Book Review: Blackwater

BlackwaterJeremy's Scahill's new book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army has seemingly reinvigorated discussion on private security companies. Personally, I have not read his book but I've received a lot of email asking about it and asking if I listened to his appearances on various NPR shows and elsewhere. I have to say that on each listening and reading of a review, it becomes more apparent Scahill completely misses the mark and does a poor job doing so to boot. I think there's something to be said that even Jon Stewart, who I watch nearly religiously (thank God for TiVO), wasn't accepting Scahill's sky-is-falling framework (I also don't remember the last time Jon losing a book of his desk). Based on the interviews on the Daily Show and elsewhere, it's apparent Scahill's arguments are weak and when he's not quoting somebody else his evidence lacks contextual reality. I wonder, if Erik Prince threatened Robert Young Pelton with a lawsuit, what will Scahill be threatened with?

Friend Nick Bicanic, co-director/producer of Shadow Company, read Blackwater and had this to say about it:

I read this book fairly recently (I was booked to do an interview opposite Mr. Scahill on talk radio - but he ultimately bailed minutes before going on air - much to the consternation of the producers) and I was extremely disappointed by it.

It felt as though someone had taken hundreds of the juiciest bits of Robert Young Pelton's "Licensed to Kill" (with a smattering of Peter Singer's "Corporate Warriors") and crafted a bunch of rhetoric to fill in the blanks.

While it's evident that he disagrees with Erik Prince (owner of Blackwater) ideologically (which is great - and last I remember my history one of the building blocks of this country is precisely the ability to have open discourse about such disagreement) the manner in which virtually every single reference to Erik is laden with hate and vitriol should be insulting to a reader's intelligence. Not to mention the ridiculous abundance of references to another book which follows almost the exact same structure (Robert Young Pelton's aforementioned opus)

I'm not for denying an author's right to quote prior work but when it comes at such high frequencies it is borderline plagiarism. And whether or not plagiarism is illegal at this level - it is nevertheless offensive. The only thing more offensive than the plagiarism is the fact that it is used to create a book that is less about what it claims to be about - i.e. "Blackwater" than a direct attack on one of its founders and the current political establishment in America.

I don't write this to defend Erik. Although I have met and spoken to him once I do not claim to know him or how he thinks in any way. I write this simply as a critique of one-sided journalism - essentially the presentation of pseudo-facts organized to seem like truths but to actually be propaganda.

It was precisely my desire to avoid this that caused me to make Shadow Company the way it was made - as opposed to the "mercenaries are all evil crazy wardogs with a penchant for 30 round Glock clips and combat knives" that it easily could have been...

I always imagined good journalism (and good documentary filmmaking) was about presenting information to a reader and encouraging them to make up their own mind - rather than hammering a simplistic conclusion into them from the word go.