on April 14, 1906, and find what he omitted and/or added.  For example, Roosevelt deleted some explanatory sentences about muckrakers in an early draft of his speech; specifically, he crossed out the words “Where the exposure of evil results in some tangible good obtained in any one of these three methods, the man exposing it, whether he speak on the stump or write in magizine [sic] or newspaper, does real and great good.”  Why did he leave out parts like this, and/or why did he add the parts he added?  Would the speech have been strengthened or weakened if he included the omitted passages?

E. Locate newspaper stories about the “Address of President Roosevelt at the Laying of the Corner Stone of the Office Building of the House of Representatives Saturday, April 14, 1906 (The Man with the Muck-Rake)” the day after it was delivered?  Look especially in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe.  What did journalists say about the speech at the time it was delivered?

Citizenship Resources

A. It may be said that being good American citizens means being ethical public communicators.  That is, after all, what Theodore Roosevelt was advocating in his speech.  Are there standards of ethical communication we may agree upon as U.S. citizens today?  What are they?  Or is it censorship to put limits on how citizens should communicate in public?

B.  If you were to speak out about a public issue important to you and your community–for example, let’s say you would like to speak out against a new highway being put through the center of your town–where would you go to be heard?  What would you say?  What potential obstacles might you face?  Would you involve the media?  Why, and what benefits/drawbacks might come with that decision? 

C. Take your freedom of speech to the Internet and join the conversation.  Find Internet sources, such as freedom of speech blogs, to see what some U.S. citizens are saying about issues of free speech.  The American Civil Liberties Union hosts a free speech blog (http://www.aclu.org/blog/project/free-speech). Read about current freedom of speech issues on blogs like the ACLU’s and post your comments.

D.  Have you witnessed instances of restricted free speech on your campus or in your town?  If so, write a letter to the editor of your school newspaper or your local paper articulating your position.

E.  Locate the websites of your senators and representatives in Congress.  Find their email addresses and let them hear from you about your freedom of speech concerns.  How would you like them to vote on upcoming free speech measures?  What free speech initiatives would you like them to advance?  How can they continue to protect your First Amendment right to speak?