Mizzou Honor Medal Winner Charles Lewis Investigative

“Go out and investigate the bastards!”

That’s how Charles Lewis, investigative reporter and the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, ended his talk at the Missouri School of Journalism on Oct. 29, 2013. He was there to accept a Missouri Honor Medal for his achievements.

He spent some time talking about his past work and future book slated for publication in 2014. The driver behind several of these efforts – the Iraq War investigations into military contracts, the behemoth project chronicling 935 false statements by public officials about the war, and the book The Future of Truth: Power, the News Media and the Public’s Right to Know – was Lewis’ reaction to the complete lack of truth available in the Iraq War. In 2005, after the invasion, he said he remembers some polling that showed 60 percent of Americans still thought there really had been WMD in Iraq.

“So you’re a journalist, but information doesn’t matter anymore,” Lewis said. “So instead of going to a shrink, I decided to go deep.

That’s what started his research into the coordinated effort to lie to the public about the national security risks of Iraq, he said. The work involved 8 or 9 researchers going through statements by public officials and was published as “Iraq: The War Card” in 2008 by the Center for Public Integrity.

This work led Lewis to decide to chart the “most mortally consequential” deceptions made by public officials. That’s the goal of his upcoming book. He said there’s a chart included with the deception, its consequences, when the epiphany happened – and where the journalists were.

“Most of the issues, the media was reactive not proactive,” he said.

The deception by the tobacco industry, the civil rights era, the Iraq War – those are just a few he named.

“Worrying about being fair and balanced, of course, I decided to revisit very closely the most proud moments of journalism,” Lewis said. This resulted in an amazing series of video interviews with famous journalists from over the years who uncovered deception, published online.

Lewis emphasized the importance and continued need for investigative work of greater depth and scope. He also advocated for greater transparency by the non-profit journalism organizations that purport to fill this role. He said the number of talented journalists leaving some legacy media organizations for these groups shows there are folks out there who really want to do long-form investigative work.

“Great journalism matters. It takes time, takes money… It involves shoe leather and guts,” Lewis said. “This kind of watchdog journalism is necessary in a democracy.”

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