Harper’s Washington editor Silverstein (The Radioactive Boy Scout, 2004, etc.) takes an informative, smart-alecky look at the lengths to which lobbying firms will go to get clients.
The book is based on his undercover reporting for the magazine. Silverstein invented a company interested in promoting Turkmenistan’s image in the United States so that it could attract investors to energy projects in the former Soviet Union. In edgy prose he describes the people he met and the places he visited, also providing plenty of biographical and campaign-finance factoids. His report will confirm many people’s worst fears about the influence business, whose members display considerable willingness to work for repressive regimes (as long as they or their allies can write checks) and a tendency to shade the truth when dealing with the media. While this material worked well as a magazine article, it’s a bit skimpy for a full-length book, so the author augments the narrative of his investigation with a lengthy history of lobbying. This synthesis of existing material doesn’t always cohere. Silverstein’s undercover effort was controversial when the article first came out, among some journalists as well as most of the lobbying community. He defends his approach as the only way to get the true story and also takes issue with those who put balance above all other values when judging reporting. “ ‘Balanced’ is not fair, it’s just an easy way of avoiding real reporting (as well as charges of bias) and shirking our responsibility to inform readers,” he contends. Nobody will accuse Silverstein of evenhandedness, since he never gives the lobbyists a chance to defend their tactics.
Readable and well-reported, though openly partisan.