Late Lobbyist Von Kloberg Took Clients No One Wanted
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
One thing that Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu, Liberia's Samuel Doe and Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko had in common, in addition to being brutal despots, was Edward von Kloberg III, aka Edward van Kloberg III, aka Edward Joseph(ph) Kloberg III. Kloberg lobbied in Washington for all of them. He was a native New Yorker with a gift for self-reinvention and a penchant for the advocacy of villainous causes. On Sunday, in Rome, ailing at age 63, he jumped to his death. A few weeks ago, he called up Adam Bernstein of The Washington Post to make sure the paper would get his legacy right.
Adam Bernstein, how did that conversation go?
Mr. ADAM BERNSTEIN (Reporter, The Washington Post): It was a charming conversation where Mr. von Kloberg, or Baron von Kloberg--one thing that I wasn't able to put in the newspaper. He wanted to make sure that his life had the, I suppose, final spin is the best way to put it. He spent his entire life polishing the images of some pretty horrendous people, and I think he was rather concerned that the tone of the story might be similar in tone to many of the articles and book chapters that had been written about him, which is that there was no human feel for who he was, and so I think he wanted to get together and talk about what motivated him. And he seemed to me to be very honest and open about anything.
SIEGEL: How did he defend this stable of clients he had who, taken collectively, just the worst rogue's gallery of the late 20th century you could possibly imagine?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I believe it was all about socializing. That was his particular pleasure in this. And outside of that, it was trying to find a way to earn a living. And he had no ethical qualms about it. He said just as any client had a right to a lawyer, any tyrant had a right to a spin doctor.
SIEGEL: What did he do for them?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: He would write letters to the editor to counter what the tyrants, despots perceived as negative remarks in the press. That would include Guatemala at a time when the military regime there was murdering left and right. For Ceausescu, he wrote a book. He had a book printed that was a testament to the wisdom of Ceausescu. He painted him as a humanitarian, great humanitarian. Anything really to play to the ego of a lot of the people he represented. And in return, he would hope that they would be much more reasonable about accepting American terms for business deals.
SIEGEL: Did people in the government, in the State Department or other agencies, seem to appreciate the role he was playing on behalf of his rather unsavory clients of his?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I read one comment that said that he could come across as rather condescending when talking about some of the people he represented, and they couldn't understand why they would choose to hire him. However, another friend of his said he was something of a Professor Higgins type, that he would come across, I think, as somebody who wanted to teach some of the people from the other countries why it was important to act in a certain way when appearing before powerful people here in the city.
SIEGEL: But do you think he meant by `behave in a certain way,' do you think he meant, how you should carry yourself at the Washington dinner party, or...
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I think...
SIEGEL: ...how you should lay off the people who live in the southwestern corner of your country, whom you've been killing for the past 10 years?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: He told me that he tried to express as strongly as he could to the dictators, the despots, why it was important to hold elections, why they shouldn't hold certain people as political prisoners. And he expressed, it would seem to me, genuine disappointment that so many of the people he represented were not able to change their countries for the better, that, in fact, many of them died in coups.
SIEGEL: Now before I let you go, I want you to tell us the story of the `van,' the `von' and the supposed baronial heritage that Mr. von Kloberg claimed.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: His birth name was Edward Joseph Kloberg III. At some point, the family--I believe it was--he told me it was his mother changed it to van, V-A-N, Kloberg. And then, on the advice of a newsman here in Washington, whom he respected, a very dapper guy, he said von was far more effective with his name, and so he changed it. Baron was his own invention. He said he'd always wanted to be a baron. One of his friends said after a few drinks, he would want to be called czar or Your Eminence.
SIEGEL: (Laughs) He was knighted by the exiled king of Rwanda, I have read.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, who wasn't?
SIEGEL: Well, Adam Bernstein, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, thank you. It's been a pleasure.
SIEGEL: Adam Bernstein of The Washington Post, talking about the late Edward Joseph Kloberg III.
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