Posted: Oct. 21, 2016 | Tags: Charles Lewis
Photo by Jeff Watts, AU
Terrorism, corruption and the future of democracy — those are some of the topics that will be addressed at the Integrity20 conference in Brisbane, Australia, from Oct. 24-26. The conference aims to assemble “20 of the world’s most unique, courageous and provocative minds” to discuss some of the most important problems the world faces. One of the speakers will be Charles Lewis, the founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop.
“I will talk about why the U.S. elections are so astonishingly different from elections in other major countries,” Lewis says. He will concentrate on the decisive role money plays during an election cycle. As outlined in his essay for the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, “media buzz is an essential factor determining the prospects of politicians seeking the American presidency.”
To create this media buzz, you need money. Either to gain enough recognition and attention so that the media will cover your provocative public statements — a strategy Donald Trump has used — or to run paid advertisements, especially on television. Without money, there is almost no way for a candidate to get his/her message out to voters.
“The U.S. is one the few democracies that doesn’t provide free air time for candidates’ campaign advertisements or for forums in which candidates can present their views and proposed policies. Here, the candidates essentially have to pay the media corporations to advertise,” Lewis said, a situation former President Jimmy Carter described as “a basic fallacy of our system.”
Lewis not only will deliver a keynote about the upcoming Nov. 8 election but also will also be on two other public panels. On Tuesday, he will discuss “The many faces of terrorism” with four other participants, including Russian human rights activist Anna Neistat and former NPR journalist, and now senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Sarah Chayes. Part of this conversation, according to the conference program, will address “How does history, culture, government and the media influence and shape our understanding of it?”
As the author of the 2014 book, "935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity," Lewis will discuss the hundreds of false statements that led up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and the findings of the recent Chilcot Inquiry in the United Kingdom, that then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair did not have enough independent intelligence to justify invading Iraq as the leading ally of the United States and then-President George W. Bush.
Before giving his keynote on Wednesday, Lewis will be on a panel that addresses corruption, tax evasion, exploitation and “modern slavery.” Lewis, who has written numerous best-selling books about the entanglement of politics and special interests, is looking forward to revisiting his earlier research and reporting on these still resonant issues.
“Since I joined American University, I have been talking a lot about media-related topics like internal censorship,” he said. “But I still and will always care about the extent of entrenched, systemic corruption, so I was pleased to be invited.”
Lewis’ comprehensive knowledge of media will come into play, particularly on Monday, when he will be part of a roundtable on integrity in political debate. He will discuss with other journalists and professors the different players in the political process and the ethical questions for journalists when reporting about those processes.
Lewis said he is also looking forward to other panels, especially one on “moral machines” on Tuesday, which will discuss the question how far humans should develop intelligent and autonomous systems.
“The impact of technology will be huge. I’m worried about the future of ‘the humans.’ A lot of people will end up losing their jobs because of robotics — to what extent have nation-state governments been planning for this unprecedented social displacement,” he said.
Another related issue that has fascinated him for years is a burgeoning new sub-field called “Algorithm accountability.” His current reading while in Australia: the new book, “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy,” by Harvard mathematician and data scientist Cathy O’Neil.
With so many problems looming in the future, it is no surprise to Lewis that the subtitle for the conference is “age of insecurities.”
“There are many things to feel insecure about,” he says. “Nation states are unable to deal with a lot of problems because those problems are much larger than the individual countries or their capacities are — climate change and immigration, for example. And the largest and most developed countries such as the United States don’t want to relinquish their power or autonomy to multilateral institutions such as the United Nations. It’s really disturbing that these mounting problems are not being resolved or even, in too many cases, even addressed.”