Browse Primary Sources
"The piece on lobbyists, he and his editor insist, was not just done to investigate the particular lobbying firms, but to reawaken journalists to the power of undercover reporting. 'There was this meta level in the planning that asked, 'How will the journalism establishment react?'' Harper's editor Roger Hodge told a reporter (AJR, 10/07). "The fact that undercover journalism has fallen out of fashion seems to be a problem with the profession."
". . .After Silverstein's report appeared in the July Harper's, those firms and a few journalists criticized Silverstein's covert tactics, charging that he misrepresented himself to get a story.We reached Silverstein in his newsroom, where he said the criticism should be focused on the lobbying firms and on the many promises they made in their eagerness to revamp Turkmenistan's public image. Among those promises, carefully choreographed panel discussions. . ."
". . .People should, of course, read the Kurtz column, read my piece, and come to their own conclusions, and as I have said before, those uncomfortable with my tactics are free to dismiss the story’s findings. Despite Kurtz’s concerns, most readers seem to understand why I went undercover. . ."
". . .Both lobbying firms have complained that my tactics were “unethical.” Now APCO has issued a press release acknowledging that it met with the Maldon Group–the name of my fictitious energy firm–but saying that it was never actually interested in winning the contract to work for Turkmenistan. “If Silverstein had bothered to have even a second meeting or to further engage, he could have found out that he would not make the cut to become one of our clients,” the press release says. . ."
". . .For now, though, let me share one story because the events in question took place long ago, and the source was not willing to provide the name of the lobbying firm involved, making it all but impossible to track down. He did, however, offer enough details that I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of his account. And the story, I think, gives some valuable insight into how lobby shops actually work. . ."
". . .The response—in the form of blog posts, emails, and interview requests—was overwhelming, and almost entirely positive. A lot of people, it seems, just don’t approve of lobby shops that do image-enhancement work for dictators. But for some in the media—and especially beltway reporters—my piece prompted a moral crisis. They just couldn’t figure out whether it was worse for me to trick the lobbyists than for the lobbyists to have proposed a whitewash campaign for the Turkmen regime. . ."
". . .In violation of recognized journalistic priniciples, Silverstein neither asked us for comment nor gave us an opportunity to respond to his 'facts.' In addition, Silverstein appeared on Bill Moyers Journal on PBS and neither he, nor representatives of the program, contacted APCO for comment. Had they asked, we would have told them these facts . . ."
". . .In some circles, what Silverstein did was clearly unethical. In short, he misrepresented himself. “No matter how good the story,” Howard Kurtz wrote, “lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects.” Kurtz was hardly alone; the DC media establishment has been less than shy about denouncing Silverstein’s tactics. . ."
"Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post has faithfully parroted the talking points of the two lobbying firms I embarrassed in this month’s Harper’s, but APCO and Cassidy & Associates have had less luck with other journalists. The story exposed how the firms offered to polish the image of Stalinist Turkmenistan when I approached them, claiming to represent a shady energy firm that allegedly had a stake in that country’s natural gas sector. . ."
"Ken Silverstein says he lied, deceuved and fabricated to get the story. But it was worth it, he insists. Those on the receiving end don't agree. . ."
The Washington Post 2007-06-25
"On the Media" - WNYC 2008-10-17
"In New Expose, Ken Silverstein of Harper’s Magazine Goes Undercover to Find Out What US Lobbyists Do for Dictators" - Juan Gonzalez - Democracy Now
JUAN GONZALEZ: "Foreign agents — what US lobbyists do for dictators," all it takes is the right amount of money and a little help from the skilled lobbying firms in Washington, D.C. That’s according to an article in this month’s edition of Harper’s Magazine by Washington editor, Ken Silverstein. In February, Silverstein visited Washington’s top lobbying firms posing as a representative of a fictitious investment firm with a financial stake in Turkmenistan. He claimed that he was eager to bolster the image of a regime widely described as one of the most authoritarian in the world. Silverstein’s expose is titled "Their men in Washington: Undercover with D.C.’s Lobbyists for Hire." It focuses on two prominent firms, APCO and Cassidy & Associates, that fell for Silverstein’s bait and were soon vying for a lucrative contract to remake Turkmenistan’s tarnished image. For $600,000 to $1.2 million dollars a year, they promised unparalleled access to Washington’s decision makers and improved media coverage. AMY GOODMAN: Ken Silverstein joins us now from Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ken.
