Bullshit News of the Day: AP’s flawed Zumwalt coverage

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You have to love the circular logic and shameless sins of omission in The Associated Press’ latest fatally flawed article about the U.S. Navy’s new Zumwalt class destroyer.

The Zumwalt is a next generation naval weapons platform which represents the military industrial complex‘s latest ploy to pilfer the federal treasury. It’s also a controversial vessel a significant number of naval strategists neither want nor believe in.

Sadly, AP reporter David Sharp and his editors gave monied interests a free ride in their article about this wasteful program in a shameless bid to curry favor with their defense sources. The result is a globally distributed piece of propaganda that tells readers very little about what’s really going on, but does a great job of misleading us.

Gutless stories that feature this kind of obvious fawning over sources are known in the news industry as “blowjob stories” and those who produce them are called “fluffers.” Neither term is a compliment.

Sharp, who is based in Maine, must have been wearing both kneepads and shinguards when he churned out this doozey on behalf of his home-state’s General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works.
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First, he tells readers the price for a Zumwalt class destroyer has gone up since the program began in 2005 and the vessels are now $4.4 billion each. However, he and his editors (let’s not forget them) never tell us the original price-tag in the May 16 article.

This surgical sin of omission leaves readers with no way of evaluating the size and scale of the increase. Are we talking 5 percent of 100 percent? 

We don’t know.

My cursory internet research indicates the original price was along the lines of $1.4 billion. So, that’s a 214 percent increase. Minimum.

What kind of journalist would want to share that kind of painful truth?

Only the best kind. 

One of the fundamentals of good journalism is to answer the obvious questions your reporting raises in the same story. This blowjob story is not burdened by such weighty aspirations. 

Instead, it’s a regurgitated mishmash of corporate and Pentagon press releases. One which makes a clumsy attempt to advance the shameless circular logic that the rising costs which prompted the reduction in the number of Zumwalts actually resulted from that very reduction in their numbers.

U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter instructor pilots from the 58th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Wing, Eglin AFB, Fla., navigate their aircraft toward an Air Force Reserve KC-135 Stratotanker from the 336th Air Refueling Squadron, March ARB, Calif., May 16, 2013, off the coast of northwest Florida. The 33rd Fighter Wing is a joint graduate flying and maintenance training wing that trains Air Force, Marine, Navy and international partner operators and maintainers of the F-35 Lightning II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. John R. Nimmo, Sr./RELEASED)

Say what?

Don’t look at me, I’m not responsible for this stellar example of journalism dissembly. 

Here’s the original AP paragraph, just as Sharp wrote it:

“The growing cost forced the navy to reduce what was originally envisioned as a 32-ship program to just three ships. The loss of economies of scale drove up the cost of the individual ships.” 

That paragraph doesn’t even make sense in a world with a functioning time machine. Presumably the author meant to say the loss of economics of scale “further inflated the size of those increases” or something along those lines. 

The fact that this source-friendly paragraph made it through several levels of editing into a story now being distributed around the world is a disgrace to The Associated Press. It also made it through the editing process with a pretty serious fact error up high, about this 603-foot long destroyer being the largest warship in the U.S. Navy.

It’s not. The Zumwalt class is the U.S. Navy’s largest destroyer. That’s a smaller category of vessel which often serves as an escort in the battle groups built around Nimitz class aircraft carriers. Carriers are nearly twice as long.
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The truth is that the Zumwalt isn’t really a traditional destroyer at all. It’s more of a hybrid weapons platform that performs some of the roles previously assigned to destroyers, cruisers and battleships. It features an advanced gun system with a pair of 155 mm guns capable of hitting targets 83 nautical miles away. That’s about 96 regular miles – roughly the distance between New York City and Philadelphia.

None of that level of detail made it into the AP article, which was dutifully published by news organizations around the world as disparate as the progressive Guardian newspaper and the Breitbart.com right-wing propaganda website. 

The Associated Press is a prestigious nonprofit news service that traces its roots back to the U.S. Civil War. It’s supposed to be better than this.

In all fairness to Sharp, he’s better than this too. As evidenced by some of the stories he’s penned in the past.

The painful truth is that the price of major weapons systems almost always goes up with the passage of time in the U.S. because they’re choreographed to do so by contractors. These monied interests represent the military industrial complex which former President Dwight Eisenhower warned the nation about in his farewell address in 1961.

Ike was also the Supreme Commander of all allied forces in Europe during World War II. Not exactly a pacifist.

The Zumwalt and many of the other inflated and unwanted programs on the current Pentagon shopping list all have one thing in common. They were conceived during the Cheney Administration, when NeoCons were allowed to run riot from 2000-2008.

The Lufthansa Heist of these unexcusable contracts is the grossly inflated  $400 billion contract for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It’s at least $163 billion over budget, seven years behind schedule, and will cost taxpayers about twice as much as sending a man to the moon, according to Politico. The zum11Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer described the F-35 as “acquisition malpractice”  in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Don’t look for that kind of context in Sharps’ coverage of the Zumwalt because it’s absolutely nowhere to be found. Even though the de facto theft of American tax dollars represented by the Zumwalt class destroyer is now the rule. Not the exception.

That’s the painful truth mainstream news organizations like the AP don’t want to touch in an American society being hollowed out by monied interests. A society whose corrupt political aristocracy always has money for political donors but can never find a meaningful way to help the homeless veterans who now reside in our forests and subway tunnels in ever increasing numbers.

The free rides these blowjob stories represent for the military industrial complex have to end.

Victor Epstein is a former administrative correspondent for The Associated Press.

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