Miles Moffeit: Uncovering the truth behind the powerful, powerless

Photo: Jill Itzen, Iowa State Daily

By Mika Brust,

For the past nine years, Miles Moffeit has spent his time scrutinizing the multiple cases of military corruption and the poor civilian criminal justice systems, working endlessly to expose wrongdoings among those convicted and to gain justice for victims of crime.

As a six-year investigative reporter with the Dallas Morning News, a former nine-year reporter for the Denver Post and a 2008 Pulitzer Prize finalist for the Investigative Reporting series, “Trashing the Truth," Moffeit has uncovered many shocking yet harrowing truths, shedding a light on what really goes on behind the doors of the powerful.

On Tuesday night, Moffeit spoke at the 10th annual Chamberlin Lecture on "Investigating the Corrupt while Protecting the Powerless." A soft spoken yet poised man, he took the podium and began his lecture speaking about the significance of empathy.

“The single most important torch you can carry into the cave isn’t your phone, your new software gadgetry, or your spreadsheet. It’s actually empathy. Empathy is the capacity to be aware of others’ pain, feelings, attitudes [and] motivations,” Moffeit said.

He spoke about the numerous trials and tribulations he encountered as an investigative reporter.

“You might be spat on, you might be shoved against the wall by a city manager who says, ‘You are ruining my legacy.’ Yes, that happened to me," Moffeit said. "You might even be warned to stay away by army commanders who don’t want you investigating their practices. It’s never about you; it’s always about the story. [It’s] about the people whose lives have been forever changed."

As Moffeit spoke, he also gave visuals to go with his stories. He spoke about the many victims of the stories that he has explored, showing their photos to the audience in order to put names to their faces.

Moffeit gave examples of how victims in the military can be beaten down and never even given a chance to speak up.

“Commanders can twist justice. I had a lot of sleepless nights," he said. "The details of these cases tend to stick with you.”

Moffeit also explained why he chose to go into the career path that he is now in, citing his girlfriend, another investigative reporter on police brutality.

“I’ve always been drawn to investigative reporters who work in packs, the folks who were determined to expose great harm,” Moffeit said. “A key principle in investigative reporting is what I call orbiting. To get to the truth, you build from the outer edges and you move in, talking to people until you get to the middle, where the people who made the bad decisions are.”

Throughout the entirety of the speech, Moffeit included many pensive remarks. Many were drawn to his ability to tell personal stories while also getting the objective across.

"My message is, if you’re going to go down this path, be super mindful about using your journalistic power responsibly," Moffeit said. "Focus on the experience of the powerless, carrying these people in your hearts. And if you do that, little by little you can help people take back their power."

View the ISD’s complete coverage of the 2016 Chamberlin Lecture.