ANALYSIS: Book Review - A how-to manual for the pursuit of justice The novel Citizen Muckraking lays bare the double-talk and obfuscation that occurs every day in the PR industry. But as Wes Pedersen discovers, it also gives some on-target tips on how to

Citizen Muckraking isn’t a title you’re likely to want to bring home to mama, unless mama’s great hope is to get ink and air at this summer’s political conventions. In which case, go for it. Mama’s going to score big.

Citizen Muckraking isn’t a title you’re likely to want to bring home to mama, unless mama’s great hope is to get ink and air at this summer’s political conventions. In which case, go for it. Mama’s going to score big.

Citizen Muckraking isn’t a title you’re likely to want to bring

home to mama, unless mama’s great hope is to get ink and air at this

summer’s political conventions. In which case, go for it. Mama’s going

to score big.

This ’citizen’ has much in common with another - Citizen Kane, the 1941

film classic in which Orson Welles portrays a skewed version of William

Randolph Hearst, a publisher who knew much about digging up and hurling

mud if there was a buck to be made. Citizen Muckraking, though, is for

the common man - or rather, the uncommon man willing to go the whole

nine rip-and-tear yards for a cause. It is, as the cover insists, a

guidebook on ’how to follow the money, expose corruption and fight for


It is not, however, for the likes of those who preached the unholy

gospel of anarchism in Seattle, or the teens whose notion of protesting

inequities in the nation’s capital last month was to bare their

slogan-painted, baby-fat bellies for the cameras. No, the intention of

the publishers (the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity) was

pretty much straight arrow. They’ve produced a slim how-to manual for

sane efforts in the pursuit of truth in the face of suspected corporate

wrongdoing or government corruption. In the process they tell their

disciples how to win media coverage for their findings by using the

effective tactics espoused by public relations professionals ’on the

other side.’

Best - and worst - practices

In many ways, this is an anti-PR book. It exposes, by default, some of

the shameless deception and obfuscation that all of us at some time have

seen employed in the name of PR. But ethical practitioners will take no

offense; some things need to be said, and those who do harm to our

profession are overdue for exposure and rebuke.

Fewer than half of Muckraking’s pages deal with the techniques of going

public, but those that do are information packed, on-target and


If you were teaching PR, you’d want this for your students, if only for

the tightly written, no-nonsense tips it gives on getting in print and

on TV.

On page 142 you’ll find tips from David Weiner of the Benton Foundation

on shooting a message-freighted video. One pointer: ’The thing you are

recording is not the only thing you should be recording. ... Staying on

a single shot of a speaker, a factory puffing smoke, or a person at work

will make your video virtually unwatchable. Concentrate, of course, on

the main element, but think about shooting all the things that will help

tell the complete story.’

Jump to pages 158 for eight Web sites ’built by muckrakers, magazines,

and advocacy organizations with features worth emulating’ by those eager

to broadcast digital messages to the masses.

There’s a disappointingly brief listing on page 176 of things to do and

avoid in holding a press conference. Rather than go into detail,

’Muckraking’ simply advises you to find ’a good public relations guide’

to press conference protocol.

Bob Dilenschneider, of New York’s Dilenschneider Group, then

materializes via quotes from a speech urging his peers to deal with each

crisis immediately, but never to overreact. The best line in the book is

his: ’A crisis isn’t a crisis unless people treat it like one.’

Dilenschneider’s comments, presented to activist readers as sage advice

from a worthy opponent, were culled from published coverage of his


Says the book’s editor: ’In the muckraking business, a good offense is

often the best defense. At least that’s the advice of some public

relations practitioners who are called on to defuse the situation

following a muckraker’s revelations.’

Dilenschneider’s guidelines for managing and diffusing ’muckraking

attacks’ include such gems as these. Get a solution to the crisis, even

an interim one, as soon as possible. That solution can be as simple as,

’We are looking into the problem.’ Find a way to extend yourself to

victims and their families. Involve your critics in the solution.

’Invite the enemy in.

With muckrakers, it’s often useful to ask how they propose to solve the

problem. That deflects them from attacking you to attacking the

problem.’ And be a contrarian. ’If you’re attacked with rhetoric,

respond with substance. If you’re attacked with substance, respond with


Elsewhere in Muckraking, you’ll find excellent pointers on the

preparation of a news release. They’re all there, including these

admonitions certain to gladden the heart of any editor: Keep it simple

and factual; get the lead where it belongs, right up front; can the

hyperbole; and never, never, end your offering to an editor with a

smiley face. News is serious business.

Don’t cheapen it with tacky symbols and gimmicks you mistakenly think

will grab a real pro’s attention.

Which brings us back to the title of this book. In the early 1900s press

barons and corporate moguls applied the word ’muckraking’ with lavish

abandon whenever Upton Sinclair’s name was used. Admirers turned it into

a homage of sorts for the author, whose ’investigative novels’ spurred

reforms in the meat packing and coal mining industries. That was then,

the better part of a century ago. Today, tilting at windmills, bucking

big government, dueling with corporate polluters and getting the real

story out are all viewed as noble callings. But muckraking?

Misunderstood muckraking

True, the ’legitimate’ media find it handy on occasion for conjuring up

visions of salivating opposition papers hurling scurrilous charges to

hype sales. But do a fast poll of your colleagues and you’ll find that

muckraking is generally associated with smear tactics and


It’s a tacky word, especially when you know the publisher of this book

sees itself as ’an objective purveyor of truth outside of party,

ideology, economic or other interests, with strong credibility with the

news media.’

’Muckraking,’ with its negative baggage, is a word wholly out of keeping

with the personae of the Center’s supporters - people like Father

Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame; Kathleen Hall

Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the

University of Pennsylvania; and Pulitzer Prize winners James McGregor

Burns and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

The editor of Citizen Muckraking is Charles Lewis, the Center’s


He spent a dozen or so years as an investigative reporter for ABC and

CBS, and is, among other things, a winner of the MacArthur Award - the

’genius’ prize. Anyone that bright ought to have been able to come up

with a title that doesn’t read like a chapter heading in The

Stablemaster’s Guide to the Collection and Marketing of Equine


- Citizen Muckraking: How to Investigate and Right Wrongs in Your


Charles Lewis, editor. The Center for Public Integrity/Common Courage

Media. 201 pp. dollars 15.95, from Common Courage Press, Box 702,

Monroe, ME 04951.

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