What It Takes

What It Takes

How to Respond?

By Callie Oettinger | Published: March 15, 2013

The past few days, I’ve followed the storm swirling around an article journalist David Wood wrote for The Huffington Post. As I read the responses in the comments section of the post, as well as full blog posts replying to David’s article—and then the many more comments to those posts—I was reminded of Steven Pressfield’s recent articles  “The Principals and the Profiles” and “Principals and Profiles, Part II” and Jonathan Field’s article “Belief Without Compassion.”

Quite a bit has been written about David’s article.

Instead, it’s the responses I want to hit.

Snark First, Verify Later.

It’s easier to be snarky than it is to be informative, but it’s more effective to be informative than snarky any day.

For all the information available to us today, the Internet Age is drowning in misinformation.

It’s easier to perpetuate misinformation than it is to check and share the facts. The former is simple, appeals to the lazy side, while the latter requires a bit of work, even if that work is just a quick visit to Snopes.com and a polite e-mail to the person we feel got it wrong.

What follows are a few things I hope ALL readers will consider—whether you support and/or follow news related to the military community or not—as well as comments about David and his work.

If you have to ask “Who the Hell…?” someone is, do your homework before replying to him or her.

A number of the comments directed at David asked “who the hell he is…” and then launched into personal attacks—attacks that indicate the commenters followed the “snark first” approach,  which isn’t always followed by “verify later.” Had they done some work, I wonder if those who questioned David’s character would have done so.

So who the hell is David?

I had the honor of being introduced to him in early 2001, before 9/11, before Iraq and Afghanistan. At that point, he’d been covering the military community for DECADES—when there were just a handful of pro’s on that “beat”— long before today’s many “experts” jumped on board, chasing stories for career advancement, instead of a passion for, and caring about, the military community.

In 2007, between his travels and articles, he wrote a review of Brandon Friedman’s book The War I Always Wanted. Within the review, he wrote about Brandon’s meeting with a young boy, who pointed out where two children had been killed.

“’You should not kill children,’ the boy solemnly told Friedman. ‘I didn’t know what to say,’ Friedman thought. ‘Sorry?’ Does that cut it? I was skeptical but I decided to give it a try. ‘Sorry.’

“Old beyond his years, the boy said, ‘But you will understand, this is very hard for us.’

“I know, Friedman responded. ‘At the time that was more or less a lie, since I didn’t know. I couldn’t have known. Americans cannot comprehend what the Iraqi people have been through for the last five, 15 or 35 years.’

“Nor can most Americans comprehend the indelible stamp war is putting on the young generations we are sending into battle, 12 or 15 months at a time, over and over. It’s not easy to understand, and we often don’t know how to ask or take the time to listen to them. This book is a good place to start.”

In late 2011, his series “Beyond the Battlefield,” for which he was honored with a Pulitzer Prize, painted a portrait of that “indelible stamp” put on the “young generations” he’d written about years earlier in that review. He hadn’t stopped thinking about them.

So who is David Wood? Someone who has cared about the military community—for a long time.

Learn how to analyze the information.

Comments on a blog run like a kid’s game of telephone. One person starts the message, but by the time it reaches the tenth person, the original message is distorted. What was intended wasn’t what was received.

You have to figure out the true intention of the article.

Forget all the rumors. Read the article with a clear mind, analyze all the information—not just the article itself, but all the surrounding information.

There’s a reason outlets and individuals continue to be fooled by the Duffel Blog, as one example. Readers read, but don’t analyze, don’t look at the bigger picture.

An eye for an eye begets a tooth for a tooth and larger battles.

My son swats his sister, I reprimand him, he replies: “Well… she hit me first.”

My kids are nine and five, yet their actions are owned by adults of all ages.

You don’t agree with what someone said or did? Find out why he or she said it—or did it. Don’t offend them because you feel they’ve offended you first. Put away your emotions and ego—and whatever else makes you want to give back worse than you’ve felt you got.

Analyze what was written, look at what has been said in the past. What’s the big picture?

And then, if you still want to reply, keep it to the facts. Expand the conversation.

Of all the responses I’ve read to David’s article, “The Luxury of Being Wrong” is among the more even-handed. The author made his case without nasty personal attacks. And, when you read the comments following that post, they aren’t dripping in snark—perhaps because the author didn’t rely on personal attacks and hate to make his points.

I question why, if David didn’t support specific language within the article, it stayed up so long. But, knowing the rest of his work, I’m inclined to ask questions first, not attack him.

Question & Verify

Don’t discount someone’s work because you question the outlet with which he or she works. Base your judgement on the individual and his or her history of work first.

And, if you are going to question the outlet, question ALL the outlets.

A few comments about David’s piece have referenced the Huffington Post as an outlet that isn’t accurate—as in, he works for the HuffPost, guess he doesn’t have to be accurate…

While mistakes aren’t acceptable, the many who don’t know—or accept—that mistakes live EVERYWHERE is problematic, too. None of the news outlets get it 100% right all the time. NONE OF THEM.

