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A muckraker is a journalist or an author who searches for and exposes scandals and abuses occurring in business and politics, or muckraking, a popular form of reform-minded investigative journalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that specialized in exposing corruption or social wrongs. The rise of muckraking corresponded with that of Progressivism and the two were correlated, but not intrinsically tied.

The term muckraker is most properly applied to American reporters and writers from the early 1900s, but is also used to describe modern writers who follow in the tradition of the muckrakers. Although the term muckraking has negative connotations, the information so discovered can be valid and even justifiably important for the public to hear about.

President Theodore Roosevelt coined the term 'muckraker' during a speech in 1906 when he criticized the writings of some journalists as being excessive and irresponsible. He disliked the attitude and lack of optimism of muckraking's practitioners.

In his speech, Roosevelt likened the muckrakers to the Man with the Muckrake character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678):

"A man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hands, who was offered the celestial crown for his muckrake, but would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake the filth of the floor."

In the early 1900s, muckrakers served as a social conscience and opened many people’s eyes to the abuses of the powers that be. Popular magazines such as Cosmopolitan, The Independent, and McClures funded and helped to expose scandals including fraudulent claims by makers of patent medicines, horrific conditions in slums, hypocritical and lascivious behavior by politicians, prison conditions, and unsanitary conditions in food processing plants.

Well-known texts published include Unsafe at Any Speed and The Jungle, which, respectively, led to reforms in automotive manufacturing and meat packing in the United States. The most famous muckrakers were Ida Tarbell (The History of the Standard Oil Company), Lincoln Steffens, and Ray Stannard Baker. Popular muckraking magazines included McClure's, Munsey's Magazine, and American Magazine.

Famous Muckraker Literary Works