Ken Silverstein, a senior editor for Harper’s, impersonated a lobbyist to mount a sting operation exposing the depths to which our current political culture is for sale (see Their men in Washington: Undercover with D.C.’s lobbyists for hire). Now he has an op-ed in the LA Times where he defends himself against critics like the WaPo’s Howard Kurtz, who say it was wrong of Silverstein to lie in order to get the story: Undercover, under fire.
In my case, I was able to gain an inside glimpse into a secretive culture of professional spinners only by lying myself. I disclosed my deceptions clearly in the piece I wrote (whereas the lobbyists I met boasted of how they were able to fly under the radar screen in seeking to shape U.S. foreign policy). If readers feel uncomfortable with my methods, they’re free to dismiss my findings.
What do y’all think? (It’s probably worth reading Kurtz’s critique of Silverstein – Stung by Harper’s In a Web Of Deceit – before answering.) For myself, I think Silverstein’s argument is compelling. We need real journalism, which means we need journalists willing to write real stories, and (this is crucial) real news organizations willing to employ those journalists. We don’t have enough of that these days. Silverstein’s lying was justified, and that he’s taking friendly fire from the mainstream media over the tactics he used is just more evidence (as if any were needed) that we’re in bad way.