Boeing Accused Of Covert, Coordinated Op-Ed Smear Campaign Against Space X

from the disinformation-nation dept

For years we've noted how the American press has an absolutely horrible tendency to run guest Op-Eds without disclosing the author's financial conflicts of interest(s). Jesse Jackson, for example, can sometimes be found comparing efforts to bring competition to the cable box to racism in the 60s, without disclosing the cable industry's underlying influence. Similarly, former Representative and fair use champion Rick Boucher can often be found praising CISPA, denying a lack of competition in broadband or attacking net neutrality in Op-Ed pages nationwide on behalf of AT&T with zero disclosure of his real financial motivations.

The act of republishing these missives without clearly disclosing financial conflicts of interests isn't just unethical, it pollutes the national discourse, undermines already shaky trust in media, and contributes to a sound wall of disinformation as giant companies try to sell their latest megamerger, pass anti-consumer regulations and legislation, undermine a competitor, or justify terrible behavior.

One more recent example of this phenomenon comes courtesy of Boeing, which is being accused of running a covert smear campaign against Space X via media outlets that fail to adequately disclose ulterior financial motives of Op-Ed authors.

Back in August, just around the time that Boeing was hyping the company's Starliner spacecraft program, a series of Op-Eds began showing up in newspapers nationwide attacking Space X and its allegedly unsafe fueling practices. The articles, which appeared everywhere from the Houston Chronicle to the Washington Times, all purported to simply be worried about astronaut safety. All were penned by Richard Hagar, who worked for NASA during the Apollo program, but now resides in Tennessee. All implied repeatedly that Space X was ignoring safety standards and putting astronauts at risk.

But amusingly, when Ars Technica tried to track down Hagar, they discovered that he didn't actually write the vast majority of the Op-Eds published in countless news outlets nationwide under his name. Instead, the missives were penned by a PR and policy shop with an expertise in astroturf and other disingenuous messaging:

"To try to understand his viewpoint, Ars attempted to reach Hagar by phone and email in September. In the course of this process, we learned that he did not actually submit many of these op-eds.

In fact, based upon our research, at least four of the six op-eds that we located were submitted by two people with gmail.com addresses. Their names were Josh Brevik and Casey Murray. Further research revealed that two people with these names worked as "associates" at a Washington, DC-based public relations firm named Law Media Group or LMG. We reached out to multiple editors at papers that ran the op-eds, and they confirmed that no LMG affiliation was disclosed to them. Attempts to reach Julian Epstein, the chief executive of LMG, by phone and email were unsuccessful."

Boeing is an LMG client, and has worked previously for the company on past projects by "developing messaging" and crafting a "social media campaign amplifying our nationwide chorus of genuine American voices supporting Boeing." Boeing is also Space X's only competitor in the commercial crew program, so the mathematics here should be fairly obvious. Law Media Group (LMG) was busted for this exact sort of thing ten years ago and apparently absolutely nothing has changed, making it abundantly clear just how little most people care about this sort of disinformation.

News outlets have little incentive to crack down on this kind of disingenuous dreck, as they don't want to anger the companies footing the bill. Most Americans are totally clueless about the perils on zero transparency in this regard, so public pressure to actually do something about it for many media outlets remains largely nonexistent. And while you could pass a law mandating that corporations are free to speak as long as they speak for themselves, countless corporations would certainly be quick to claim their ability to spread misleading nonsense via covert intermediaries violates their First Amendment rights.

Aside from applying continuous public pressure on news outlets to behave more transparently and ethically, it's a problem that doesn't seem to have an obvious solution.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Oct 2018 @ 10:33am

    'Genuine' (unknowing) support

    "To try to understand his viewpoint, Ars attempted to reach Hagar by phone and email in September. In the course of this process, we learned that he did not actually submit many of these op-eds.

    Boeing is an LMG client, and has worked previously for the company on past projects by "developing messaging" and crafting a "social media campaign amplifying our nationwide chorus of genuine American voices supporting Boeing."

    Submit op-eds that are attributed to someone who didn't actually write them.

    Claim to be focused on making more widely known the 'genuine american voices' supporting them.

    One of those certainly isn't true.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Oct 2018 @ 10:51am

    Bullshit masquerading as news is nothing new but it has become much more blatant with the in your face lies.

    From press releases to political ads, the bullshit never ceases. Anyone claiming to represent genuine american voices is most certainly full of shit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 11 Oct 2018 @ 11:54am

    The Future of TV Coalition
    Center for Copyright Information
    MusicFirst
    Broadband for America
    Content Creators Colation
    CreativeFuture
    Leage of Rural Voters
    MPAA
    NCTA

    Certainly a lot of scummy, malignant entities with a history of relying on deliberate misinformation in LMG's client list.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Oct 2018 @ 12:20pm

    Business Insider has obtained further details on this:
    https://www.businessinsider.com/boeing-may-have-used-firm-to-plant-anti-spacex-oped-2018-10

    Appa rently, Hagar sent the op-ed to only one person: an unidentified Boeing employee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Oct 2018 @ 12:32pm

    13 billion in hedge funds are depending on Musk to fail

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2018 @ 2:54pm

      Re:

      WAY less than this if the rumors about Boeing's internal embezzlement and overspending then hiding it from investors are true.

