Charles Lewis has been a national investigative journalist since 1977, at ABC News, CBS News 60 Minutes, as the founder and executive director of the Center for Public Integrity and other nonprofit organizations based in Washington, as a bestselling author and currently as the founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University School of Communication.
The focus of his work almost entirely has been systematically investigating the uses and abuses of power in relation to the public policy decision-making processes in the United States and around the world.
For example, in late 1990, Lewis substantially researched, reported and wrote the first Center for Public Integrity report (with others), America’s Frontline Trade Officials. The 201-page exposé, which profiled roughly 75 of the highest Office of the U.S. Trade Officials who served since 1974, found that since then, 47 percent of them “personally registered or their firms have registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents.” The heavily covered report prompted a Congressional investigation, a Justice Department investigation and on his first day in office in January 1992, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order placing a lifetime ban on the “revolving door” of trade officials.
In mid-1994, Lewis and 19 of his colleagues at the Center researched, reported and wrote Well-Healed: Inside Lobbying for Health Care Reform, which identified 660 companies, labor unions and other organizations attempting to influence the outcome of the Clinton administration’s health care legislation. The groups had spent “in excess of $100 million” in 1993 and half of 1994.
In 1996, 2000 and 2004, he and his colleagues at the Center authored the popular and unprecedented The Buying of the President HarperCollins books, identifying the financial interests and unadvertised past behind the glossy candidate careers – always released for citizens before any votes were cast. These were the first political books in the United States to document the financial entanglements behind the major presidential candidates and their political parties prior to the actual election.
In 1996, Lewis initiated, oversaw and final approved a Center for Public Integrity book written by Dan Fagin and Marianne Lavelle called Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law, and Endangers Your Health (Birch Lane Press). The three-year project revealed, according to Bob Herbert of the New York Times, “how the industry uses campaign contributions, junkets, job offers, ‘scorched earth’ courtroom strategies, misleading advertising and multimillion-dollar public relations campaigns to keep their products on the market no matter how great the potential dangers.”
In 1997, at the Center, he created the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an unprecedented network of roughly 100 of the world’s premier investigative reporters in 50 countries on six continents, collaborating to produce across-border, public service journalism on such subjects as cigarette smuggling by the major manufacturers, the human rights impact of U.S. military aid, the privatization of water, the politics of oil, etc. The creation of the ICIJ, according to the Encyclopedia of Journalism, made www.publicintegrity.org the “first global website devoted to international exposés.”
In 1998, Lewis and the Center undertook a national investigation of corruption in America’s state legislatures, in which 7,400 state lawmakers were individually contacted by phone or mail, and their annual financial disclosure forms were posted on the Internet. This report, Our Private Legislatures: Public Service, Private Gain, won the second annual Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) online award. And between 1996 and 2004, the Center tracked conflicts of interest in all 50 state legislatures, which had never been done before by journalists.
In 1998, Lewis and the Center – 36 researchers, writers and editors – produced and HarperCollins (Avon Books) published The Buying of the Congress, based upon 1,200 interviews and tens of thousands of pages of various different types of federal records.
In 1998, he undertook, oversaw and final approved an unusual Center project which became a book written by Alan Green called Animal Underworld: Inside America’s Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species published by PublicAffairs. The project, which won the IRE book award, took four years and Green did field reporting in 44 states.
In 2001, Lewis, Bill Allison and 16 researchers and editors at the Center for Public Integrity produced The Cheating of America: How Tax Avoidance and Evasion by the Super Rich are Costing the Country Billions – and What You Can Do About It (HarperCollins/Morrow). The three-year investigation, using baseline Internal Revenue Service prosecutions unearthed at the U.S. Tax Court and field reporting in Illinois, Los Angeles, Belize and the Bahamas, revealed the disturbing world of offshore-friendly federal legislators, New York banks, foreign “tax havens” and “the cottage industry that teaches aspiring dodgers how to cheat successfully.
In 2001, he created a groundbreaking Center project to monitor and report on corruption, government accountability and openness around the world. In 2004, utilizing 200 respected social scientists and investigative reporters in 25 countries on six continents, the 750,000-word Global Integrity Report and The Corruption Notebooks were published and covered by news media around the world. Its quantitative methodology of more than 300 universally applicable questions regarding the state of governance, transparency and accountability in countries around the world, to be assessed by indigenous social scientists and journalists, plus its qualitative “Reporter’s Notebook” essays by journalists in each country about the culture of corruption there, was and remains unique. Lewis recommended and the Center Board agreed that the project ought to become a separate, new nonprofit organization, Global Integrity. That occurred in 2005, and the organization, led by his former Center employees, has now tracked the extent of corruption in over 100 countries.
