Aviation Week & Space Technology reports today that the nation’s biggest weapons development program has surpassed its testing goals for calendar year 2011, and is on track to do the same in 2012. The goal for 2011 was 872 flight tests, and as of last Thursday, 875 had been completed. This is very good news, since three U.S. military services and a dozen allies need various versions of the plane to replace aging Cold War fighters. Without it, they can’t preserve U.S. air superiority through mid-century.
So where are all the news stories highlighting the importance of this achievement and praising American ingenuity? Over the last several years, news services and the general media have reported every setback the F-35 program has faced, real or imagined. You know, like the trillion-dollar number to operate the plane through 2065 that it now turns out none of the military users believes (they’re getting ready to challenge the methods and assumptions supporting the calculation).
I checked news.google.com for F-35 stories this morning, and it came up mostly with headlines like “Lockheed’s F-35 Not in Budget ‘Cross Hairs’, Dempsey Says,” and “McCain Raises Concerns About F-35 Cost Overruns.” Something tells me if I wait a few days for the Fourth Estate to digest the good news from the F-35 program, I’m still going to find mostly negative reports about how it’s faring. I predict all the major news outlets will decide it isn’t worth reporting that the Pentagon’s most expensive and complicated weapons program is making steady progress. Aviation Week and the rest of the trade press will notice, but the New York Times? Not a chance.
This tells you some important things about the way news is reported in the general media. First, it underscores the preference of reporters and editors for stories involving conflict of some sort. If it’s good news, it usually isn’t considered news at all. Second, it reflects the ideological biases of some outlets, which will report any kind of lurid nonsense about big weapons programs with minimal checking, but just can’t be bothered to tell you the other side of the story. And third, it suggests why people who are exposed to a great deal of daily news tend to be pessimistic about America’s future — because all the technological breakthroughs and economic achievements get short shrift, while bad news hogs the front page.
Oh, and it also tells you one more thing about the prevailing approach to gathering the news. It tells you why consumers are walking away in droves, preferring social media and internet aggregators to the daily downer they get each day from traditional outlets. People just don’t believe (or don’t care about) the version of reality they are getting from newspapers and television news, so they are voting with their feet to get information from other sources. If you look at the way the F-35 story has been reported over the last several years, that reaction is easy to understand. It’s an essential program that is making steady progress, but you’d never know that from reading stories about it in the general media.
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