Investigating Power is the story of journalists who exposed government lies in the rush to war, documented institutionalized racism and uncovered the truth about deadly products from tobacco to pesticides. Charles Lewis
Investigating Power is a history of breakthrough investigations that revealed news and changed the national narrative on many major topics since the 1950s, from war to health to civil rights. Through interviews, career timelines and videos that use historic images, you'll learn about the issues and the journalists who fought to bring these stories to the American public.
At this critical juncture in the history of American journalism, as the news media and the nature and extent of original reporting itself undergo a very difficult transformation, we must reflect on the inherent, incalculable value of original, independent reporting in our nation and in the world. Facts are and must be the coin of the realm in a democracy, for government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” to quote President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, requires and assumes to some extent an informed citizenry.
Or as distinguished writer and author Walter Lippmann said a century later, “A free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society. Without criticism and reliable and intelligent reporting, the government cannot govern.”
However, the number of full-time, independent reporters has been drastically decreasing. Since 1992 we have lost approximately one-third of the nation’s newspaper reporters and editors in the United States, from 60,000 editorial employees to about 40,000 in 2009.
From 1985 to 2010, the number of entries for the Pulitzer Prize in the Gold Medal public service category (The New York Times won in this category in 1972 for its publication of the Pentagon Papers, and The Washington Post won in 1973 for its investigation of the Watergate case) dropped 43 percent, from 122 to 70; explanatory journalism entries also decreased by 43 percent, from 181 to 104; and the investigative reporting category had a decrease of 21 percent, from 103 entries to 81.
Meanwhile, between 1980 and 2010, the number of public relations specialists and managers doubled from roughly 45,000 to 90,000. As Robert McChesney and John Nichols noted in their book, “The Death and Life of American Journalism,” “Even as journalism shrinks, the ‘news’ will still exist. It will increasingly be provided by tens of thousands of well-paid and skilled PR specialists ready and determined to explain the world to the citizenry, in a manner that suits their corporate and government employers.1
Investigating Power is an online, multimedia presentation, a work in progress that will become larger and more robust over the next decade, as more journalist oral history interviews are conducted and the content of this site substantially increases. We invite you to examine the life and work of some of the most important national journalists since 1950. The 26 men and women profiled here have produced fearless, independent journalism exposing abuses of power throughout our society.
You will find career timelines of these reporters and editors, short documentaries about significant “truth to power” moments in contemporary U.S. history, including still photos and archival footage, and excerpts from high-definition video interviews with 23 of them (the other three of those profiled here – Rachel Carson, I.F. Stone and David Halberstam – are deceased; just days before his tragic 2007 auto accident, Halberstam had agreed to be interviewed for this project, but it had not yet been scheduled).
From 2005-2014, veteran journalist and bestselling author Charles Lewis researched his sixth book, about the relationship between truth, public and private power, and the national news media, including the origins and trajectories of public relations and propaganda, deception by government and by corporations, and the truth-telling capacity of journalists and their news organizations over the past century. “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity” was published in June 2014 (PublicAffairs).
This related Investigating Power multimedia presentation was created and directed by Lewis, and the former “60 Minutes” producer conducted all of the more than 50 hours of interviews with these distinguished journalists, shot in Washington, New York and Berkeley, California, in 2007 and 2008.
He is the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, founding president of the Fund for Independence in Journalism and founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University School of Communication, and all three organizations have financially and otherwise supported this multimedia production. Special thanks in particular to the donors to the Fund for Independence in Journalism, from which most of this project’s research and all of its filming emanated.
As noted, this online presentation — blending the very different techniques, sensibilities and ethical values of broadcast journalism, documentary film production and Web publishing — is a work in progress. Lewis, now a tenured professor of journalism at American University, continues to interview historically significant national journalists, via the ongoing Investigating Power oral and visual history project at the Investigative Reporting Workshop.
In the coming years, with sufficient funding, he hopes to expand the number of career timeline profiles and video streamed interview material on this site to at least 40 important national journalists active since 1950. A multi-hour, video documentary production utilizing this material is also being developed.
According to Lewis, “In my lifetime, roughly since 1950, independent journalists have fearlessly exposed abuses of power, such as the anti-Communist demagoguery of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s, the institutionalized racism and injustice in the South and the civil rights struggle to combat it between 1954 and 1968, the gross misrepresentations and even civilian atrocities committed by the U.S. government during the Vietnam War, the wholesale illegalities and breaches of faith broadly known as the Watergate scandal, the various heinous excesses of corporate power over many decades in which millions of Americans have suffered financially or have died from dangerous substances and products, and the various improper, illegal or extra-legal uses of U.S. power in post-9/11 America.
"This project began merely as recorded interview research for my book, “The Future of Truth,” but it has now evolved into something much larger — a public way to honor these important truth-tellers and the legions of other hearty, less heralded souls like them, and to educate current and future generations about the importance of this kind of fearless, original, independent reporting. The fact is, reporters are the canaries in the mind shaft of our represented democracy or of any democracy, and we lose them at our collective peril.”