Investigative journalism FAIL!!!

Last weekend CBS’s ’60 Minutes’ program did a special report on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II strike aircraft program.  Asking whether it was ‘worth it’, their conclusion was that it probably is.

Unfortunately, according to the always readable War Is Boring milblog, they goofed.

On Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a story about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter entitled, “Is the F-35 Worth It?” But watching the piece, I saw no debate whatsoever of that very important question.

And for good reason. All the interview subjects were government employees or contractors. They’d have been crazy to criticize their own program.

What I did see on Sunday was an ill-informed reporter — David Martin — touring the military side of the $400-billion F-35 program … and throwing in just a few boilerplate questions.

These questions were softballs, considering how big of a blunder this program actually has been. The F-35 is meant to replace 2,400 existing warplanes in the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. Complex and badly compromised by the need to meet all the military branches’ diverse needs, the JSF is overpriced, unreliable and sluggish.

60 Minutes mentioned that the F-35 is behind schedule and over budget, has some bad lighting and unsatisfactory tires … and that’s about it. Those gripes barely scratch the surface of the JSF boondoggle.

. . .

… where was the long list of design and quality-control issues with the aircraft, 12 years after development began? What about discussing the many alternatives to this under-performing machine, such as F-22s and drones plus rebuilt F-15s, F-16s and F/A-18s? Why not point out how many experts in the defense journalism and analysis worlds see the JSF program as detracting from America’s security rather than enhancing it?

And how could 60 Minutes have not sought the opinion of someone — anyone — who is not receiving a paycheck from the F-35 program? The widely-seen spot included no third-party aerospace or defense experts and cited not a single independent study.

There’s more at the link.

War Is Boring’s analysis is confirmed by Breaking Defense, which notes:

The most surprising thing about the F-35 video was the complete absence of any of the plane’s critics. While avoiding Winslow Wheeler, Pierre Sprey and some others might be a fairly easy editorial decision, what about Sen. John McCain or perhaps Phil Coyle, the Pentagon’s former top tester. McCain seems to go hot and cold on the plane, so perhaps he wasn’t interested in speaking right now. Or perhaps he wasn’t approached.  Coyle’s status as the former head tester would seem to make him an obvious choice. But there you go.

Again, more at the link.  Both reports’ criticisms certainly tally with the many observations I’ve made about the F-35 program in these pages over the years.

Checkbook journalism‘ used to refer to the practice of journalists – or their employers – buying exclusive access to stories by paying for them.  More and more, as in cases like this, it looks like the new meaning of that phrase is that companies with deep pockets and open checkbooks buy the journalists!

Shame on you, CBS.  You’ve let down not only yourselves, but the nation.



  1. Hey Peter,

    The F35 reminds me of an updated F111 Aardvark. That plane tried to be something for everybody and really wasn't that great. The Airforce/Navy and Marines have different mission requirement and trying to get the same plane to cover all of them is an intellectually enjoyable exercise, but in practical terms….It ain't there. And the Airforce wants to cut out the A-10 which us army guys love and have an F-16 fill the mission role. I kept thinking of the "Golden BB" with that one.

  2. Peter, why would you – or any thinking individual who's paying attention, for that matter – expect anything else from the Government Media ?

    The Powers That Be (which, in this case, includes both military brass and civilians at the Pentagon and their enablers and accomplices in the political and defense industries who cash the checks, want a fancy, NEW!! gizmo with which they can impress their buddies.

    To challenge any part of NEW!! IMPORTANT!! government systems/activities/programs would be pissing in one's own rice bowl.

    Some have the courage to do so, and the ability to avoid eating contaminated rice, but I assure you, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, WaPo, NYT, et al ain't on that list.

    The F-35 is just one more is a long list of abuses and usurpations to which we are being subjected. Unfortunately, the final price tag on the 35 will be much higher than many envision at present.

  3. $400 billion.

    Whenever I see a big number like that I divide it by the US population, and also by the number of taxpayers. It's a depressing exercise, but I recommend it.

    In this case, it comes out to approx $1333 per American, or $4000 per taxpayer.

    Can you feel your wallet getting lighter?


  4. Long ago 60 Minutes lost its credibility in my eyes, when they covered the replacement of the B-58 Hustler bomber with the new FB-111.

    60 Minutes said this was "money wasted" because the B-58, in all its years of service, had never dropped a bomb on the enemy. Even this 12 year old knew that the B-58 was a nuclear bomber only, and that it had successfully helped prevent a nuclear war just by being in service.

  5. This seems to be a trend for 60 Minutes. I watched the story they did on NSA spying. Everyone they talked to was from the NSA. I can't imagine why not a single person they talked to thought anything was wrong.

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