Democracy Now! 2007-06-28
"A tempest in the sweltering DC teapot has developed this past week with regards to an investigative report in the upcoming issue of Harper's. Ken Silverstein, Harper's Washington Editor, has a piece called "Their Men In Washington" that is causing some consternation in the media circles … Or at least along those mediaphiles that aren't obsessing over a certain former jailbird. In order to expose the depths and depravity of Washington, D.C.'s lobbyist community, Ken Silverstein decided to get … creative. Here's how he describes it in his own words: My story in the July issue of the magazine details how two beltway lobby shops I approached, on the pretense that I represented a shady London-based energy firm with a stake in Turkmenistan, proposed to whitewash the image of that country's Stalinist regime. He whipped up some business cards, made a website, assumed a name and began the PR courtship process with the firms APCO Worldwide and Cassidy & Associates. His article (unfortunately available only to subscribers) is a fairly by-the-numbers accounting of the back and forth he engaged in with the lobby shops, which – it would be generous to say – were rather forgiving about Turkmenistan's less savory practices. Silverstein found, unsurprisingly, that it seemed they wanted to work with him. He found that they were willing to organize tours for convincible politicians. He found that they proposed a rather typical media strategy, including op-ed placements and other attempts to generate news items about Turkmenistan. He found that they were available to do what we already know they do for clients – occasionally tuck their conscience in the attic for a check."
CBS News 2007-06-28
"Kenneth Case and Ricardo, a fellow consultant for The Maldon Group, sat at a brightly polished conference table for 20, a pitcher of water zested with lemon nearby, and waited for the pitch. Among the bipartisan suits doing the selling were a former aide to Rep. Roy Blunt, the second-ranking Republican in the U.S. House, and Chuck Dolan, a top public relations consultant for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign. There were specialists with serious domestic and political connections and experts in dealing with the nation's top news organizations. Case had come to Cassidy & Associates with a problem. It seems The Maldon Group had considerable interests in Turkmenistan, on the northern borders of Iran and Afghanistan, a country with the fifth-largest reserve of natural gas in the world and a wealth of oil. Investors, however, were having nothing to do with this backward former Soviet republic because, until his death in December 2006, the country had been under the heel of Stalinist despot Saparmurat Niyazov. That Niyazov had been succeeded by his personal dentist, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, did not exactly kindle confidence. Was it possible, given this climate, that Cassidy & Associates could make the U.S. government see that Berdymukhamedov had reforms planned for Turkmenistan, that things were looking up? Case asked."
American Journalism Review 2007-10-01
"Foreign governments with poor records on human rights, democracy, and freedom of press still manage to find friends in high places in Washington. Ken Silverstein, Washington editor of Harper's Magazine, went undercover to find out just how far some lobbyists go to promote the interests of dictators."
Talk of the Nation 2007-06-19
Ken Silverstein of Harper's Magazine found out firsthand what U.S. lobbyists are willing to offer the leaders of oppressive regimes. His article in the July issue is "Their Men in Washington: Undercover with D.C.'s Lobbyists for Hire."
The Leonard Lopate Show 2009-11-05
EARLIER THIS YEAR, I put on a brand-new tailored suit, picked up a sleek leather briefcase and headed to downtown Washington for meetings with some of the city's most prominent lobbyists. I had contacted their firms several weeks earlier, pretending to be the representative of a London-based energy company with business interests in Turkmenistan. I told them I wanted to hire the services of a firm to burnish that country's image.I didn't mention that Turkmenistan is run by an ugly, neo-Stalinist regime. They surely knew that, and besides, they didn't care. As I explained in this month's issue of Harper's Magazine, the lobbyists I met at Cassidy & Associates and APCO were more than eager to help out. In exchange for fees of up to $1.5 million a year, they offered to send congressional delegations to Turkmenistan and write and plant opinion pieces in newspapers under the names of academics and think-tank experts they would recruit. They even offered to set up supposedly "independent" media events in Washington that would promote Turkmenistan (the agenda and speakers would actually be determined by the lobbyists). All this, Cassidy and APCO promised, could be done quietly and unobtrusively, because the law that regulates foreign lobbyists is so flimsy that the firms would be required to reveal little information in their public disclosure forms. Now, in a fabulous bit of irony, my article about the unethical behavior of lobbying firms has become, for some in the media, a story about my ethics in reporting the story. The lobbyists have attacked the story and me personally, saying that it was unethical of me to misrepresent myself when I went to speak to them.
Los Angeles Times 2007-06-30