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) has 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).
Since 2005, veteran journalist and bestselling author Charles Lewis has been preparing his sixth book, about the relationship between truth, public and private power, and the national news media. He has been researching 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. “The Future of Truth: Power, the News Media and the Public’s Right to Know” is tentatively scheduled for publication in early 2013 (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, Calif., 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, plans to continue interviewing historically significant national journalists, via the ongoing Investigating Power oral and visual history project at the Investigative Reporting Workshop.
Indeed, by 2015, 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 forthcoming 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 mine shaft of our representative democracy or of any democracy, and we lose them at our collective peril.”
Video: Canary in the Coal Mine
Video: How the Project Started
Charles Lewis is a professor and the founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University School of Communication in Washington, D.C. A national investigative journalist since 1977, Lewis founded the Center for Public Integrity and three other nonprofit organizations.
He left a successful career as an investigative producer for ABC News and the CBS News program “60 Minutes” to begin the award-winning Center for Public Integrity, which under his leadership published roughly 300 investigative reports, including 14 books, from 1989 through 2004. He is the principal co-author of five books produced by the center, including the national bestseller “The Buying of the President 2004.”
In late 1997, he began the Center's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the world's first working network of 100 premier reporters in 50 countries producing content across borders.
Lewis was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1998. PEN USA gave its First Amendment award to him 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." In 2009, the Encyclopedia of Journalism cited Lewis as "one of the 30 most notable investigative reporters in the U.S. since World War I."
Margaret Ebrahim is a senior editor at the Investigative Reporting Workshop where, among other things, she oversees all video and film projects.
Ebrahim has been an award-winning investigative producer and journalist for more than two decades. She was a producer for the CBS News program “60 Minutes II” and ABC News. Ebrahim also has produced documentaries for HDNet’s “Dan Rather Reports” and the PBS program “Frontline.”
While she pursued a master’s degree in international affairs at American University, she helped to build one of the nation’s first nonprofit, investigative journalism groups, the Center for Public Integrity, alongside the organization’s founder Charles Lewis.
Ted Roach is a freelance filmmaker who has been working on Investigating Power since 2009. In addition to a diverse film and television production background, Roach has also directed, produced and edited dozens of short documentaries for employers such as the National Park Service, NOAA, and the American News Project. His films have screened in over 30 film festivals, won many awards, and have been broadcast internationally.
Currently he is finishing an independent feature documentary about illegal immigration, while producing and editing a documentary television series about one of the world's most famous pop stars. Roach holds a BA history from UNC-Chapel Hill, and an MFA film & electronic media from American University, where he received the 2011 University Award for Outstanding Graduate Scholarship.
Mark Reading-Smith was senior researcher at the Fund for Independence in Journalism from 2005 to 2009 while he worked on Investigating Power. He was the lead researcher and co-author of “Iraq: The War Card” and the first researcher for Charles Lewis’ forthcoming book, “The Future of Truth: Power, the News Media and the Public’s Right to Know.”
He is now a senior media associate for ReThink Media, a progressive advocacy organization working on a wide range of national security and human rights issues. Reading-Smith holds bachelor’s degrees in international relations and political philosophy from James Madison College and Michigan State University.
Tarek Anandan is a freelance website designer based in Washington, D.C. He has contributed to the conceptualization, design and development of nearly 70 websites, primarily for nonprofit organizations and other socially focused ventures. He was responsible for the design, information architecture and development/programming for Investigating Power.
Lydia Beyoud is a graduate fellow at the Investigative Reporting Workshop and a broadcast graduate student in journalism and public affairs at American University. She has contributed to the Investigative Reporting Workshop, the Oregonian newspaper, the Middle East Journal, Words Without Borders and other publications. Beyoud received her bachelor’s degree in international studies with a Middle East focus at Portland State University.
Jeanne Brooks was the managing director of the Fund for Independence in Journalism as well as a researcher for this project. She currently is director of innovation and community engagement with the Online News Association. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of New Hampshire.
Yasmine El-Sabawi is a videographer and graduate student in journalism and public affairs at American University. Previously, she worked for the nonprofit Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East as well as Citizenship and Immigration Canada before moving to Washington. El-Sabawi earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Western Ontario as well as a postgraduate diploma in television news from Fanshawe College. She starts an internship at the Aljazeera English D.C. bureau in May 2012.
Professor Lary Engel is Associate Director of the Film and Media Arts Division in American University’s School of Communication. He is also a filmmaker-in-residence at the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Engel’s film career spans 30 years and his most recent project was the PBS science series “The Human Spark” hosted by Alan Alda.
Dan Ettinger was a Soles Fellow at the Center for Public Integrity while he did research for the Investigating Power project. He graduated with honors from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and Spanish studies. He now lives in Santiago, Chile.
