Seymour Hersh And The Dangers Of Corporate Muckraking

By Mark Ames, originally posted on Pando Daily

Seymour Hersh And The Dangers Of Corporate Muckraking


“The Times wasn’t nearly as happy when we went after business wrongdoing as when we were kicking around some slob in government.” — Seymour Hersh


In its original meaning, “muckraking journalism” was all about exposing the awful power that corporations, trusts, and monopolies exercised over people and the broader public interest. So why doesn’t Seymour Hersh, considered the premiere “muckraker” of the past few decades, turn his fearless muckraking guns on private corporate power?

Ida Tarbell dug deep into Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire and all the ways it exercised a kind of private government tyranny over huge swathes of public life; Tarbell’s work directly influenced the antitrust breakup of Standard Oil in 1911. Upton Sinclair exposed brutality in the meatpacking industry — on its workers, the slaughtered animals, and the diseased, rat-infested meats that eventually wound up in consumers’ homes — leading to the Meat Inspection Act and the Food and Drug Administration. Other muckraking exposés led to state-level child labor and workers’ comp laws, the progressive income tax amendment, and laws placing vast expanses of land and forests under federal protection from rapacious robber barons.

But Hersh and others we today call “muckrakers” focus almost exclusively on taking on government power and the national security state power — not the power of private governments (corporations, oligopolies) that exert so much mundane existential power over our mundane little existences. To the extent that muckrakers today do delve into concentrated private power, it’s usually to expose the influence of corporate money in government, which reinforces the basic operating assumptions today that power is in the hands of public government, and that corporate power is only a problem when it co-opts government power.

The nearly exclusive focus on fighting government power started with the baby boomers in the mid-late 1970s, as they retreated from politics and labor unions, and ditched the sort of university Marxist rhetoric that filled the pages of old Ramparts magazine issues.

There are a lot of reasons for this trend in muckraking journalism over the past few decades, away from fighting private corporate power, in favor of fighting government power — but the most obvious reason of all is the one you won’t hear about much because it’s not very glamorous or heroic: It’s better for your journalism career — and easier — to take on the government leviathan, than it is to take on private corporate power.

Read the rest of the story over at Pando Daily