In 2002, utilizing 32 reporters, writers and editors from six continents, the Center’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists identified the 90 private military companies working for governments, corporations and even criminal groups around the world in Making a Killing: The Business of War. The 11-part series/book won the Society of Professional Journalists online investigative reporting award.
In the summer of 2003, Lewis oversaw and final approved the first national examination into the complex and thorny subject of prosecutorial misconduct. A team of 21 researchers, writers and editors led by principal author Steve Weinberg, identified 2,012 state cases throughout the United States since 1970 in which prosecutorial misconduct was cited “as a factor when dismissing charges at trial, reversing convictions or reducing sentences.” The report, entitled Harmful Error: Investigating America’s Local Prosecutors, was based on careful analysis of 11,452 cases involving allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. According to former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon’s Trumpet, “Harmful Error is by far the best thing I have ever seen on prosecutorial misconduct . . . painful but essential reading.”
In October 2003, six months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, under Lewis’ direction, the Center for Public Integrity (specifically the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) published Windfalls of War, which included the major U.S. government contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq, definitively revealing Halliburton and its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root to be, by far, the largest beneficiary. For six months, 20 researchers, writers and editors had worked on the project, filing 73 Freedom of Information Act requests and even suing the Army and the State Department (and ultimately winning the release of key, no-bid contract documents). This multi-faceted report, which won the first George Polk award for online investigative reporting, represents the first time a news organization ever posted U.S. military contracts online during wartime.
In late 2004, the Center published Outsourcing the Pentagon, revealing that between 1998 and 2004, more than 40 percent of Pentagon contracting -- $368 billion – involved no-bid contracts similar to those received by Halliburton/KBR in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and many of the contractors were generous campaign donors. The nine-month project, which won the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) online award, individually profiled 737 companies that had won at least $100 million in contracts over five fiscal years.
In early 2008, on the eve of the five-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Lewis and his team of book researchers produced Iraq: The War Card, which was published by the Center for Public Integrity. The massive report, which included a 380,000-word Boolean a searchable two-year, daily chronology of every Iraq-related utterance by eight top U.S. officials including President George W. Bush, juxtaposed against the more than 50 books, commission and other government reports published between 2003 and 2008, illuminating what was actually known at the time inside the U.S. government, versus what was being said publicly. The key finding: in the two years following September 11, 2001, Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials made at least 935 false statements about the national security threat posed by Iraq. The number of these erroneous exhortations had spiked upwards at politically strategic moments – specifically before the October 2002 Congressional vote on the war, and between January and March 2003, from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s United Nations presentation to the invasion itself. The carefully orchestrated campaign about Iraq’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.
In April 2012, Lewis created, directed and released at the National Press Club in Washington Investigating Power, an unprecedented, online multimedia presentation documenting “truth to power” moments in contemporary U.S. history and the journalists behind them. The five-year project, begun in early 2007, involved roughly two dozen people researchers, editors, producers and cameramen cumulatively shooting about 100 hours of high definition video interviews with 23 iconic national journalists who have done significant reporting between 1950 and today. That material was then edited down into 42 conversations and nine produced mini-documentaries. Investigating Power began merely as recorded interview research for his forthcoming new book, The Future of Truth: Power, the News Media and the Public’s Right to Know (PublicAffairs; 2013), but evolved into something much larger – a public way to educate current and future generations about the importance of fearless, original independent reporting.
In his new book, 935 Lies, Lewis investigates the deadliest abuses of power by government and companies, how the news media's "watchdog" role is changing, and the future of truth in America.
Koch foundations gave more than $41 million to 89 nonprofits from 2007-2011, part of a wide effort at funding organizations with public policy, education and political interests that align with those of Koch Industries, run by Charles and David Koch. The Investigative Reporting Workshop examined Internal Revenue Service documents for a closer look at Koch giving, which also includes millions to the arts, medicine and colleges across the country, as well as continued support of a "No Climate Tax Pledge."
Columbia Journalism Review - April, 25, 2012
A journalist mines the past to inform the future.
Nieman Watchdog - April 23, 2012
Investigative reporter and innovator Chuck Lewis interviewed and taped journalists who played a role in some of the biggest stories of the past 60 years – national ‘moments of truth,’ as Lewis calls them. The result, ‘Investigating Power,’ is a tribute to good reporting and a reminder of how powerful the press can be when it does what is supposed to do.
Video accounts from 26 men and women that made the news and shaped history.
Columbia Journalism Review; September/October 2009
According to Lewis "an increasing percentage of the most ambitious reporting projects will emanate from the public realm, not from private commercial outlets." And "properly structured and led, the Investigative News Network could become the online destination for original investigative reporting."
Nieman Watchdog; July 3, 2009
Regarding the new Investigative News Network, Lewis writes that "Never before has anyone attempted to organize the best investigative reporting output and energies of respected news organizations and their journalists, making that original ‘accountability’ information infinitely more accessible to the public in multiple ways in the new media landscape."
