Its Boeing’s factory, it can do what it wants within its gates, but I have to wonder if its decision to ban me from the property during a Norwegian press event last month isn’t a sign of these Trump times.
Many people are the subject of news stories they don’t like. What Trump’s journalist-bashing behavior seems to have taught Boeing is that when they don’t like the coverage all they have to do is slander the journalist. Here’s the backstory.
On June 29, Norwegian took delivery of two 737 Max 8’s it has on order. The new 189 seat narrow body will be used to provide low-cost, trans-Atlantic flights from the U.S. East Coast, as I reported for The New York Times earlier this year.
Norwegian invited me to its aircraft delivery press conference and factory tour which I agreed to write about for Mary Kirby’s RunwayGirlNetwork news site. Days before I was to fly to Seattle, however, Norwegian spokesman Anders Lindstrom called to tell me Boeing would not allow me to attend. Not two weeks earlier I’d been in touch with Boeing PR regarding another Times story and there was no mention of my persona-non-grata status at Boeing.
Like me, Mary Kirby was chagrined.
“When corporations block us from events, I take it as a sign that we’re doing something right as hard-nosed journalists. And we have gotten rather good at finding workarounds. But, given the current anti-journalism climate – not to mention the fact there isn’t a glut of women aviation journalists out there – Norwegian’s statement that Boeing barred Christine Negroni from company property is concerning to say the least.”
Lindstrom said Boeing didn’t give an explanation for barring me, but mentioned I was a “conspiracy theorist.” That was mystifying. Perhaps Boeing’s “conspiracy theorist” is an alternative version of Trump’s “alternative facts.” Spokesmen Doug Alder and Paul Bergman failed to answer three emails I sent in June, seeking an explanation.
I can only conclude that Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace, defense and security company is worried about a middle-aged mom, who sometimes writes in her pajamas. Or more specifically they’re worried about my book, The Crash Detectives.
As I’ve reported more than a dozen times in my Flying Lessons blog and then in Fallibility/Section Three of my book, Boeing’s Dreamliner power supply system, specifically the lithium ion batteries on the B-787, was hastily conceived, badly designed, poorly tested and ultimately a safety threat grave enough that the entire fleet of Dreamliners was grounded for four months in 2013.
That’s a lot of stuff right there in the previous paragraph. To get a handle on it, you really should read the book.
Over the course of two years, I reached out to Boeing repeatedly looking for answers, guidance and clarification of information I was receiving elsewhere. The company consistently declined to respond, citing the status of the investigation into the two battery failure events on Japanese carriers which were responsible for the initial grounding of the fleet.
Nice try, but by 2015, the American and Japanese investigations were over. Doug Alder, did send an email in January of that year, complaining about my continued attempts to report on the Dreamliner’s battery problem.
“We received word that you contacted at least one employee recently,” he wrote. “That person followed the correct protocol by not returning your call—and then notified a manager and Communications.”
So, who did provide information sufficient to fill nearly sixty pages? Who were my partners in conspiracy? The NTSB and its Japanese counterpart the JTSB, JAXA, the Japan space agency, NASA, Dreamliner pilots, Dreamliner passengers, Dreamliner operators, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Federal Aviation Administration, nearly a dozen chemical engineers and battery specialist including one who served on the post-grounding review committee assembled by Boeing and several who were instrumental in developing the original lithium ion batteries.
Offered the opportunity to weigh in on my reporting, this enormous company with more communications specialists than the White House, opted not to comment. Nevertheless, I persisted, writing a comprehensive account of Boeing’s epic failure to understand the unique issues of lithium ion so that even now the 787 batteries must be housed in a titanium containment system to protect against potential failures.
Call it a conspiracy theory, call it alternative facts. I call it the kind of reporting we need now more than ever and I know I’m not alone in thinking that.
Boeing can shut me out, but it cannot shut me up.