WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 20, 2014)—A government "of the people, by the people, for the people" assumes some sort of informed citizenry, but U.S. citizens are often not accurately informed and sometimes are purposely kept in the dark.
While distinguishing fact from fiction has always been a formidable challenge—often with life-and-death consequences—it is now even more difficult and confusing than ever as the line between truth and spin continues to blur dramatically.
Charles Lewis, professor and journalist at American University's School of Communication, examines the consequences of decades of deception from the government and from corporations in his new book 935 LIES: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity (June 24, 2014).
A Tragic Period in American History
In the book, published by PublicAffairs, Lewis addresses hot-button issues about the control, manipulation, and misuse of information. He provides examples ranging from the countless lies administrations of both parties have used to justify dubious wars, to the successful decades-long corporate suppression of the truth about tobacco and other products.
"My career in journalism over the past five decades has coincided with a tragic period in American history," Lewis said. "One in which falsehood has increasingly come to dominate our public discourse, and in which the bedrock values of honesty, transparency, accountability, and integrity we once took for granted have been steadily eroded."
935 LIES reveals the many ways in which truth can be distorted by groups and individuals wielding power, proving how the value of truth is diminished the longer it takes to reach the public. And the book provides several examples of news media organizations deliberately choosing not to report about certain sensitive subjects.
Hope for the Future
Lewis also describes new media trends, such as the rise of nonprofit investigative journalism, giving reason to be hopeful about the future of truth.
"With the rise of nonprofit news organizations and reporters, the truth might have a chance to be told," Lewis said.
The book concludes by urging the public to not only be aware of the dichotomy between actual truths and publicly made false statements and media censorship, but also to boldly demand accountability from our leaders.
Deeply Researched Exploration of Lying
Lewis and his researchers systematically tracked every "false and erroneous statement" leading up to the U.S. war in Iraq, a study called "Iraq: The War Card," which was released and covered around the world by the news media in early 2008.
The next phase of his research examined what Lewis calls important "moments of truth" in contemporary U.S. history since 1950 and the most respected journalists behind them; he interviewed 25 of them for an online multimedia presentation called Investigating Power, released at the National Press Club in April 2012.
Lies Presidents Tell
The book discusses numerous highly recognizable lies, including those stated by current and former U.S. presidents.
"If you like the [health care] plan you have, you can keep it." President Barack Obama, November 6, 2009 (similarly stated numerous times)
"We found the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq]. We found biological laboratories." President George W. Bush, May 29, 2003
"In spite of the wildly speculative and false stories of arms for hostages and alleged ransom payments, we did not, repeat, did not, trade weapons or anything else for hostages. Nor will we." President Ronald Reagan (national address), November 13, 1986
"I can say categorically that…no one in the White House staff, no one in this Administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident." President Richard Nixon, discussing the Watergate burglary, press conference, August 29, 1972
"We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves." President Lyndon Johnson, October 1964
About the Author
Charles Lewis has been teaching since the fall of 2006 and today is a tenured professor and the founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University School of Communication. He is a renowned investigative reporter for more than 30 years and the founder of the Center for Public Integrity and several other nonprofit organizations. Lewis was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1998 and received the PEN USA First Amendment award in 2004. Between 1996 and 2004, he co-authored five books with his Center for Public Integrity colleagues, three of them finalists for the Investigative Reporters and Editors book award. The last book, "The Buying of the President 2004," is a nationwide bestseller. Additionally, Lewis has been a visiting Ferris Professor at Princeton University in 2005 and a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University in 2006.
About the Investigative Reporting Workshop
The Investigative Reporting Workshop is a nonprofit, professional newsroom at the School of Communication at American University. The Workshop publishes in-depth stories about government and corporate accountability, ranging widely from the environment and health to national security and the economy. The Workshop pairs experienced professional reporters and editors with graduate students, and co-publishes with mainstream media partners and nonprofit newsrooms.
About American University
Located in Washington D.C., American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and more than 140 countries and providing opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation's capital and around the world.
AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert! system.