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College of Arts and Sciences alumnus, investigative reporter and American University professor Charles Lewis returned to campus Nov. 6 to discuss his new book, 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of American Moral Integrity, as part of the Delaware Diamonds Society Authors Series.
Speaking to Fellow-level and above members of the Delaware Diamonds Society, the University’s leadership giving recognition society, Lewis offered his expertise on the manipulation of truth by political and corporate institutions, explaining that his book is about information, truth and what has happened to both in recent American history.
“Naturally I felt we needed to go back … about 50 years at all the times we have had information given to us by those in power, whether they’re in the government or corporations, and how often what we have been told is just flat out not true,” said Lewis.
In his introduction to the event, UD Provost Domenico Grasso thanked Delaware Diamonds Society members, including Lewis himself, for their support of the University.
“Thank you for your generosity of spirit, time and treasure, and thank you for helping us to create this robust community of scholarship, which we celebrate tonight with our Author’s series,” Grasso said. “This event is a wonderful way to showcase the brilliance exhibited by our faculty, friends and in tonight’s case, our alumni.”
A 1975 graduate of the University with a degree in political science, Lewis has worked as an investigative reporter for roughly 30 years. Following a successful career at ABC News and as a producer for 60 Minutes,in 1989 he founded the Center for Public Integrity, one of the nation’s first nonprofits to support investigative journalism.
Currently, Lewis is a tenured professor of journalism and the founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University School of Communication.
935 Lies grew out of an effort by Lewis and a team of researchers to study the false statements made by the administration of President George W. Bush about the threat posed by Iraq in the two years following 9/11. The team identified 935 erroneous statements made by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration leaders related to the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a link between the country and Al Qaeda.
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Charles Lewis' full Delaware Diamonds Authors Series presentation.
Throughout his talk, Lewis addressed a range of
instances where there was a gap in time between significant events and
discoveries, and when related information became available to the
public. Along with the Watergate scandal, the My Lai massacre and other
infamous moments in history, Lewis focused a large part of his talk on
the decades-long silence of tobacco executives about the dangers of the
“Tens of millions of people died during this whole period,” Lewis
said. “The whole thing was conscious, it was understood. These are all
things not generally known but I find them, shall we say, disturbing,
and what it really means is we rarely really know the truth in real
Lewis was adamant about the importance of correcting the problem detailed in his book.
“If we want to make decisions that affect our lives,
we have to have information, [and that information] has to be
authentic, it has to be legitimate, and it has to be fairly soon after
we’re worrying about a problem,” Lewis said. “We can’t find out years
later that we didn’t know.”
During a question and answer period moderated by Ralph Begleiter, the
Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Communication
and director of UD’s Center for Political Communication, Lewis explained
that a solution lies in establishing innovative new platforms for
journalists to do investigative reporting, including non-profit
foundations like the Center for Public Integrity.
“I think there’s a way to make lemonade out of lemons here,” Lewis
said. “I have all these bright, shining-faced young people, and they
want to do good for the world, but they have no idea where they’re going
to work … My idea is to enlarge the public space somehow to do this
kind of work.”
Following the discussion, guests enjoyed dinner and drinks and had
the chance to speak with Lewis and to ask the author to sign copies of 935 Lies.
Authors Series guest Mary Jane DeMatteis said Lewis’s speech was illuminating.
“I think it was just wonderful,” she said. “You read the news, you
watch the news on TV, and you never really realize all this is going on.
It’s been such an interesting night hearing his story.”
DeMatteis’ daughter, Claire DeMatteis, a 1987 UD graduate with a
degree in communication, who was editor-in-chief of the student-run
newspaper The Review, has known Lewis for years.
“I read the book the first week it came out,” she said. “These kinds
of stories have to be told, so thank goodness for Chuck Lewis.”
A member of the Delaware Diamonds Society, Claire DeMatteis was
excited to attend the Diamonds Authors Series event, saying she is
enthusiastic about any chance to reconnect with her alma mater.
“Anything Delaware related, you don’t have to ask me twice,” she
said. “Especially when it’s a distinguished alum. It’s really special.”