Ray Stannard Baker was born in Michigan in 1870. He joined McClure's Magazine, where he worked with Lincoln Steffens and Ira Tarbell in the kind of investigative journalism that became known as muckraking. Baker himself was involved in exposing railroad and financial corruption.
In February 1905 he wrote an article on lynching for the McClure's Magazine: "On Monday afternoon the mob began to gather. At first it was an absurd, ineffectual crowd, made up largely of lawless boys of sixteen to twenty - a pronounced feature of every mob - with a wide fringe of more respectable citizens, their hands in their pockets and no convictions in their souls, looking on curiously, helplessly... A sort of dry rot, a moral paralysis, seems to strike the administrators of law in a town like Springfield. What can be expected of officers who are not accustomed to enforce the law, or of a people not accustomed to obey it - or who make reservations and exceptions when they do enforce it or obey it?... So the mob came finally, and cracked the door of the jail with a railroad rail. This jail is said to be the strongest in Ohio, and having seen it, I can well believe that the report is true. But steel bars have never yet kept out a mob; it takes something a good deal stronger: human courage backed up by the consciousness of being right. They murdered the Negro in cold blood in the jail doorway; then they dragged him to the principal business street and hung him to a telegraph-pole, afterward riddling his lifeless body with revolver shots."
In 1906 Baker joined with Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell and William A. White to establish the radical American Magazine. Steffens's biographer, Justin Kaplan, the author of Lincoln Steffens: A Biography (1974), has argued: "That summer he and his partners celebrated their freedom from McClure's house of bondage, as they now saw it. There was a spirit of picnic and honeymoon about the enterprise; affections, loyalties, professional comradeship had never seemed quite so strong before and never would again. They dealt with each other as equals." Steffens later commented: "We were all to edit a writers' magazine." It soon established itself as one of America's leading investigative magazines. However, its opponents accused the magazine of muckraking journalism.
President Theodore Roosevelt responded to investigative journalism by initiating legislation that would help tackle some of the problems illustrated by these journalist. This included persuading Congress to pass reforms such as the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1906) and the Federal Meat Inspection Act (1906).
President Theodore Roosevelt was seen to be on the side of these investigative journalists until David Graham Phillips began a series of articles in Cosmopolitan entitled The Treason in the Senate. This included an attack on some of Roosevelt's political allies and he responded with a speech where he compared the investigative journalist with the muckraker in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress: "the man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hands; who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth on the floor."
Investigative journalists like Baker objected to being described as muckrakers. They felt betrayed as they felt they had helped President Theodore Roosevelt to get elected. Lincoln Steffens was furious with Roosevelt and the day after the speech told him: "Well, you have put an end to all these journalistic investigations that have made you." Baker argued: "In the beginning I thought, and still think, he did great good in giving support and encouragement to this movement. But I did not believe then, and have never believed since, that these ills can be settled by partisan political methods. They are moral and economic questions. Latterly I believe Roosevelt did a disservice to the country in seizing upon a movement that ought to have been built up slowly and solidly from the bottom with much solid thought and experimentation, and hitching it to the cart of his own political ambitions. He thus short-circuited a fine and vigorous current of aroused public opinion into a futile partisan movement."
In 1908 Baker produced a series of five articles on the plight of the African Americans. In this pioneering work in the study of race relations in the United States, Baker dealt with issues such as political leadership, Jim Crow laws, lynching and poverty. These articles were eventually turned into the book, Following the Color Line (1908).
In May 1912 Baker covered the Lawrence Textile Strike: "It is not short of amazing, the power of a great idea to weld men together. There was in it a peculiar, intense, vital spirit if you will, that I have never felt before in any strike. At first everyone predicted that it would be impossible to hold these divergent people together, but aside from the skilled men, some of whom belonged to craft unions, comparatively few went back to the mills. And as a whole, the strike was conducted with little violence."
Ray Stannard Baker died on 12th July 1946.