      They NEED SpaceX to fail, so they can get enough cash to cover the GAPING MASSIVE holes in their finances that the accountants just can't cover up anymore.

      Investors are starting to push to get answers on why they aren't receiving expected returns on their investments and Boeing is stonewalling.

      Shit meet fan. Fan meet shit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Zof (profile), 11 Oct 2018 @ 12:36pm

    The most annoying thing

    About all the fake news lately. And I don't want any childish complaints or semantics arguments. This story is clearly discussing fake news being paid for by Boeing.

    The most annoying thing about all this fake news is it's painfully obvious. So you find yourself in a position where you lose all respect for the Media for being so incredibly bad at it. That's why our orange president is still more trusted than our media. Consider that. That he has essentially double the trust rating of our media. That's amazing to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Eric, 11 Oct 2018 @ 1:05pm

      Re: The most annoying thing

      Well, it's not really fake news that load and go could be dangerous. Fueling involves lots of moving bits and significant changes in temperature, weight, and pressure. An undiscovered design flaw in the carbon-wrapped pressure vessels allowed liquid oxygen to seep into the carbon fiber, and that eventually caused enough friction to ignite, destroying the rocket. SpaceX modified the design and loading afterwards, and that particular problem isn't likely to blow up a rocket again. There could be other problems, but they haven't been encountered yet.

      But, is load & go more dangerous? With the Space Shuttle, you had over a half-million gallons of fuel and oxidizer strapped to over two million pounds of explosives, and had the crew getting into this carefully-prepared bomb with the assistance of a bunch of ground support people. They'd have almost no chance of surviving the stack blowing up. But, there's not much fuel moving around and the stack is at a stable temperature when they arrive. We never did have a shuttle stack blow up after fueling but before liftoff, so the record is pretty good, despite the danger to the crews.
      With load and go, the only people near the rocket when the fuel starts flowing are the crew, strapped into their capsule, equipped with escape rockets. Overlays indicate that Dragon's escape system is capable of getting the crew away from an identical rocket failure. Theoretically, it's safer, since the only people at risk also have solid escape system if something goes very wrong.

      Basically, it boils down to "Would you rather get strapped in with a stable bomb under you and not have a realistic escape system, or get strapped into a good escape system and then have the bomb placed under you?"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 11 Oct 2018 @ 1:06pm

      Re: The most annoying thing

      [Citation needed]

      The best figure I can find give trump's approval rating a slight edge over trust in 'mass media'. But that is certainly not trust in trump vs trust in the mass media. And certainly not double.

      Moreover, some those who approve of trump have admitted they don't trust him to tell the truth, and don't care that he lies, so 'Approval' might actually imply that fewer people trust Trump.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Zof (profile), 11 Oct 2018 @ 12:47pm

    LOL

    "News outlets have little incentive to crack down on this kind of disingenuous dreck, as they don't want to anger the companies footing the bill."

    Let's translate that into reality.

    "News outlets have no ethics and like money."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DB (profile), 11 Oct 2018 @ 1:24pm

      Re: LOL

      Most companies have no ethics and like money.

      It's why "corporations are people" is fundamentally flawed. People generally have a broad view of what they want out of government and society.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Oct 2018 @ 1:38pm

        Re: Re: LOL

        Corporations do too, it's just always "more money".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        stderric (profile), 11 Oct 2018 @ 1:53pm

        Re: Re: LOL

        Most companies have no ethics and like money. It's why "corporations are people" is fundamentally flawed.

        Wouldn't companies acting like greedy, narcissistic sociopaths tend to favor the legitimacy of corporations being people? Or would they have to have comb-overs and spray-on tans, as well?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Oct 2018 @ 1:30pm

    13 billion in hedge funds are depending on Musk to fail

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2018 @ 2:51pm

    Kind of ironic Boeing is saying SpaceX is safe when internal
    leaked documents estimate their own systems won't be "safe to launch" (i.e. enter trials) until AT LEAST 2027.
    But also say how NASA will fund them regardless, so they don't give two shits how long it takes.

    explosion after disaster after explosion, pretty much sums up Boeings entire strategy. That and fake-billing for development work and employees that don't actually exist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Oct 2018 @ 7:54pm

      Re:

      Not so much "ironic" as "the entire reason for the campaign."

      If Boeing could compete by virtue of having a better product, they'd be pounding the specs. If they could compete by virtue of value per dollar, they'd be pounding the ledger. They can do neither, so they're left pounding the table.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.