Does the name Ida Tarbell sound familiar? At the turn of the last century, she wrote a series of stories for McClure’s magazine that led the U.S. Supreme Court to dissolve one the country’s most powerful companies, Standard Oil. Steve Weinberg, who wrote about her stories in the book, “Taking on the Trust,” says his reporting led him to a conclusion he never expected: “Ida Tarbell invented what today we call investigative reporting.”
Nobody had combined paper trails and people trails as Tarbell did…[she] located lawsuits, court opinions, legislative hearings, executive branch agency studies, correspondence among business executives, seemingly insignificant clippings in obscure local newspapers, magazine articles and relevant books. She interviewed past and current sources from withing Standard Oil, despite the resistance of founder John D. Rockefeller. She also found hundreds of outside sources who had viewed the behemoth from every angle.
Tarbell certainly wasn’t the only standard-setter during the so-called golden age of muckraking, but Weinberg makes a persuasive argument in her favor.