AND . . . If you don’t know there was an error in what you read, or heard, or saw, you don’t know to look for it/to ask questions. In print editions of newspapers, you might run across a corrections section as you flip the pages, noting errors in an article the previous day. How often do news outlets broadcast corrections on air, noting all they got wrong? I’ve received a few phone calls and e-mails from mortified producers in the past, but an announcement on air? Or a note on the channel’s site? Yet to happen.

The Takeaway

Find out more about the individuals whose articles you are reading.

Use what you learn of their background and other work to analyze new information about them. Does it make sense? Is it off?

Think for yourself. Don’t believe what others are saying. Until you can verify them, treat comments from others as gossip.

Look at the big picture.

Be nice. Battles are started over individuals feeling offended and wanting nothing more than to make others feel their pain.

Don’t give someone a free pass when they make a mistake, but do give them the information they need to correct, clarify, improve, and/or expand it.

If you do decide to write something in response, do it with an even hand.

Last—or perhaps first—encase snark in a cement block and deep six it for eternity.

Posted in What It Takes

9 Responses to “How to Respond?”

  1. Basilis
    March 15, 2013 at 8:42 am

    We have a children (mostly) game in my country that has to do with the distorted message and it’s called “The Broken Telephone”. It’s funny, and children love to hear how the prototype message changes so much in the way (from the mouth of the one player, to the ear of the other).
    But this distortion, of course, is only nice as a part of a children game.

    Concerning reality, internet misinformation and the distorted messages are becoming a huge problem. The steps mentioned in the article should be heard over and over again.

    • Callie Oettinger
      March 20, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks for this, Basilis. That telephone game is amusing at parties, but hard to stomach when it plays out as rumors in the real world. Callie

    • March 20, 2013 at 9:42 pm

      I would say it that, it is in the very ‘distortions’ themselves that we will find our own humanity, our own creativity, free of the ‘facts’; those distortions are manisfestations of the confulence of our imaginations PLUS history. Such is the human condition, whattya want, robots?

      • Callie Oettinger
        March 21, 2013 at 3:38 am

        You’re right. Creativity arises within such moments. I’d like to see it paired with civil discord, free of group think, rather than robots, though…Civil discord encourages creative thinking. The negative group think stops it in its tracks.

  2. March 15, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Hmmmm…..I was unaware of the subject author or the article. Reading your post above required that I do the “research” of clicking some of the links to see what all this was about in the first place.

    I don’t know…..the subject you are touching on is pretty deep. David Wood received a lot of “knee jerk” comments to his original article by people who are self-identified with the topic (the military as a career and income). Personally, I am interested in the knee-jerk-ism that constitutes “public conversation” these days or, maybe, always has.

    WTH David Wood was thinking when the original article came out with the word “lavish”, who knows. The guy has to be smarter than that.

    By definition, not many are going to take the time to research and verify a main stream new source. I am not familiar with Callie Ottinger and, honestly, only worked my way through this post because it is on Steven’s blog.

    But kudos to Callie for touching on a deeply powerful topic.

    • Callie Oettinger
      March 20, 2013 at 2:57 pm

      Teddy,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I don’t have an answer for the “lavish” comment. I’ve experienced editor- and/or designer-inserted errors introduced into pieces on which I’ve worked and wondered if that’s what happened with this piece, if someone changed the meaning via a careless edit. I don’t know.

      The fact that too few take the time to check what they read – and take every word as truth – is an issue, too. It’s important that readers be able to analyze in addition to read information.

      And for writers, its important to avoid confusion and stay on top of published articles to ensure that they appear the way they were written.

      For those commenting, there’s a choice to expand the conversation or submerge it in a cesspool of hate, in which no one advances/learns anything new.

      I wish that we could see more of the former – advance the conversation. If you don’t agree, say something. Ask questions. In this case, attacking someone who continues to be a long-time supporter of the community first and asking questions second, was painful to see.

      Thanks again, Teddy.

      Callie

  3. March 18, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Nicely put,
    I agree that the internet is flooded with mis-information and an army of people who have no idea what they are talking about. I can not stand or stomach most network news anymore, because it is subject to manipulation by too many people from collection to dissemination. Using processes like the ones you have described is the best way to vet sources and get your news as close to the source as possible!
    Jim

    • Callie Oettinger
      March 20, 2013 at 3:05 pm

      Thanks, Jim. Yes. There are errors introduced all the time from “collection to dissemination.” Reading/Viewing comprehension has an added dimension today. Onus is on the creators to keep things going in the right direction and on the consumers to question and verify. Callie

  4. April 22, 2013 at 6:03 am

    I do consider all of the ideas you have presented on your post.
    They’re really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very quick for beginners. May just you please extend them a little from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.