IRE Journal , May/June 2009
According to Lewis, “we are witnessing nothing less than the dawn of a new investigative journalism ecosystem in the United States, in which the most ambitious reporting projects will increasingly emanate from the public realm, not from private commercial outlets.” With journalists increasingly entering the public realm and attempting to start their own investigative reporting news organizations, he outlines some “logical, basic, best practices” to help them succeed.
by Charles Lewis and Bruce Sievers;
Chronicle of Philanthropy , March 12, 2009
In "All the News That's Fit to Finance," Lewis and Sievers explore the future of financing journalism and the role philanthropy should play in promoting journalistic endeavors.
Columbia Journalism Review , March/April 2009
In "A Social-Network Solution ," Lewis takes us forward to the year 2014 where journalism is thriving. He then takes the readers back through time to the current state of journalism and shows the steps that can be taken to make journalism a vibrant industry.
Society of Professional Journalists centennial anniversary book essay, 2009
On the 100th anniversary of the founding of Sigma Delta Chi, Lewis writes that now, "more than ever before, we need fearless truth-tellers to ferret out the overtly obscured or merely inaccessible facts about the decisions, policies and practices that affect our daily lives."
Nieman Reports , Spring 2008
"Seeking New Ways to Nurture the Capacity to Report" is an examination of how the government has seized control of information and how major news outlets have devoted fewer and fewer resources toward investigative journalism. Lewis explains how nonprofit journalism can be a method of promoting sound investigative reporting.
Louisiana State University Breaux Symposium paper, April 2008
Co-moderator Lewis reviews some of the recent history of nonprofit and for profit news organizations, with the over-arching question: "what is the likely, foreseeable future for journalism as a profitable or at least sustainable enterprise in the years ahead?"
University of North Carolina Philip Meyer Symposium paper, March 2008
In this critique of market-driven journalism, Lewis trumpets the vision of computer assisted journalism pioneer and author Philip Meyer, who wrote in his 2004 book, The Vanishing Newspaper , "The only way to save journalism is to develop a new model that finds profit in truth, vigilance and social responsibility."
Columbia Journalism Review , September/October 2007
Lewis discusses the major changes in journalism and the necessary role that nonprofit organizations must play to promote good journalism.
Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University, April 2007
In "The Growing Importance of Nonprofit Journalism," Lewis examines the necessity of nonprofit journalism to ensure high quality journalism that is necessary for a thriving democracy.
November 22, 2004. The Center for Public Integrity.
The Corruption Notebooks: 25 Investigative Journalists Report on Abuses of Power in Their Home Country is a no-holds-barred collection of essays by leading investigative journalists around the world who have spent years fearlessly investigating the powers that be in their respective countries. Their writing reveals how rich and poor democracies, including the United States, are susceptible to political corruption.
(Public Integrity Books: 2004)
The IRE Journal. September/October 2004: 21-23.
The Buying of the President 2004 exposes the most powerful interests behind the major presidential candidates, and is the only book of its kind with investigative profiles and personal histories of leading White House aspirants, based upon millions of federal and state government records and interviews with more than 600 people, including former President Jimmy Carter and current or former Senators John McCain and Robert Dole.
New York Times Bestseller!
The Cheating of America: How Tax Avoidance and Evasion by the Super Rich Are Costing the Country Billions – and What You Can Do About It ( It (with co-author Bill Allison) investigates, identifies and confronts some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations for dodging taxes that nearly everyone else pays. Researchers analyzed thousands of U.S. Tax Court and other federal records and interviewed hundreds of officials, lawyers, accountants, and others.
(William Morrow: 2001)
The Buying of the President 2000 first disclosed that Enron was the top “career patron” bankrolling George W. Bush, and was produced by roughly two dozen researchers, writers and editors who exhaustively scrutinized the backgrounds and financial entanglements of Bush, Vice President Al Gore and all of the major presidential candidates and their political parties.
The Buying of the Congress: How Special Interests Have Stolen Your Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness was denounced as “ridiculous” by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich when it was published. Prepared by 36 researchers, writers and editors who interviewed more than 1,200 people and combed through hundreds of thousands of federal records, this book “follows the money” and reveals how and why Congress is so unresponsive to the basic concerns of ordinary citizens.
The Buying of the President for the first time in American politics systematically examines the financial relationships and entanglements of America’s presidential candidates, exposing, among other things, their “Top Ten Career Patrons.” Inspiring a PBS Frontline documentary and syndicated by the New York Times, the book also features a Foreword by author Kevin Phillips.
Charles Lewis, a former 60 Minutes producer who founded The Center for Public Integrity, is a MacArthur Fellow and the founding executive editor of the new Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University.
Lewis regularly travels nationally and internationally to talk about investigative reporting and the future of journalism.