With its First Amendment protections, relative transparency, and physical security afforded to all citizens, the United States should be the world’s most hospitable place for investigative reporting. However, 2009 Silha Lecturer Charles “Chuck” Lewis asserts that this is no longer the case. He will examine reasons why in his lecture, “Unspoken Realities about Investigative Journalism and the Law” at 7:00 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2009, at Cowles Auditorium on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
In the cover story of the May/June 2009 Columbia Journalism Review, Dean Starkman reported that very few “investigative stories … confront directly powerful institutions about basic business practices while those institutions were still powerful.” According to Lewis, major news media have been reluctant to conduct such investigations for years. He will assert in his lecture that they have also failed to report on the oversight and accountability functions of government, and investigative reporters who have tried are thwarted by their own timid or cash-strapped employers. As a result, Lewis will argue, the public is not as well informed as it should be.
What, Lewis asks, has discouraged the traditional watchdog’s inclination to bark – let alone bite?
A national investigative journalist for the past 30 years, Lewis worked at ABC News, CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” and as the founder and former executive director of the Center for Public Integrity. The co-author of five books, including the national bestseller The Buying of the President 2004, he is preparing a new book about truth, power, the news media and the public’s right to know. In 1998, Lewis received a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the “Genius Award,” which is awarded annually to 20 to 40 Americans “who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”
Lewis faced legal threats from many quarters while leading the Center for Public Integrity and its International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the first working network of 100 premier reporters in 50 countries. Despite warnings from the Justice Department under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Center published the secret draft “Patriot II” legislation. In October 2003, the Center posted online the U.S. war contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, first revealing Halliburton as the top war contractor. That report, Windfalls of War, won the prestigious George Polk Award. The Center also filed 73 Freedom of Information Act requests and successfully sued the Army and the State Department in federal court to obtain and publish the Halliburton and other lucrative contracts.
Lewis received the PEN USA First Amendment Award in 2004 “for expanding the reach of investigative journalism, for his courage in going after a story regardless of whose toes he steps on, and for boldly exercising his freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”
The Silha Lecture will include an opportunity for audience Q&A. The event is free and open to the public. No reservations or tickets are required. Light refreshments will be served.
The Silha Center is based at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Silha Center activities, including the 24th annual lecture, are made possible by a generous endowment from the late Otto Silha and his wife, Helen.
For further information, please contact the Silha Center at 612-625-3421 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.silha.umn.edu.
– Sara Cannon
Silha Center Staff