Thursday, March 5, 2009

Different name, same stink

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2009 at 4:36 PM

It can be truly dizzying the way PR flacks attempt to spin reality. To keep at least some sense of equilibrium, one of the sources I keep a regular eye on is the Center for Media and Democracy, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit dedicated to exposing the realities that lie behind corporate and government facades.

I mention this now because the group just issued a piece aimed at the private military contractor Blackwater Worldwide. Or that’s what it used to be called. The company founded by Michigan native Erik Prince has changed its name to Xe (pronounced Zee).

I got a good laugh out of a cartoon accompanying the story posted on the watchdog group’s Web site. It shows three bugs around a desk in a PR firm’s office, with one of the creepy-crawlers saying, “First of all, we want our name changed from ‘cockroach’ to ‘companion beetle.’”

That pretty much captures the rationale behind the name change.

“Corporations typically give nebulous reasons for changing their names; the change will help the company ‘better define’ what it does, or ‘clarify’ a shift in services,” the article explains. “As a Blackwater/Xe spokesperson claimed, ‘We’ve taken the company to a place where it is no longer accurately described as Blackwater.’

“But, in the corporate world, where your brand is everything, re-naming an established brand is a desperate, last-ditch move. Far from a renewal or rebirth, it’s more like a politician who, when embroiled in scandal, quits to spend more time with his family.”

Because of the Michigan connection, we like keeping tabs on Blackwater. Prince, you’ll note, is brother to Betsy DeVos, former chair of the state GOP; her husband is Dick DeVos, an arch-conservative Amway honcho who ran for governor last time around.

As pointed out in a separate posting, the company — which provides mercenaries and other military services to countries around the world — has good reason to rebrand, in an attempt to try to “distance itself from negative incidents, such as a September 2007 shooting in Nisoor Square in Baghdad, Iraq, that killed at least a dozen civilians.”

It’s worth noting that Xe has some notable companions also attempting to distance themselves from less-than-stellar pasts:

“In an eerily similar move, disgraced sub-prime mortgage lender Countrywide announced that its new name is the smooth-sounding ‘Bank of America Home Loans,’” the watchdogs note. “Rounding out the triumvirate of chameleons, Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib Prison, made infamous worldwide for the torture and abuses perpetrated inside its walls by both Saddam Hussein and the U.S. government, is changing its name to ‘Baghdad Central Prison.’

To paraphrase Bill Shakespeare, A turd by any other name still smells as foul.

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