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« No ID Cards Or Random Wiretaps, Please--We're Californians | Main | Naming Names »

The Media And The Military

The Instapundit points to a piece in Slate by Scott Shuger on how NORAD supposedly let us down on 911.

(By the way, thanks to whichever blogger pointed out that it actually is possible to point to an individual post, as opposed to the whole weekly archive in a blogspot post, but you have to edit in the tag yourself for some reason. My links, like the one to Glenn above, should be a little more precise in the future, now that I understand that.)

Well, maybe, but his command of basic facts in the situation does not provide confidence in his reporting.

At one point, Shuger asks:

But note that the F-15 fighters took 18 minutes to cover those 153 miles, which comes out to more like 510 mph. Yet, according to the Air Force, the F-15 has a top speed of 1,875 mph. So, you have to wonder, why were they flying at less than a third of what they're capable of?

Well, maybe he has to wonder, but I don't--it's probably so they wouldn't run out of fuel before they got there.

Non-aviation reporters apparently aren't familiar with the fact that "supersonic" fighters are capable of this only for brief periods of time (e.g., dogfights). Drag goes waaaaay up when you're supersonic, and you can only maintain top speed with full afterburners, which create something akin to Niagara Falls in the intake manifold of the engines...

One of the reasons that the Air Force wanted the F-22 Raptor was that, unlike an F-15, it was designed to be capable of supersonic cruise.

But if he'd bothered to ask somebody, they might have told him that--instead, he'd rather just slam NORAD and the Air Force as incompetents.

Which raises a more general problem that's really been brought to the forefront in the past four months--the general ignorance of a press corps that, for the most part, hasn't served in the military, and to whom it is an alien culture. There is an excellent article in this month's Reason on exactly this subject, by Chris Bray, titled The Media and GI Joe (How the press gets the military wrong--and why it matters). Unfortunately, it's only in the print edition, so I can't provide a link, though it should become available on line next month. Pick it up at the newstand if you don't have a subscription, or can't wait--it's the cover story.

Because of this problem, for the most part, when the media report on matters military, they fall into the trap of either being awestruck at routine things, or overly skeptical of very valid things, often within the same piece--they don't have the experience or knowledge needed to provide accurate reporting. One frightening example from the article:

"I always like to tell the story of a colleague at the Wall Street Journal who asked me one day not long ago if the Marines had served in World War II. Indeed they had, I responded, and in the Revolutionary War, too. He went on to cover the Pentagon."

So while I didn't read the whole thing, I did see that one little nugget in the Shuger article, which makes me think that it suffers from the same lack of knowledge, and discourages me from even bothering to read the whole thing.

I have no reason to think that NORAD fell down on the job. On September 10, (unlike the former Soviet Union) shooting down civilian airliners was not their job, and if it has become that, then the terrorists win.

[Update 6:20 PM PST]

I see that the Flit web site has an even more detailed takedown of this article.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 17, 2002 10:42 AM
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Thanks for posting this. This is the third reference to this article that I've seen, and you definitely got it right. I'm fully expecting my father to call me in the next couple of days, pissing about how the Military fucked up again. It'll be nice to point him to a well reasoned argument against this idiocy.

Posted by Greg Hill at January 17, 2002 01:15 PM

I must take issue. Shuger shows subsumes in his argument the ability of military aircraft to refuel in flight, and the problems fuel consumption and approach speed - he probably learned those things while on active duty in the United States Navy!

Shuger also takes to task the Gen. who stated that the planes flew at Mach 1.5 (depeding on alt - something over 1000 MPH?), which you don't even address other than to argue an obvious reason for why the planes flew at the speed that Shuger cites.

Posted by Tony Adragna at January 18, 2002 06:17 PM

I will confess that I missed that part, so I missed the context--I just saw the sentence where Shuger asks why the planes didn't fly at their maximum speed (which remains, in my mind, a dumb question, and one that, if what you tell me about Shuger's background is correct, is even less forgiveable).

And even if Shuger is knowlegeable, the general point of my post remains--many reporters aren't, as the Reason article points out.

However, without knowing exactly what the general said, I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt--it may be that the planes did burst to Mach 1.5 temporarily, and that's what he was saying. See Flit, to which I've linked, for a more detailed critique.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 19, 2002 10:29 AM

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