Ken Silverstein, who was a Nation intern in 1987, is a contributing editor to Harper's magazine and a fellow at the Open Society Institute. He was previously part of the investigative unit of the Washington Bureau of the Los Angeles Times. In this interview, Summer 2012 Nation intern Michael Youhana asks him about his time at the Nation, and which writers he admires.
1. What did you most enjoy about interning for the Nation?
Working with Alex Cockburn, JoAnn Wypijewski, and Vania del Borgo. More fun than I had at any other job in journalism.
2. What was your first job after your internship?
I continued to work with Alex for a while and then, through sheer luck, got a job as an Associated Press correspondent in Brazil.
3. What got you so interested in petro-politics?
Like most investigative projects, I stumbled on to it initially. I was working on private military contractors and interviewed a retired general who told me his firm wanted to work in Equatorial Guinea, which he claimed was an emerging paradise. Naturally, I was immediately suspicious and when I looked into it discovered that it was an emerging oil ally of the United States and not at all a paradise.
4. What has been the most exciting assignment of your journalistic career?
Hard to say but probably writing about an arms dealer for the CIA named Ernst Werner Glatt. He was not a particularly nice guy and a right-wing German, not my favorite demographic, but absolutely fascinating. I got to spend more than a year on the story, and traveled to multiple places overseas in course of the reporting.
5. Do you have any book recommendations for aspiring foreign policy critics?
I'm drawing a blank but every journalist should read Janet Malcolm, especially The Journalist and the Murderer (apologies to Victor Navasky, she writes about him briefly in the book and it is not his finest hour) and Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial. She's the best non-fiction writer of the last 50 years, minimum.
6. Of all the people you’ve written about, who has been your favorite?
"Favorite" would probably be the wrong word, since the most interesting stories I've worked on were not necessarily about nice people, i.e. Ernest Werner Glatt. Other "favorites" include Teodorin Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, the poster boy of international corruption and sleaze, and former House member Curt Weldon. As a journalist it's hard not to love a bumbling, obvious congressional miscreant like Weldon.
7. Do you have an all-time favorite Nation writer?
Alex Cockburn, of course. I disagreed with him a lot but whatever he wrote was a good read.