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

Feburary 2017

A Grim Fairy Tale

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Trump: A Resister’s Guide

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Little Things

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Patient War

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Remainers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

JB & FD

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Illustration (detail) by Steve Brodner
Article
The Patient War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
Photograph (detail) © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Redux
Article
Little Things·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
Photograph (detail) of miniatures by Lori DeBacker by Thomas Allen
Article
Blood and Soil·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
Illustration (detail) by Nate Kitch
Article
JB & FD·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson

Amount New York City spends each year on air, bus, and train tickets to send homeless people out of town:

$500,000

The Laboratory of Neurophenomics described a possible blood test for suicide.“Suicide,” said the laboratory’s director, “is a big problem in psychiatry.”

Beijing set its air-quality target for 2017 at twice the amount deemed acceptable by the World Health Organization.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today