TURKMENISCAM: HOW WASHINGTON LOBBYISTS FOUGHT TO FLACK FOR A STALINIST DICTATORSHIP by Ken Silverstein (Random House), 197 pages, $28 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Turkmenistan is one of those countries you know used to be part of the old Soviet empire, but you're hard pressed to say anything more about it.
For investigative reporter Ken Silverstein, Turkmenistan was exactly what he needed: a potentially wealthy country run by a bizarre dictator with a dismal human rights record.
Who in the world would want to work for a country like that? Well, Silverstein found a couple of high-priced lobbying firms in his hometown of Washington, DC, itching to sign up Turkmenistan as a client, some of whom became part of the storyline in Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury comic.
In this slim book, Silverstein describes going undercover to get the goods on two of Washington's most prominent lobbying firms. Silverstein, the Washington editor of Harper's Magazine, created a phony company that, he told the firms, was trying to clean up the image of Turkmenistan and make it more palatable to U.S. lawmakers.
Using the name Kenneth Case, he was treated to the slick sales pitches of well-heeled, well-connected men and women who have made it their business to make friends in Congress, often through dicey methods.
Surprisingly, when the backlash came, some of the vitriol flowed from other journalists who attacked Silverstein for using dishonest methods to reveal the dishonesty of others.
The author argues that undercover work is an important part of the proud history of investigative reporting and that the response of others in the media shows how complacent and compromised mainstream journalism has become.
In raising these issues, Silverstein has served his craft, and Turkmeniscam is a quick fun romp - a sort of All Borat's Men. And you don't have to be Turkmen to enjoy it.
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