Sending Reporters To Do An Intelligent Person's Job
With apologies to the experienced, thoughtful military affairs reporters out there, I found another example of the dangers of having people with no military experience covering the military. Not that this one'll put any lives in danger or cause riots, but it's still an example of an easily checkable error making it through the newroom "editing" process.
Two New Hampshire newpapers covered a BRAC commission hearing in Washington D.C. that dealt in part with the proposed closure of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. In this hearing, official Navy representatives admitted that Portsmouth does a good job at submarine overhauls, but Pearl Harbor's more strategic location and ability to repair surface ships made the Navy want to keep PHNSY more. Here's a quote from the Dover online newspaper:
"Admiral Robert Willard, vice chief of naval operations, said there is no question about the quality of Portsmouth's work; however, Pearl Harbor has some strategic advantages. He said it is well-positioned in the Pacific and is more diverse than Portsmouth.
"Pearl Harbor also performs depot maintenance on surface ships and nuclear aircraft carriers," he said. "It's a bit of apples and oranges. The facility we're talking about is submarine only. It is a very efficient shipyard. That said, the strategic capability at Pearl Harbor for not that it's a strategic location, but the breadth of maintenance it performs is more important to us."
Makes sense. Now let's see what the reporter for the Portsmouth Herald News has to say:
"Even after acknowledging Portsmouth is superior to Pearl Harbor in the quality of overhaul and repair work it does, Willard maintained that Pearl Harbor was more important to the Navy.
"Portsmouth is a very efficient shipyard and it’s been given credit for that," the admiral said. "But Pearl Harbor is of greater strategic value because of its wide-ranging capacity."
Willard pointed out Pearl Harbor also does work on surface vessels and even has a nuclear aircraft carrier stationed there. " [emphasis in both excerpts mine]
See the difference? While the casual reader probably doesn't care about the difference between a CVN being "stationed" in Pearl, and having "depot (level) maintenance" performed there, it's still one of those things where I think: if you're going to go to the trouble of writing it, why not make sure that you put down something factual? It took me 10 seconds searching through Google to find this link; it's an official Navy site, and lists the five places that U.S. aircraft carriers are homeported. Notice that "Pearl Harbor" isn't one of them.
I wrote earlier, in a fairly tongue-in-cheek fashion, about how newspapers could solve this problem. On a more serious level, Portsmouth has quite a few retired Navy guys living there. It seems like the Portsmouth Herald could find a few bucks to put one of them on retainer to "fact-check" the stories whenever one of their reporters writes about the shipyard. Either that, or maybe they just enjoy putting out crap...
Update 1125 19 July: On checking my links after posting, I noticed that the official Navy webpage I sent you to mis-spelled "Bremerton" as "Bermerton". Also, it didn't list Everett, WA, as a homeport, although this is actually the location of the "active" carrier piers (as indicated in the list of Nimitz-class carriers to the right of the homeport list). Any carrier stationed in Bremerton is actually undergoing maintenance at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Maybe the Navy could use some retired guys to fact-check their webpages -- or, they could go to other official Navy pages to get the 'gouge'. (I always hated that word...)