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The September issue of Harper’s presents the last bits of hurt feelings stemming from Ken Silverstein‘s July prank. For the uninitiated, Silverstein misrepresented himself as a representative from a firm called the “Maldon Group” and was seeking lobbying groups in Washington to whitewash the international image of the oppressive government of Turkmenistan. Silverstein created the Maldon Group out of thin air; he’s actually Harper’s Washington correspondent.
When the story came out, it created something of a shitstorm, with journalism’s bearded ethicists (rightly) pointing out that the ends don’t justify the means and Silverstein (lamely) arguing that this was the best way to shine a light on the unethical practices of D.C. lobbyists.
Journalistic ethics aside, the real story about this story is that the story had already been written, more than 15 years ago. The February 1992 issue of Spy magazine contains pretty much the exact same stunt. The magazine’s clever jokesters dreamed up something called the German People’s Alliance, a fake “nascent neo-Nazi” organization in Germany. A “putative” rep of this organization, one “Sabina Hofer”, called Washington lobbyist Edward van Kloberg to see if he’d be interested in advancing the group’s agenda on Capitol Hill.
Spy did a nice job with the scam, running the transcript of conversations between the neo-Nazi faker and the Washington powerbroker. The dialogue is priceless:
Hofer: We would like to know which is the best congressman and senator, and what is with this Mr. Duke? But that is governor.
Van Kloberg: Yes. I don’t think he’ll win.
Hofer: That is a pity, because we’re hoping that the climate—
Van Kloberg: That is a pity. But the climate, what it has opened, is the key.
Hofer: You know, we have problems with our Turks, with immigrants and the little Jews that are left. But here in New York I see these blacks—this is terrible.
Van Kloberg: It’s a different ball game. There is something called the silk-stocking district in New York. [Laughs] It’s from Fifth Avenue on over to Third Avenue from about 40th up to 86th, and that’s the only place you can be in New York. [Laughs.]
Hofer: This Mr. Duke has some propositions—this would be nice.
Van Kloberg: Uh-huh.