Inside the Biomedical Science Research Building on Thursday, investigative journalist Charles Lewis discussed the history of investigative journalism in the tobacco industry during a lecture titled “The Truth About the Lies.”

Lewis, a former investigative reporter for ABC News and producer of the CBS program “60 Minutes,” is the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, one of the largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations in the country. The center aims to expose corruption and abuse in both public and private institutions.

He also co-founded the Investigative Reporting Workshop, an investigative news organization based at American University in Washington, D.C., where Lewis is a tenured professor.

In the discussion, Lewis expressed frustration with the tendency for the public to hear about wrongdoing only after it initially occured.

“I looked at how often have we found out the truth months or years later instead of real-time,” Lewis said. “And I found that this happens a lot.”

Lewis said misleading information from powerful groups could cause delayed awareness in the public, particularly in the case of the tobacco industry. He said smoking killed approximately 100 million people in 20th century alone, more than both world wars combined.

Despite the harmful effects, companies advertised tobacco as harmless for decades before being regulated.

“The CEOs of the seven tobacco companies said that tobacco is not harmful,” he said. “One of the CEOs actually said that it might be more dangerous to eat Twinkies than to smoke tobacco.”

In addition to misleading information disseminated by tobacco companies, Lewis said the truth is also obscured for political reasons.

In 1994, the cigarette manufacturer Phillip Morris filed a $10 billion lawsuit against ABC alleging its “Day One” special report was libelous. The series — which also included another lawsuit, which resulted in the same settlement — reported that the companies used extra nicotine in their cigarette products to keep people smoking.

Lewis said ABC not only opted to apologize for the report, but also retracted another documentary on U.S. tobacco exports to other countries.

“People in ABC were told to kill a half-million dollar documentary about how U.S. has been exporting tobacco outside the U.S. In the name of free trade, tobacco was allowed be grown, sold, manufactured and advertised to children and others around the world,” he said.

However, Lewis did not entirely place blame on institutions for delayed awareness of tobacco’s harmful effects on health. He said public apathy is also responsible, and he is concerned that the public is not as media-literate as it has been in the past.

“News consumption and paid subscription has been going down in this country for more than a half-century,” he said. “Does that mean the public is getting its news elsewhere? No. We have this disengagement that includes absorbing information and being interested in knowing the information.”

Lewis said individuals must expose themselves to news media to remain aware of current issues, but the public must also pay attention to the quality of the sources as well.

“Quality begets quality,” he said. “If you consume sophisticated, complex, interesting information about the most important issues of our time, you are probably more cognizant of those issues and actually understand the implications. You are what you read, and you are what you watch.”

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