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Originally published May 23, 2012 at 10:02 PM | Page modified May 27, 2012 at 6:39 PM

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Dan Rather overstates impact of questions he raised about Boeing 787

Veteran newsman Dan Rather's new book suggests his 2007 report on Boeing's 787 caused the plane's lengthy delays. Also, jobs in Washington state may not return to pre-recession numbers until late 2014, at least.

Seattle Times business staff

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In 2007, TV anchorman Dan Rather's cable news show examined the question of how safe Boeing's 787 Dreamliner would be in a crash.

It was legitimate journalism that led the pack. The Seattle Times later covered some of the same issues surrounding the jet's carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic composite fuselage.

Yet in a just-published memoir, Rather seems to overreach when he describes the impact of his show.

In his new book, "Rather Outspoken," the now 80-year-old newsman writes that his Dreamliner report "triggered a reassessment of the [787] certification process and caused Boeing to reluctantly acknowledge potential problems with the [carbon-fiber] fuselage."

"In the aftermath, Boeing delayed delivery [of the 787] — seven times," he adds. "The first 787s were delivered to ANA in Japan ... in the fall of 2011. These were better, safer airliners because Boeing had finally taken more time before delivery."

The program, broadcast on the HDNet cable channel, relied heavily on interviews with former Boeing engineer Vince Weldon, whom the company had fired and attempted to dismiss as a disgruntled employee. Weldon had detailed his safety concerns in comments submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Less than a month after the show aired, the FAA issued a formal response to all the public comments on the Dreamliner's so-called "crashworthiness." Far from any reassessment of the jet's certification, the agency specifically rejected each of Weldon's concerns and left the certification process unchanged.

At the time, Boeing also dismissed the issues Weldon had raised, and it still does.

Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said this past week that Rather's claims of having affected Boeing's development of the 787 "are entirely without merit."

"Neither the design of the airplane nor the certification process changed as a result of Mr. Rather's report," Gunter said.

In an interview this month, Weldon defended Rather's claim. He said that when Boeing performed a crashworthiness test a month before the show aired — engineers dropped a partial fuselage barrel onto a hard platform and gathered data on the damage to the structure — it was because they knew he had taken his concerns to Rather and that the TV show was in the works.

But Boeing rejects that suggestion, too.

"The airplane design had been refined over the years of 2002-2007 to ensure it met all Boeing requirements and robust certification requirements," said Gunter. "Testing and analysis had already confirmed the crashworthiness of the 787 design prior to the (TV) report."

As for Rather's implication that the extensive 787 program delays were related to his show and the crashworthiness issue, "that's just flat-out wrong," said aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton, of Leeham.net.

The causes of the delays are well-documented: massive manufacturing and production bottlenecks, as well as the revelation of some design flaws that had to be fixed, such as the structural joint between the wing and the fuselage.

Even Weldon agrees that his safety concerns didn't cause the delays. Rather "should not have said that," Weldon said. "It took all that time just because they had to figure out how to put the damn airplane together."

Rather, who is currently touring to promote the book, issued a statement in response to questions about his claims in the memoir:

"I encourage people to read the record — the claims of Boeing management, the reporting and views expressed in the hometown Seattle Times story, the transcript of our original report, and what is in 'Rather Outspoken' — and then draw their own conclusions," Rather said.

The Boeing chapter is a small part of the memoir, which covers Rather's 60-year journalism career in an engaging and feisty narrative.

The newsman includes his own inside view of how his job at CBS ended over a controversial story that raised questions about former President George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

That program aired just two months before Bush was re-elected. But after doubts surfaced about the authenticity of documents used in the show, CBS forced Rather to make an on-air apology. Shortly after, it pushed him into stepping down.

In the book, Rather vigorously defends the Bush story and asserts that it was true. "We spoke truth to power," he writes, "and power had bellowed back through every bullhorn it could command."

Clearly, Rather wants his book, cowritten with author Digby Diehl, to burnish his reputation.

The Boeing story should have helped him do that, but inflated claims of its impact only detract from the work.

— Dominic Gates:

dgates@seattletimes.com

State unlikely

to regain jobs peak

before late 2014

As we all know by now, the jobs recovery has been agonizingly slow. In fact, though Washington has been adding payroll jobs since February 2010, the state still has regained fewer than half of the 206,100 jobs lost during the recession.

But if misery truly loves company, Washington has plenty of it, according to data from economic research firm IHS Global Insight.

Only four states have regained all the jobs they lost to the recession, all of them aided by the boom in energy prices: Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota and Texas.

Everyone else is still below their pre-recession peak, from West Virginia (just 0.09 percent below) to Nevada (13 percent); Washington is in the middle of the pack, though well ahead of neighbors Idaho (6.3 percent) and Oregon (6.7 percent).

So when can we expect full recovery? Not till the third quarter of 2014, the firm predicts — after places such as New York, Pennsylvania and Utah, but before 27 other states (including Oregon and Idaho, neither of which IHS expects to regain all their lost jobs until mid-2015).

Of course, even regaining all the lost jobs gets us only so far, since Washington's working-age population has continued to grow (though the labor force has stagnated, as thousands of unemployed people have stopped looking for work).

Data from the state Employment Security Department and population projections from the Office of Financial Management suggest that to match the pre-recession employment rate by 2014, Washington will need to create about 200,000 more payroll jobs beyond what IHS projects.

- Drew DeSilver: ddesilver@seattletimes.com

Comments? Send them

to Rami Grunbaum:

rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com

or 206-464-8541.

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