Vaughn Hillyard was an intern at the Investigative Reporting Workshop during the summer of 2011. He will graduate from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in mass communication in May 2013.
Abbie Kagan is a visiting student at American University in the Washington Semester Journalism Program. She is a junior at Brandeis University, double-majoring in Politics and International & Global Studies. Previously, she was a research assistant on the Justice Brandeis Innocence Project at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Kagan is interning this spring at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, working with Executive Editor Charles Lewis on his latest book, The Power of Truth. She is also an intern at Voice of America in the English TV to Africa Department.
Fritz Kramer joined the Investigative Reporting Workshop in 2009 to help produce PBS “Frontline” co-productions. He was an associate producer on several films, including “Flying Cheap” and “Lost in Detention.” Kramer attended the University of North Carolina, where he was a Morehead Scholar. He graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in public policy and political science.
Marcia Kramer, of Kramer Editing Services, copy edited the content on the Investigating Power website. Kramer was the Metro Copy Desk chief at The Washington Post for 12 years and received the Eugene Meyer Award – the highest honor for a staff member – for raising standards.
Matthew Lewis was a researcher at the Fund for Independence in Journalism in 2007-2008. He went on to work as a staff writer at the Center for Public Integrity and has written for various publications. He was also a researcher for Charles Lewis’ forthcoming book, “The Future of Truth: Power, the News Media and the Public’s Right to Know.” He is currently pursuing a master’s of public policy degree at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
Kate Musselwhite has a master's degree in Broadcast/Multimedia Journalism and Public Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C. She has worked on various Investigative Reporting Workshop projects since 2010, including the “New Journalism Ecosystem,” America What Went Wrong and Charles Lewis's forthcoming book, “The Future of Truth.” Originally from North Carolina, Kate worked in the private sector before pursuing a journalism career.
Lynne Perri is managing editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop and teaches in the School of Communication. Perri co-wrote Interviewing: A Practical Guide for Citizen Journalists for the Knight Citizen News Network, published in March 2009. She is a former deputy managing editor for Graphics and Photography at USA TODAY, where she co-directed art and photo coverage for more than 16 years and wrote feature stories and book reviews. She has been a reporter and editor at newspapers in Florida and Indiana.
Giovanni Russonello is a journalist who joined the Workshop in 2010. He is working as a research assistant to Executive Editor Charles Lewis on a book project investigating how truth, power and journalistic inquiry intersect in 21st-century America. He is a 2010 graduate of Tufts University with a B.A. in American history, and has covered politics for POLITICO, ABC News, Gotham Gazette and the Washington Examiner.
David Schultz is a graduate student studying journalism at American University in Washington, D.C. Previously, he has covered transportation for WAMU (88.5 FM), the NPR affiliate in the D.C. area, and worked as a desk assistant at “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.” His work has been featured on the nationally broadcast public radio programs “All Things Considered” and “Marketplace.” He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from the University of Arizona.
Allison Terry is a graduate student at American University in the International Media program. She graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, in 2005 with a print journalism degree. From 2003 to 2005, Terry was the assistant news editor and managing editor of the Mustang Daily, Cal Poly’s daily newspaper. She recently returned from Ghana, where she served three years as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Ben Turner was a researcher at the Fund for Independence in Journalism in 2007-2008. He then attended Syracuse University, where he received a law degree and a master’s in public administration. He currently works for Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn.
Valerie Wexler was a researcher at the Investigative Reporting Workshop in 2010. She recently graduated from Washington College with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She also spent five months studying journalism at Rhodes University in South Africa.
Ventana, a production company with offices in New York and Washington D.C., coordinated all the video shooting for the Investigating Power project over a two-year period.
Special thanks to Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity and Larry Kirkman, dean of the American University School of Communications, for their unwavering support and encouragement as this exciting but difficult project came to fruition between 2007 and 2012.
1Lippmann quote is from an address before the International Press Institute, May 27, 1965, cited in George Seldes, ed., Foreword by Henry Steele Commager, The Great Thoughts (Ballantine: New York: 1996), p. 272; the one-third stat is from Leonard Downie Jr. and Michael Schudson, “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” Columbia Journalism Review (Nov./Dec. 2009), pp. 32-33; the Pulitzer Prize compilations are from Mary Walton, “Investigative Shortfall,” American Journalism Review, Sept. 2010, http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=4904; the p.r. figures and quote are from Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books: New York: 2010), p. 49.
With additional resources, we hope to interview more journalists and increase the range and density of available content on Investigating Power. Please help us continue this important work by sending a tax deductible contribution (check or money order) to:
The Investigating Power project
c/o The Investigative Reporting Workshop
3201 New Mexico Avenue, N.W., Suite 249
Washington, D.C. 20016
Prefer to make an online donation? Visit American University's online giving site.