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Fact-Averse News Media in Vermont

By       Message William Boardman     Permalink
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By William Boardman   Email address removed     

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Development of the F-35 fighter-bomber began in 2001 and has grown into the most expensive military weapons program in history, so it probably wouldn't be surprising if a local TV affiliate of a network owned by a major defense contractor ran a week-long series called "Investigating the F-35" that was less news than a 20-minute infomercial for the military product. 

That's what WPTZ Burlington did during the second week of November, showing reporter David Schneider taking a trip to Florida's Eglin Air Force Base to listen to F-35 testing there, but not doing much investigating.   In fact he mostly avoided the hard questions about the F-35 that have contributed to increasing resistance to basing it in the middle of Vermont's only metropolitan area. 

The reports gave little idea of the depth and complexity of objections to having a nuclear-capable offensive weapon based in Burlington, and omits any reference to the deceptive and coercive tactics of the F-35's supporters, who include most of Vermont's political leadership whose argument so far is job-promising and flag-waving.  Extended critiques of this series appear on the "F-35 in South Burlington" website started in September 2010. 

   WPTV Listen to F-35s in Florida

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In Part 1 of the WPTZ series, the reporter accepts at face value the reasons a couple of Marine Corps colonels think the F-35 is terrific, without even hinting on the problems that have put the project a decade behind schedule and about 100% over budget as its costs rise toward $400 billion with no clear end in sight.   Instead, the report characterizes the F-35 as a "model of modern engineering," even though one of the colonels notes that "this system is in its immaturity."  

In Part 2, the reporter observes and carries out sound tests that he emphasizes are not scientific.  He discovers that F-16s using after-burners make more noise than F-35s without after-burners, pretty much settling a question that wasn't raised.  But he ended the segment with no follow-up for a colonel's provocative comment that: "I think you'll find that we will operate the airplane to be the best neighbors as we can be, but we need some time to figure out what that is as well." 

Burlington's nearest neighbors to the proposed F-35 base are largely of the opinion that the best neighbor the F-35 could be would be to be someone else's neighbor, but Schneider didn't get to that question anywhere in the five reports.

In Part 3, the reporter spends still more time describing various noise levels, but manages to avoid mentioning that the Air Force's own environmental impact statement states unequivocally that the FF-35 will make about twice as much peak noise as the F-16s currently based in Burlington.  He does get a colonel to comment about the community that "We are their Guard, and we want to be good neighbors." 

The reporter does not ask the colonel how wanting to be a good neighbor squares with the Air Force estimate that as many as 3,000 homes in Winooski and South Burlington will be rendered uninhabitable, and thus unsalable on the open market. 

   Fact-Checking Can Be So Time-Consuming

In Part 4, the reporter talks to a Winooski resident who expects to have to move.  But when she tells him the Air Force environmental impact statement is flawed because it's based on date from the 2000 censes instead of the 2010 census, he doesn't bother to check this easily verifiable assertion.  (A letter from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force last July says: "I want to assure you that Burlington" was scored correctly in 2009 [emphasis added].  The Air Force has refused to make this scoring public.) 

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Schneider also refers to "a petition that garnered more than 10,700 signatures," but he leaves hanging the "question how many of those people who signed the petition actually live in the affected areas."  He does not mention the deceptive nature of this "petition," which shows clearly on camera.  He does talk to a real estate agent with a clear conflict of interest to the effect that home values won't suffer, but he leave out the factor that sustains home values in the uninhabitable zones -- that the Federal Aviation Administration has a program to buy these homes eventually. 

Nor did the reporter connect this circumstance with his interview with UVM professor Arthur Woolf's observation about the consequences of an F-35 base in Burlington: "Almost always the case is that when there's costs, the costs are impacted on a relatively small number of people and the benefits are widely diffused."  There was no follow-up question about whether this was a justified transfer of wealth, or a form of class warfare, or was motivated by the immigrant communities it would displace. 

   Valparaiso, Florida, Suffers Its F-35s Painfully

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Vermonter living in Woodstock: elected to five terms (served 20 years) as side judge (sitting in Superior, Family, and Small Claims Courts); public radio producer, "The Panther Program" -- nationally distributed, three albums (at CD Baby), some (more...)

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