Underpromise, overachieve

princeEvan Thomas and Mark Hosenball (with Suzanne Smalley, Eve Conant, Babak Dehghanpisheh, Pat Wingert, Dan Ephron, Rod Nordland, John Barry, Michael Hirsh, Michael Isikoff, Richard Wolffe and Thijs Niemantsverdriet) profiled Blackwater CEO Erik Prince for Newsweek. It's the kind of story that offers such balanced and illuminating insight as this:

In his NEWSWEEK interview, Prince, 38, wanted to rebut the suggestion that he is building a private army that is beyond the control of the American government and answerable only to him.

Um, who exactly is making this suggestion? And is it really news Prince wants to rebut the suggestion that he's a megalomaniacal madman who will crush us all? Another indication that the 13 reporters struggled to write a decent article is indicated by the comments found online where one of their sources -- not one of the myriad anonymous sources -- refutes what they attributed to him. (My husband -- all by himself -- managed to write a fully-sourced article about Blackwater last year.) I happen to think that federal security is inherently governmental and shouldn't be outsourced to private contractors (isn't that why God made Marines?), but the piece just oozes sliminess about Prince as a person. Lots of insinuation, including about Prince's religious views:

A recent book, "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," by Jeremy Scahill, strongly suggests that Prince is a "neo-crusader," a "Theocon" with a Christian-supremacist agenda.

It is true that the Blackwater Web site has a "Chaplain Corner" with a distinctly evangelical message. In the past 15 years, Prince says, he has attended "one or two" meetings of the Council for National Policy, a Christian right organization founded by the Rev. Tim LaHaye, author of the "Left Behind" series.

But Prince plays down any connection between his religion and his business. "Look," he says, "I'm a practicing Roman Catholic, but you don't have to be Catholic, you don't have to be a Christian to work for Blackwater."

I don't even know what that first sentence means, but if Prince is a practicing Roman Catholic, then what's up with the evangelical stuff? I fear the reporters aren't informed enough to understand those two dynamics, much less explain them to the reader. As further proof of Prince's scary religious obsession, the authors offer this:

He was once quoted by a defense-industry newsletter describing why his private contractors could provide better--more effective, more efficient--"relief with teeth" in a dangerous environment than international aid organizations or even the U.S. military: "Everybody carries guns, just like Jeremiah rebuilding the Temple in Israel, a sword in one hand, a trowel in the other." Prince, a weapons expert and adventure seeker since he outgrew playing with lead soldiers as a boy, has seen the promised land, and it is righteous and well armed.

Oh no! Not an apt Biblical reference! Doesn't the Constitution ban that? Speaking of bans, that last sentence is currently under review by the Federated Committee of Journalists Against Cliches.

The reporters drop in a bit about the conversion of the evangelical theocrat Prince:

Prince received a double shock when his wife, Joan, was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was pregnant with their second child.

One of Joan's close friends, who declined to be identified discussing private matters, tells NEWSWEEK a doctor recommended Joan terminate the pregnancy before the cancer could be fed by the further rush of estrogen. Joan, a devout Catholic, had the baby--and then had two more. She died of cancer in 2003. Prince, who remarried in 2004, converted to Roman Catholicism at Easter time in 1992. His family had been members of the Calvinist Dutch Reform Church, though with an evangelical bent. No one seems to have been shocked or upset by Prince's embrace of Rome. Several knowledgeable friends, who did not wish to be identified discussing private conversations, say Prince talked about his reverence for the continuity of the Catholic Church, his desire to go to mass every morning and his appreciation of confession.

For an article that keeps trying to make the case that Prince is a zealous evangelical whose religious views drive his business, the substance seems to indicate he's more privately religious. It may have worked better for the 13 reporters if they'd under promised and over achieved when it came to allegations.

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