Harper’s Washington editor Ken Silverstein says he won’t deny that lobbying firm APCO Worldwide is good at what it does--lobbying for an array of companies ranging from World Wrestling Entertainment, to the CVS Corporation.
In fact, Silverstein won’t deny much of anything, even that he falsified documents and lied to APCO to get his story.
The reason? Silverstein told NPR he wanted to know how far lobbying firms could and would go in order to satisfy foreign sovereignties. “These firms are able to operate under the radar screen. . . we wanted to expose that,” Silverstein said.
Expose it, they did. But lobbying tactics weren’t the only things questionable in Silvestein’s article.
Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz commented today on how Silverstein’s actions--lying to the firms, and not asking for comment after--put his journalistic ethics on shaky grounds.
Silverstein contacted two lobbying firms as Kenneth Case, supposedly an executive for the London-based Maldon Group. Silverstein went so far as to purchase a London cell phone number and have a Web site created for the fictitious firm.
Kenneth Case, or rather Silverstein, then met with APCO and fellow lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates, under the guise that the Maldon Group was seeking services for its client, the government of Turkmenistan, a dictatorship apparently noted for its less-than-scrupulous commitment to human rights.
The story broke in the Harper’s July 2007 issue. According to Silverstein, the firms were eager to represent the government, regardless of its oppressive image.
Ironically, for a journalist concerned with the ethics of lobbying firms, Silverstein never told the lobbying firms who he really was, and he never contacted the firms for comment before the story appeared.
“They never called us to say, 'You got punked,' "APCO spokesman B. Jay Cooper told Kurtz.
Silverstein’s questionable tactics for gathering information may rival those of MTV’s Punk’d host Ashton Kutcher, but don’t expect the Kutch to go gallivanting around K Street anytime soon. With seven movies currently in production, he’ll probably leave the lobbying high jinks to journalists.