Media Politics and civics

Trump tweets a lie; news media parrot it

Trump tweets that Boeing has a $4 billion contract marked by cost overruns. Media organizations report it as though it were true. It wasn’t. It was a big, fat lie.

On Tuesday, December 6, Donald Trump tweeted that Boeing had a $4 billion contract to build a (single) Air Force One jet. And that the contract should be cancelled.

The tweet hit the ether 22 minutes after the Chicago Tribune published an article quoting Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg on U.S. trade with China: Boeing CEO waits for Trump’s trade play.

Like many of Trump’s tweets, this one’s foundation is a lie.

News reports, however, led with the claim that Boeing had a $4 billion contract. Even AFTER a news gaggle in the lobby of Trump Tower, where he said this:

“The plane is totally out of control. It’s going to be over $4 billion for Air Force One program and I think it’s ridiculous,” Trump elaborated in brief comments to reporters at Trump Tower. “I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.”

In other words, this was journalism-as-stenography. What’s worse, it was uncorrected journalism-as-stenography. This screen capture is from Google News at 2 pm Pacific.

Google News Trump Air Force One
Eight hours after Trump’s tweet, media still lead with false claim. Google News, 2 pm Pacific


Sample stories:

Media organizations (it’s increasingly difficult to call them “news” organizations) did not appear to reach out to Boeing or the Defense Department in their initial reports. Or do search their own archives.

Boeing issued a news release clarifying that it has only a $170 million contract to begin the design and development of the next generation Air Force One fleet. The Air Force did as well, noting it had budgeted $2.7 billion in the 2017 R&D budget.

TheHill updated its story to include the Boeing statement but didn’t not indicate that the story had been updated. Nor did it change the lede.


Here are the lies contained in that one sentence

  • Claim: “Boeing is building…”
    There is no contact to build a new AF1 fleet.
  • Claim: “… a brand new 747 Air Force One …”
    There are current two jets in the fleet. The Air Force hasn’t decided “whether it wants two or three” of the new planes.
  • Claim: “… costs are out of control…”
    The preliminary contract is for design and there are no reports from the Air Force that the design contract is “out of control”. Subsequent news reports suggested that the Air Force wants to accelerate the schedule, which could affect costs.
  • Claim: “… more than $4 billion.”
    Boeing has a $170 million contract to begin design work to replace Boeing plans to replace the two 747-200 aircraft that serve as Air Force One with two new, modified 747-8 planes. The planes are at end of their 30-year lifespan.  PolitiFact labels the claim “half true” because the PROJECT cost is currently estimated at $3.7 billion. Project. Not A PLANE. To this I say, #PolitiFactFAIL. Also known as B.S.
  • Claim: “Cancel order!”
    There is no “order” to cancel.


Back story on Air Force One jets

Trump’s claim doesn’t pass the smell test, even if you know nothing about how much it costs to build a plane. To begin with, there is more than one plane outfitted for the president, and it’s called AF1 when the president is aboard.

The two Air Force One jets currently flying were ordered by President Reagan, feature 1970s-era engines, and were delivered in 1990 during George H.W. Bush’s administration. They are not “normal” airplanes; they are more like military planes. They have complex communications systems (video conferences, classified computer access, and nuclear-strike controls), feature missile avoidance systems, can be refueled in-flight, and are protected from a nuclear explosion electromagnetic pulse. They are one-offs, one-of-a-kinds.

The Pentagon announced in January that it had awarded a contract to Boeing to begin “preliminary work” on a new AF1 fleet. “The Air Force has previously said that it had earmarked $1.65 billion for two replacement jets.”

The Air Force plans to modify the contract in coming years as the Air Force One program moves into the engineering and design phase, and later, into production… The Air Force decision was widely expected since the only other suitable four-engine jet is the A380 built by Airbus (AIR.PA) in Toulouse, France.

This is a classic example of “if it appears too good or bad to be true, it probably isn’t.”

It is a horrible example of reporting without context.


Reckless disregard

Who knew that Trump was going to make a public statement that would drop Boeing’s stock? How much money changed hands on computer trades based on incremental changes in value, changes that have nothing to do with performance?

The power of Trump’s personality and social media combined to rattle Boeing’s stock price, which dipped by $2 per share, or just over 1 percent, at the opening bell Tuesday, shortly after the president-elect’s tweet zipped through cyberspace. Boeing stock regrouped to close at $152.24 per share, basically flat with Monday’s close.

Ironically, the day before Trump blasted Boeing on Twitter (an unprecedented adversarial act), Boeing had “finalized a deal to pledge $1 million for his inaugural festivities.”


Trump-Boeing tweet timeline

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By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

3 replies on “Trump tweets a lie; news media parrot it”

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