Defense Daily reporter Geoff Fein and editor John Robinson co-bylined this story tonight (subscriber-only link):
Boeing Launches Internal Probe After Company Flack Poses As Blogger
Boeing [BA] is conducting an internal investigation into a nascent social media effort after a company spokesman posed as an independent blogger and sat in on several briefings of archrival Northrop Grumman [NOC] at a trade show last week.
Doug Cantwell, a company spokesman who works out of one of Boeing’s Washington state facilities, preregistered for last week’s Association for Unmanned Vehicles System International (AUVSI) symposium as an “independent blogger” working for Defensedialogue.com, according to a spokeswoman for AUVSI.
By not identifying himself as a Boeing employee, Cantwell went against company policy, Dan Beck, a Boeing a spokesman, told Defense Daily yesterday. “Boeing policy is clear.”
Full disclosure: I attended the same briefings that Cantwell attended. In addition to the Northrop briefing, he also sat in on a briefing by AAI Corp, which is competing against Boeing for the STUAS/Tier II contract. I of course was aware that Cantwell is a Boeing employee. I’ve known him for several years. It surprised me that he identified himself as a Defensedialogue.com reporter when he asked questions. I assumed that Northrop’s and AAI’s flacks knew of his Boeing affiliation as well, but I should have asked.
More full disclosure: I was also fully aware of Boeing’s plans for Defensedialogue.com, which as I understand is intended to be a leading news and information portal. It is the brainchild of former Business Week reporter Stanley Holmes, who now works for Boeing, reporting to IDS Communications Vice President Mary Foerster.
As the excellent Defense Daily article correctly, notes, Boeing’s plans to launch a defense industry and policy blog by around October were an open secret in the trade press. I generally support the idea of defense companies getting into the blogging business. There is an intense discussion about the aerospace industry in the blogosphere. It would be a pity if the industry’s voice is the only one absent. I intended to reserve judgment about Defensedialogue.com until I saw it in published form.
Alas, Defense Daily’s fine reporting likely means we will never see Defensedialogue.com, or any external blog published by Boeing’s defense division. Boeing IDS has always supported my use of social media technology, but has seemed skittish even among defense contractors about using such tools corporately. For example, Boeing was the only major US defense company at the Paris Air Show that did not post updates on Twitter.
It was clearly a mistake for Cantwell, who I’ve always regarded as a highly professional and competent media representative, to pose as an “independent blogger” at the news conferences of two competitors. This falls short of corporate espionage, since he didn’t sneak into a private meeting. But blogs are above all about being completely transparent. I do not know if going in cognito was Cantwell’s decision, or if he was instructed to do so.
But my biggest concern is that this episode will force Boeing to retreat from the blogosphere altogether, just as the conversation really starts to get interesting.