Monday, 19 January 2009


Investigative journalists today invariably strut along the moral highway, with the successful ones being publicly lauded, highly remunerated and showered with prestigious awards. Jason Leopold, was a recent example with his investigative work which shed light onto the murky machinations of Ken Lay and the Enron debacle.

Perhaps the most well known press luminaries of the truth are Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodford, who when working for The Washington Post exposed the Watergate Affair which caused the resignation of the President, Richard Nixon. For their revelations they became incredibly famous, universally feted and now have sideboards heaving under the weight of awards and citations including the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

However, there was a time when investigative journalists did not march the road to glorious adulation and were viewed as willful nuisances - Ida Minerva Tarbell (1857 - 1944) came in this category.

Hers is the story of how a female journalist based in NYC, brought down the world's greatest tycoon and broke up the Standard Oil Company. Before the rise of mega-corporations like Microsoft, Standard Oil controlled the oil industry. Undaunted by the ruthless and far-reaching power of its owner, John D. Rockefeller (1839 - 1937), the fearless and ambitious reporter, Ida Tarbell, confronted the company known as "The Trust". Through her fact gathering and devastating prose, Tarbell, a reporter at "McClures Magazine", pioneered the practice of investigative journalism. Her discoveries about Standard Oil and Rockefeller led to a dramatic confrontation that culminated in the landmark 1911 Supreme Court antitrust decision which altered the landscape of American industry forever.

Ida Tarbel lived relatively modestly at 120, East 19th Street (above) from 1913 - 1940. It was said that the inspiration for her pursuit of the Standard Oil Company came from her father being bankrupted by oil billionaire Rockefeller.
Her work at that time was known as "Mudraking", (a term that President Theodore Roosevelt is credited with originating,) which she didn't like and wrote an article "Muckraker or Historian" where she justified her efforts for exposing the oil trust.

On September 14th, 2002, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Tarbell as part of a series of four stamps honoring women journalists.

"Imagination is the only key to the future. Without it none exists - with it all things are possible." Ida Tarbell.

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