In column printed in Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press, editor Mike Lloyd mused on the role of private security firms in Iraq. The column, titled “Debate on private security in Iraq hits home,” is notable not so much for Lloyd’s comments on Blackwater and his paper’s coverage of it, but rather for his interview with Holland representative Peter Hoekstra and Hoekstra’s discussion about his connections to Blackwater founder and Holland native Erik Prince.
At one point in Lloyd’s column, Hoekstra says “we’re all connected in Holland Bingo” after responding to questions about his connections with the Blackwater founder. Hoekstra told the Press that his connection goes “way back,” explaining that he attended the same Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church as the Prince family, that Erik Prince is related to Hoekstra’s best friend from high school, and that Prince is friends with Hoesktra’s in-district director, Bill Huizenga. Hoekstra says that he has talked to Prince regularly, stating “I’ve called him, and he’s called me. Erik has people on the ground all the time. I get a different perspective from him than I do from our own military.”
Not surprisingly, Hoekstra says nothing ill of Erik Prince. He criticized the recent hearing at which Prince testified about the role of Blackwater in Iraq, arguing that Prince was unfairly targeted. Hoekstra said that the hearings “set up a situation where the media coverage made Erik the poster child for a war policy run amok. It was unfair.” Hoekstra–who has been protected by Blackwater each of the nine times that he has visited Iraq–says that Blackwater is very good at providing security. He says that it is worth the money and that the United States is “not using these private contractors because we want to. We are using them because we have to.” He further says that Prince is “professional” and “intense”
Beyond this, it worth thinking about what is excluded from Lloyd’s comments on Blackwater. Lloyd–the editor of West Michiga’s largest and Grand Rapids’ only newspaper–essentially gives Hoekstra space to defend Blackwater. Hoekstra is never challenged by Lloyd, nor are any of his claims about Blackwater. Instead, his claims go unchecked and Lloyd never asks the big questions–why it is acceptable for the chair of the House Intelligence Committee to be getting intelligence information from or why Hoesktra claims that Blackwater’s mercenaries are “needed” in Iraq. Similarly, Lloyd never takes the time to disclose the fact that Prince–not just his family–is a significant donor to the Republican Party. In fact, Erik Prince himself gave $1,000 to Hoekstra’s campaign in both 2004 and 2005, and $500 in 1999.
Finally, it is important to remember that this is essentially the second time that the Press made room in its paper for Blackwater to either defend itself or be defended. Back in the spring of this year, the Press ran a “guest column” from Erik Prince giving Prince room to defend his company.