In an earlier post I praised my local public library for having such a great collection of backlist titles even though it’s located in a small town and serves an overwhelming rural clientele. Yet another one of these backlist books like Walter Kirn’s memoir Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever I picked up not long ago was Ken Silverstein’s Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship. Every time I visited the library I’d seen it on the shelf. While I’d never heard of it, I was vaguely familiar with his 2004 book The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor. So, one day my curiosity got the better of me and I borrowed it.
Published back in 2008, Turkmeniscam grew out of piece of investigative reporting Silverstein did for Harper’s magazine. Wondering just how far a Washington DC-based lobby firm would go to promote the interests of a truly despicable client he thought he’s try and see. With his employer’s blessing and assistance he whipped up a batch of bogus business cards with a fake name, secured a cell phone with a London, England number and shopped himself around as a representative of the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan. Before long four DC lobby firms were falling over themselves offering to lobby and provide extensive PR work on behalf of a dictator so megalomaniacal his decrees looked like The Onion headlines had they not been true. (He once renamed several months of the calendar in praise of himself.) For the right price firms were willing to recruit think tanks and policy institutes to plant favorable op-ed pieces in major newspapers, wine and dine potentially receptive Congressional reps, burnish the dictatorship’s image through conferences and speaking engagements and lastly, heaven forbid should the brutal Central Asian regime commit some kind of Tiananmen Square-level mass atrocity provide on-call spin doctoring 24/7.
Just like Kirn’s Lost in the Meritocracy, Turkmeniscam is a short book and not a bad one. Once again I’m in debt to my modest, rural public library for introducing me to yet another interesting book.