Accuracy

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.