Washington Babylon — June 25, 2007, 5:34 pm

Kurtz on Undercover Journalism: “The horror!”

Earlier this year, when I was working with my editors to plan out a story about lobbyists willing to work for the Stalinist regime in Turkmenistan, I predicted that after the story was published Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz would write a hand-wringing, tut-tutting column about my tactics. Right on schedule, Kurtz delivers his opinion. “No matter how good the story,” he writes, “lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects.”

Kurtz seems to be condemning almost all undercover reporting, from the Chicago Sun-Times Mirage tavern sting, to ABC’s Food Lion investigation, which revealed that the grocery chain was using bleach to cover up the smell of rotting beef it was selling to consumers. NBC, however, gets a nod of approval for targeting sexual predators, because Dateline tags along with the cops to get the story. Kurtz is a reliable champion of “balanced” coverage—such as the Post‘s own 27-part series earlier this year on one of the lobby shops discussed in my story, Cassidy & Associates. That series came in with a whimper on March 4 and went out with a whimper five weeks later. A classic of “he said, she said” journalism, it uncovered little besides touching anecdotes about Gerald Cassidy’s boyhood and, from what I can tell, was barely read and had little impact. (It’s interesting to note the silence of Cassidy & Associates in the debate over my story. As APCO takes the heat, Cassidy keeps a low profile. Corrupt dictators shopping for a full-service D.C. lobbying firm should take note—Cassidy may be more expensive, but they’re smarter too.)

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. From a website comment that followed Kurtz’s column:

As Howard Kurtz falls over himself defending the greed-infested and immoral sleaze-meisters at APCO, Cassidy & Associates (and the lobbying/bribery industry in general), he misses the irony of the headline . . . the true Web Of Deceit is spun by these firms that purport to be run by honest and ethical people who just happen to sell lies for a living in their service to any brutal, murdering dictator that can fork over enough cash. Anything for a buck, Mr. Kurtz?

Incidentally, APCO Associates told Kurtz that it had actually decided not to represent the regime and was still evaluating the situation. This was a demonstrable lie, as I showed in my post yesterday with e-mails APCO had sent me, but Kurtz apparently didn’t intend to run their claim past me. In fact, the only reason I was able to get a reply into his column was that I already knew APCO had been pressing that argument to others, and I asked Kurtz if they had made that claim to him. When he acknowledged it had, I asked to respond.

I read Kurtz the APCO emails but couldn’t offer copies to him on Wednesday, when he called me, because I had already promised an exclusive to the Bill Moyers Journal. On Saturday, after the Moyers interview aired, I contacted Kurtz to offer him the emails but he declined, saying he had already filed his story.

Except that story wasn’t published until today. I know the Washington Post is Old Media, but surely Kurtz had time to review the emails and cite them in a story that was running two days later. He ultimately wrote only that “Silverstein says APCO pursued him hard and expressed disappointment at being turned down,” so it was my word against theirs, despite a plethora of evidence that APCO had been ready and willing to sing the praises of Turkmenistan (assuming the checks cleared).

In the same column where he discussed my story, Kurtz criticized reporters for making political contributions (a story that has been blown wildly out of proportion, as Matthew Yglesias summarizes). The comments on washingtonpost.com regarding this part of Kurtz’s column are even more entertaining. For example:

While Kurtz is wringing his hands about reporters’ campaign contributions, it might be nice of him to disclose who his wife is and what she does for a living. Google ‘Sheri Annis‘ for insight into the non-partisan Kurtz household. Maybe Howie should rename his TV show “Resourceable Liars.”

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2016

Four in Prose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Don the Realtor

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Atlas Aggregated

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Origins of Speech

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Verse

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Sigh and a Salute

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, a story by Diane Williams, and more

In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.

Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Don the Realtor·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"If you have ever wondered what it’s like, being a young and avaricious teetotal German-American philistine on the make in Manhattan, then your curiosity will be quenched by The Art of the Deal."
Photograph (detail) © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
A Sigh and a Salute·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Si told me that various paintings had spoken to him, but he wished they had been hung closer together 'so they could talk to each other.' This observation planted a seed that would come to fruition years later in his mature work."
Artwork (detail) by Si Lewen
Article
El Bloqueo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Amid the festivities and the flood of celebrities, it would be easy for Americans to miss that the central plank of the long-standing cold war against Cuba — the economic embargo — remains very much alive and well."
Photograph (detail) by Rose Marie Cromwell

Chances that a Republican man believes that “poor people have hard lives”:

1 in 4

A school in South Korea was planning to deploy a robot to protect students from unwanted seductions.

Nuremberg’s Neues Museum filed a criminal complaint against a 91-year-old woman who completed a crossword puzzle that was in fact a $116,000 piece of avant-garde Danish art.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today