One of the most important factors of writing an opinion blog—or posting news items and rants on social media for that matter, is accuracy in reporting.  It was brought to light in an exchange last night concerning a post ranting about surveillance drones.

The writer had an agenda against surveillance drones. I don’t have a problem with that. Everyone has agendas in one form or another. I have mine as well. The problem, in this case, was that the writer used a news item to support his views that had nothing to do with his agenda. He used the crash of an Air Force QF-4 target drone from Tyndall AFB, FL to support his agenda. The issue is that the QF-4 is a modified F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber that is frequently used as a target for fighter pilots under training.

A QF-4 drone crashed on takeoff near a highway in Florida. The writer used that crash to bash surveillance drones…a large stretch. Target drones have been used since WW II. The Air Force live-fire target range over the Gulf of Mexico has existed since that time as well. The Air Force has been shooting down drones in that range since WW II and this QF-4 isn’t the first one to crash or wander off course on the mainland. A QF-4 is not a Predator nor a Global Hawk surveillance UAV. Neither is it a small camera-equipped surveillance drone such as the one that crashed near Orlando last month.

No, the writer attempted to use the QF-4 crash to support a rant against drones, citing the capture of a drone by the Iranians, domestic drone surveillance, and drones being used to kill Taliban and Al Queda terrorists around the world. Yes, the QF-4 is a drone but it is as unlike a Predator or Global Hawk as a White Freightliner is to a MGB sportscar.

Using such broad rationalizations in a post, whether in a blog or in a social media post, erodes the credibility of the writer. It takes only a few such posts until the writer acquires a reputation for carelessness or worse, being thought as a member of the Tin-foil Hat Brigade. The former condition can be corrected after a long period of careful work writing accurate information with multiple sources—all which support the theme of the post.

The latter, however, once acquired is ruinous. Thereafter, every word, every sentence, no matter how accurate and appropriate, will be tainted by the reputation as a agenda-driven scandal and fearmonger. Ron Paul is an excellent example of this. He acquired a reputation of being a loose cannon, a conspiracy theorist, a whackjob during the Bush years. It doesn’t matter if the reputation was deserved or not. It followed Ron Paul throughout his political life. He attempted to return to the political mainstream during the 2012 election but it was too late. He’d acquired a reputation, deservedly or not, and voters discounted him—and his followers by extension.

The point of all this is that once a reputation is damaged, however inadvertently, it is extremely difficult to recover and heal that reputation. It is best to never place yourself in that situation.

I’ve been writing a blog since the Fall of 2008. I’ve made mistakes, misquotes, typos and a few errors of fact. Whenever I find these errors, I’ve correct them—usually within minutes of the posting. Sometimes that correction has come a day or so later. In a couple of instances, it was months later. I realize in that last instance, my readers probably weren’t aware of the correction, the update.

But, I knew. And it was important for me to maintain my personal standards just as I would point out errors of omission and commission I see in others.

I would urge my readers, whether here or within social media, to review the accuracy of your information before you press the POST button. If you make an error, acknowledge it, make the correction and move on. If you fail to followup or acknowledge the error, you will lose readers.

Before you make that post, validate the news item. Make sure it supports your thesis or your agenda. Is it appropriate to the subject at hand? Do a little work. I can’t count how many blog entries I’ve written to find them falling apart when one of my sources failed to support my theme or my initial premise was found faulty. More than once, that has caused me to post a “No Post Today,” message and hope to find a better, supportable topic the next day.

Reputation is important. It can be easily damaged or lost. Maintain your reputation or be ignored. It’s your choice.

Romney and the Flag.

There is a story emerging from Romney’s campaign trail about a flag—a rather unique and significant flag and what it meant to some Boy Scouts and their Troop. Rather than repeat the story, I’ll bring you the original story and a video taken at the event.

From Romney an inspiring tale of tragedy, Boy Scouts and a flag

The Challenger Flag

At a campaign event in Colorado, Mitt Romney looks on as scoutmaster Bill Tolbert displays a U.S. flag recovered from the wreckage of the space shuttle Challenger. Romney often shares an inspiring story about the flag. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP/Getty Images / November 3, 2012)

By Maeve Reston, November 4, 2012, 1:15 a.m.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Mitt Romney tried out many stories on the campaign trail this fall to illustrate his belief in the enduring spirit of America. Some were personal — delving into his ministerial duties as a leader in his church. Others were about people whose courage has inspired him.

Ultimately, the Republican nominee settled on one story that has become the closing anecdote in many of his speeches: The tale of an American flag sent into outer space and recovered from the wreckage of the space shuttle Challenger in perfect condition.

These days Romney often leads into the story by telling the crowd, as he did Saturday night in this Denver suburb, that his confidence in America’s future stems from his view that Americans are a people who “give ourselves to things larger than ourselves.”

As a Boy Scout leader some years ago, Romney said he attended a ceremony for young Eagle Scouts where a scoutmaster from Monument, Colo., told the story of his troop asking NASA officials to take their American flag on the Challenger mission. NASA agreed.

As Romney tells the story, the boys watched with pride as they saw the Challenger shuttle launch into the air. “Then,” Romney said, “they saw it explode on the TV screen in front of their eyes.”

The scoutmaster repeatedly called NASA after the Challenger crash, asking if any remnant of the flag had been recovered.

In Romney’s recounting, a NASA official told the scoutmaster after a few weeks that the agency had a presentation to make to the Boy Scout troop: “So NASA came together and the boys were there,” Romney told the crowd Saturday night. “They presented the boys with this plastic container, and they open it up and inside was the American flag, their flag, in perfect condition.”

Romney said when he first heard the story from the scoutmaster, William Tolbert — who is now a major in the United States Air Force assigned to the Space Command — he was sitting next to the flag at the Eagle Scout ceremony. “I reached over and I grabbed that flag and held it out, and it was as if electricity was running through my arm,” Romney said.

“Because I thought about all the men and women in our space program who put themselves in danger’s path out of a desire for learning and knowledge, for us,” the candidate continued. “This is the American way. I think of all of our servicemen and women who put themselves in harm’s way for freedom and for us.”

On Saturday night though, there was a new addition to the story. Noting they weren’t far from Monument, Colo., Romney said he hadn’t seen “that flag in, I don’t know, 15 or 20 years.”

At that moment, Romney welcomed that very scoutmaster on stage — and with him was the Challenger flag. To huge cheers, Tolbert walked the perimeter of the stage showing the flag, which was folded in a triangle and framed.

“Thank you, come on up here. Now did I get that story right?” Romney asked.

“You did, sir,” Tolbert replied.

“That’s great,” Romney said. “That is a great flag representing the greatest nation in the history of the Earth.”

That was reported in the LA TImes. Here’s the video of that event. This video is 30 minutes long. The Flag story begins at 24 minutes, 45 seconds into the video. You should be able to scroll forward to that point if you wish.

That’s a man worthy of the Office of President of the United States. Now, compare that video to this one of Obama’s respect for our flag.

Obama during Pledge of Allegiance