OUR Prime Minister (for the moment) has thrown about the word muckraker during each of the last three Question Times, which all must agree have provided some of the best entertainment on afternoon telly since the sad death of Vi Greenhalf. Gillard spits the word at the Abbott with a theatrical venom, perhaps imagining it to mean something wholly repugnant -- what a cleaner might find limp, warm and rubbery, for instance, beneath a bed recently occupied by Craig Thomson.
If Gillard uses it again today, someone on the Opposition benches should thank her for extending such high praise, as muckraking has a brave and noble past. Indeed, many of the modern left's proto-heroes were muckrakers, and it was their efforts and intrepid investigations that exposed racism, mistreatment of children and lunatics, dire poverty, forced prostitution, diseased meat and, a favourite topic, corruption in government. You can read about some of the first muckrakers here.
When Gillard is gone from office and has quite a bit more time to fill, she might like to pick up a copy of Joyce Milton's The Yellow Kids. A history of so-called yellow journalism in the US at the turn of the last century, it is one of the most entertaining books about the period, its publishers and the politics of the Spanish-American war a reader can take up. Reporters didn't defer to authority figures back then. At the ceremony to mark America's victory in Cuba, one of Milton's subjects walked up the commanding US general and punched him in the nose.
As Milton explains, Theordore Roosevelt coined the term to describe reporters who were making his life difficult. They drove him to a greater fury by adopting it as a badge of honour.
So should the opposition, which deserves recognition for its ongoing determination to wring the truth from a congenital lawyer and liar.
Until the book becomes available in a Kindle edition, several chunks of the The Yellow Kids can be viewed here.