Can PR get Blackwater out of hot water?

Whether you view Blackwater USA as a private security firm employed to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq or an armed militia that follows no rules of engagement save for the rule of the jungle, “Kill or be killed,” it’s striking how Blackwater co-founder Erik Prince has suddenly become available to all of the media outlets.

Oh, sure, following the Sept. 16 shooting “incident” by Blackwater guards that left 13 Iraqis dead, Prince did have to appear before a congressional committee and answer some of his peskier critics. But by and large, the handsome and engaging Prince (surely that’s an apt description, both figurative and literal) handled the situation well. He reminded me of another great American who had once whipped the boys in Congress, Ollie North.

On Sunday, Prince was featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” where he said he welcomed an FBI investigation into the shootings — even though most bystanders in Baghdad and even Iraqi authorities say the shootings were excessive and unwarranted. “I’m glad they (the FBI) can be a neutral party,” Prince said. “And if there’s further investigation or prosecution even needed, if someone really did wrong and meant badly, I’m all supportive.”

Putting aside Prince’s tortured English (Do you think he believes he, too, is a Decider?), his talking points are being broadcast up and down the eastern seaboard. He was also set up appear on CNN’s Wolf Blitzer program last night, was on “The Today Show” this morning, has been interviewed by Newsweek and is supposedly on board for an appearance tonight on PBS’ “Charlie Rose Show”.

How will Prince get through this media and congressional hammering?  Through the skilled services and professional counsel of Burson-Marsteller, perhaps? Although a spokesman for B-M told the AP that its involvement with Blackwater was only “temporary” having ended with the Oct. 2 hearing, I ask how do we, as citizens, know that?

B-M, like all good PR agencies, does its work behind the scenes. And, as Blackwater’s Prince tried to tell Congress, since Blackwater is a “private” company, it does not have to report its earnings, either.

Woa, partner. The government’s estimate is that Blackwater has received some $1 billion worth of federal contracts through the years, at the clip of $473 million annually. And who is the federal government? Well, that would be me. And you. And every other taxpayer in America.

There is a federal law against using taxpayer money for public relations consulting. Honest. Look it up. But when you swim in the murky waters of Blackwater and B-M, well..there’s a way around that troublesome law, too.


3 thoughts on “Can PR get Blackwater out of hot water?

  1. There is indeed a law against using public money for public relations, but:

    A) I believe that applies to public entities spending that would be spending that public money, and

    B) once that money has been paid to Blackwater, it’s not public money. It’s Blackwater’s.

    There’s certainly an argument to be made that Blackwater would be wise to be as open and as responsible as possible, but there really is no requirement. The accountability lies in whether the government (or anyone else) decides to spend more money with Blackwater.

  2. Eileen says:

    Too little, too late for Blackwater. I don’t believe all the spin in the world will rescue them. They obviously missed the “Tylenol” chapter in the PR book of how to handle a crisis.

  3. EMM says:

    But here’s a problem: I am the government. There is no such thing as “the government” having its own “money”. It’s my money and I’d like an accounting of it. I’d like to know that thugs aren’t using it wantonly to kill civilians.

    I also have a real problem with palming off Blackwater’s excesses by saying it’s a private company and thus, can do as it pleases. That’s the reasoning behind rendition and it’s wrong.

    As long as I’m in for a penny now, let me in for a pound.

    My final problem with Blackwater is that its employees do not have to operate under the same rules of engagement that our soldiers must…and Blackwater employees probably get paid 20, 30 — or, oh heck — let’s say 50 times what U.S. soldiers are paid. I can’t be certain on the salary, of course, because Blackwater is, afterall, a private company.

    How convenient.

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