Posted by: mutantpoodle | June 30, 2009

Kurtz: Lobbyists need protection from big bad press

bootlickSay you’re the Washington editor of Harper’s magazine. You decide to show how (a) morally bankrupt the DC lobby industry is and (b) how pathetically ineffectual the public disclosure rules are with respect to this activity.

What you do is pretend to be representing a London energy company with business in Turkmenistan, a repressive ex-Soviet republic. You meet with lobbyists at Cassidy & Associates and APCO under this guise, and they tell you that your goal – to soften Turkmenistan’s deservedly brutal image – is possible. Congressional junkets, planted opinion pieces, faux-independent media events promoting Turkmenistan – all could be done under the radar, because the disclosure rules related to foreign lobbyists are so weak.

If you’re the editor, Ken Silverstein, you’re not surprised when the lobbyists you’ve exposed cry foul. But you are taken aback when Washington Post and CNN media critic (and yes, for those of you keeping score at home, that is a conflict of interest, and not his only one) Howard Kurtz takes the lobbyists’ side. “No matter how good the story”, he writes, “lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects.”

Let’s first look at a snippet from the Harper’s article (warning – subscription required), where Cassidy Vice-Chairman Gregg Hartley was touting the firm’s work for Equatorial Guinea.

The Obiang regime had received a bit of bad publicity—he mentioned here a banking scandal involving the government—and Cassidy’s first job had been “to identify inaccurate or biased stories and try to correct them.”(snip)

“…thanks to Cassidy’s aggressive media strategy and trips it had organized to Equatorial Guinea for congressional staffers, things were now looking up for the government there. The proof: three years ago, Hartley said, Parade Magazine had ranked Obiang as “the world’s sixth worst dictator,” grimacing as he stated that last word. “He’s still not a great guy,” he went on, “but he’s not in the top ten anymore, and we can take some credit for helping them figure out how to work down that list. Is he going to win the U.N. humanitarian award next year? No, he’s not, but we’re making progress.”

Sure – maybe next year, he can partner with Paris Hilton on Dancing with the Stars.

So let me get this straight – a lobbying firm which brags that it can get paid, planted op-eds into newspapers, allegedly written by independent academics and think-tank residents, all in the service of making bad leaders with money look like humanitarians without the bother of, you know, treating their citizens better or becoming less corrupt was victimized by someone who pretended to be exactly the kind of client they take and accurately reported how they did their job.

I don’t know about you, but I have far fewer questions about Mr. Silverstein than I do about lobbying practices in Washington, DC. Or about Howard Kurtz, and where his head is. (No points for the obvious snark – it’s way too easy.)

Silverstein’s LA Times op-ed today sums it up as follows:

I’m willing to debate the merits of my piece, but the carping from the Washington press corps is hard to stomach. This is the group that attended the White House correspondents dinner and clapped for a rapping Karl Rove. As a class, they honor politeness over honesty and believe that being “balanced” means giving the same weight to a lie as you give to the truth.

Amen to that, brother. Amen to that.

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