A defense industry blog scandal?

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.


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14 Responses to A defense industry blog scandal?

  1. Dave 19 August, 2009 at 4:23 am #

    What was this guy thinking? Like Boeing needs another ethical scandal. More importantly, this make other companies PR departments even more suspicious of regular bloggers who have hard enough task as it is.

  2. Airpower 19 August, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    Your biggest concern is that this episode will force Boeing to retreat from the blogosphere altogether?

    Are you sure there is nothing else about this disgraceful pantomime of dishonesty and manipulation that bothers you a bit more? Anything?

  3. Stephen Trimble 19 August, 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    Well, even if I could summon the rhetorical boldness typical of a pseudonymous commenter, I don’t think it fits in this case. If Boeing’s corporate people hadn’t immediately renounced the whole thing as inappropriate, I would feel a lot differently about it. I think this was a case of clumsiness, although granted of unusual proportions. I also continue to be a little staggered that neither Northrop nor AAI’s people recognized Doug as a Boeing employee. Doug even worked for Northrop for several years. And he has been one of Boeing’s main spokespersons for UAVs for a long time. This is still a relatively small industry. Did they really not recognize even his name?

  4. Artie 19 August, 2009 at 2:25 pm #

    Really Steve? Do you think that AAI or Northrop would have let Cantwell in if they had known it was him? I think not. He is graying and did falsely represent himself. Until now I think that AUVSI and press personnel could trust that people are who they say they are. On the net, maybe not so much. In person… yes…. until now. Boeing should know better. Slime balls.

  5. Stephen Trimble 19 August, 2009 at 2:41 pm #

    It’s actually not unusual for companies to allow competitors into press briefings. This is publicly released information after all. But the established protocol is for the visitors to properly identify themselves. Some times they are turned away at the door. Some times they are allowed in. Like I said, I had assumed that this had occurred. I also assumed Doug Cantwell was well known to both companies. Geoff Fein beat me on the story because he did not make those assumptions, and I tip my hat to him.

  6. just wondering 19 August, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    Boeing:unethical and dishonest. That’s why we’re here.

  7. Obamanite 19 August, 2009 at 7:12 pm #

    I’ll leave it to others to dissect the hypocrisy inherent in the idea of a corporate-sponsored trade pub complaining about corporate-sponsored journalism. Let me just pipe in and say: Boeing is clearly very seriously ethically challenged. This is the latest of questionable, downright illegal actions dating back years. Perhaps they should be barred as a defense contractor altogether. For starters, give the tanker contract to EADS and NG already and just be done with it. The latter deserve it far more.

  8. Loren Thompson 19 August, 2009 at 8:31 pm #

    What a dumb stunt. Boeing has spent millions of dollars and thousands of man hours trying to foster ethical awareness across its operating units, and now one clueless employee — from the press office, no less — has undercut those efforts. Defense Daily deserves some sort of award for breaking this story.

    Boeing periodically seems to get a little too creative in its media efforts. A case in point: several years ago, somebody in the company’s defense operation planted a story in the Seattle papers castigating the management of Boeing’s Washington Office for inadequate support of the company’s military programs. As if that was the reason why FIA and JTRS were in trouble!

    Full disclosure: I advise everybody in the sector. I wish.

  9. Alan 18 September, 2009 at 12:53 am #

    We are in the age of corporate arrogance being to big to fail seems to also mean if your work for such firms you can do what you want and let legal dept. handle the blow back. In years past this would have happened but with the internet not a chance and this sorry individual who should have really known better will pay for his bone head stupidity. We all know that Boeing has been playing catch-up to the phenomenal growth in the last decade of unmanned aerial assets look at there Hummingbird program. Boeing was thinking big expensive manned aviation programs and little old General Atomic changed the world for military planners on how to apply hard power in the air. The sands of aviation have shifted and has left Boeing standing in the water and I’m sure some very frustrated Boeing employees saw this unmanned aviation thing coming years ago but big slow corporate thinking killed the messenger. I have myself tried to contact Boeing that I have technologies that would allow for the in-flight refueling for there hummingbird from a fixed-wing turbo-prop platform at airspeed between 70 and 150 knots as yet not one response back. Mr. Cantwell
    become a drone himself not thinking before you perform actions that darkens ones income producing years should not have happened.

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