Journalism Professor Robert Miraldi’s new
biography of a turn-of-the-century investigative reporter not only
recreates the life of a forgotten but once-famous reform journalist but
also finds remarkable similarities in the problems and issues that
plagued America in 1907 and 2007.
The book, The Pen Is Mightier: The Muckraking Life of Charles Edward Russell, was
published by Palgrave/St. Martin’s Press. It is Dr.
Miraldi’s second book. He has also edited two volumes of
essays. The Pen Is Mightier was named the best book on media / journalism in the U.S. in 2004.
The Russell biography grows out of Miraldi’s
long-time interest in the muckraking journalism movement in the early
years of the 20th century when a group of magazine and book writers
exposed many of America’s corporate and governmental scandals.
The Pen Is Mightier traces the life of
the Pulitzer Prize-winning Russell (1860-1941) from his action-filled
reporting days in New York to his controversial investigative reporting
or muckraking after the turn of the twentieth century to his tilting at
windmills and injustice as a political candidate and crusader for
The overarching theme of the book is Russell's
long struggle with whether an economic system that encouraged
cooperation -- and not competition -- would better solve American
socialp problems, especially poverty and disparities in wealth. Many of
the issues that Russell wrote about remain problematic and
In reviewing the book, Sydney Schanberg, himself a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist while a reporter at the New York Times
in the 1970s, called the book “a light bulb for everyone, and
certainly for any soul in America who has followed the current Big
Business scandals that started with Enron and now fill the
Schanberg added: “This important book is not about dry and antiquated matters. It will seize you.”
Russell wrote about very similar corporate abuses
as he investigated and exposed the meatpacking industry, fraud in the
building of America’s railroads, scandalous prison conditions,
and Trinity Church in New York City, which was the city’s biggest
slum landlord. Miraldi calls Russell the “most prolific and most
passionate” of all the famous muckraking journalists, including
Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair.
“Like a fire-and-brimstone preacher, he
warned Americans about the dangers of a profit-driven world,”
commented Miraldi who has taught journalism at SUNY New Paltz for 25
years. Russell's expose of Trinity led the church to completely change
its housing policies while his attack on the beef industry also led to
And in the end, Miraldi points out in his book,
Russell felt the muckrakers had helped society. “Slowly,
but surely,” he wrote, “the world gets better.”
Russell wrote hundreds of magazine articles and 31
books in his 40-year career as a journalist. In the 1890s he
edited America's two largest newspapers under Joseph Pulitzer and
William Randolph Hearst. He was also one of three founding
members of the National Association of Colored People, America’s
foremost advocacy group for the rights of African Americans.
Dubbed “the chief of the muckrakers,”
Russell spent his entire life in pursuit of social justice, Miraldi
points out. That included his final years when he fought for the
formation of a Jewish state in Israel in order to help Jews leave
Europe and flee Germany’s persecution.
Russell won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in
1927 for his life story of the founder of the American orchestra.
Russell not only closely followed politics, but he loved music and
Shakespeare, and wrote four books of poetry. “He had
remarkable energy and wide interests,” said Miraldi. When
Russell died at the age of 81, Miraldi noted, one newspaper said he
died from “overwork.”
Miraldi teaches a course on investigative
journalism for New Paltz. Prior to coming to New Paltz in 1982, he
taught at St. John’s University in New York City. In 1992 he was
a Fulbright Scholar in the Netherlands. Miraldi also worked for a
decade as an investigative reporter for the Staten Island Advance in New York.
For eight years he wrote an award-winning
newspaper column on freedom of speech. Miraldi has written numerous
scholarly articles on press history. His first book, Muckraking and Objectivity: Journalism’s Colliding Traditions, was published in 1991. He also edited an anthology, The Muckrakers: Evangelical Crusaders, which was published in 2000.
Christian Science Monitor