2 Northrops?

It's puzzling to compare the Times' news coverage of Northrop Corp. with the ads the company runs in the newspaper.

The Dec. 20 story, "Northrop--a Company in Turmoil," cited charges of civil fraud and allegations of criminal fraud in Northrop's MX missile guidance system program and reported that the Air Force is withholding $130 million in contract payments from the company.

In that same day's Business section, there was a Northrop advertisement that called the company's guidance device "the most precise instrument of its kind ever devised." The ad said that "after 17 flight tests and a year of operational service, the U.S. Air Force states (that the MX Peacekeeper missile) is the most accurate, reliable, properly tested missile system ever built." Is somebody pulling my leg?

Then there was a story on Jan. 5, "Northrop Delays Initial Flight of Stealth Bomber for 4 Months." There were no ads to contradict this revelation. In any case, given the company's performance on the other project, how well do you think this one will work out? Put your reporter Ralph Vartabedian on that one.

It seems to me that what passes for frontier justice in the corporate corral will soon be visited upon Northrop: the share price will drop to where a competing ranch will massacre them in a showdown. The blood will be just from the ranch hands, of course; the big boys will hide behind the trough and later gallop off into the sunset. And we taxpayers will pay for the whole scene. Aren't you sick of such Westerns?


Beverly Hills

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