Errors of Fact: Why Thunderbirds are NOT go for the Daily Telegraph

The Australian Daily Telegraph published an article with an associated infographic on Australia’s contribution of defence assets to the conflict in Iraq today entitled: How the RAAF plans fly into hell – and back.

Only Australia won’t be flying F16 Falcon Thunderbirds into action … as it doesn’t have any.

The F16 Falcon Thunderbirds are in fact, the aerobatic military display team of the United States Air Force. Which in Australian terms is akin to sending the RAAF Roulettes into a conflict zone to entertain the enemy.

With information on the Australian Defence Force’s Army, Air Force and Navy warfighting capabilities; and global operations information so readily available on the web – AND the Department’s 24/7 media operations room ready and able to respond to exactly these types of fact checking questions from the media, how did the Daily Telegraph make such a significant mistake?

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story … or Thunderbird.

While one faux pas that is acknowledged and corrected appropriately can be forgiven, publications that continually fail to get their facts right – particularly when reporting on issues of National Security and Governmental policy, are at risk of having their credibility seriously damaged.

From a crisis communications perspective, this has several corporate touch-points:

  • Individual reputational damage: to both journalist and editor in this case.
  • Brand damage.
  • Loss of credibility in the marketplace, amongst peer industry bodies and Government.
  • Legal ramifications- getting facts wrong, particularly in regards to operational military matters could result in a range of operational security breaches. Even if inadvertent, such mistakes can impact military strategy and the deployment of assets. Serious mistakes or breaches could endanger lives.

I’m not suggested that the legal ramifications for this gaffe are a national security concern, however my point is that in this case, the publication of factually incorrect information could have easily been prevented by fact checking with either the source (the Department of Defence) or another expert in the field.

As my publication deadline passes – and with no word from the Daily Telegraph (whom I contacted for comment on this blog) here are my top 7 tips for corporate communications professional to deal with such a crisis:

  1. Publicly acknowledge the error as soon as it is brought to your attention.
  2. Apologize to affected parties personally.
  3. Remove any erroneous content from the web, social media and any other forms of media you reasonably can. Draft your correction for print (if applicable) and have it approved. Pay attention to the placement of print retractions and apologies: don’t hide it or place next to advertising /articles that could further offend. Check the synergy of your headlines around the apology to prevent a further gaffe.
  4. Consult your legal team to ensure you are compliant with any necessary codes of practice or industry specific legislation.
  5. Counsel the staff members concerned. If there is a history of similar behaviour, your response should be similarly scaled.
  6. Re-educate your broader workplace about the importance of fact checking, your corporate policy on reporting fact vs using creative license; and reemphasize your corporate values and/or codes of conduct.
  7. Review your corporate policies: how did this happen? And how are you going to prevent this from happening again?

Rookie errors of fact: what will the Daily Telegraph do next?

Hat-Tip to Andrew McLaughlin of @COMINT_AU for alerting the twittersphere to this article’s infographic. Visit his website here.

*The Daily Telegraph was contacted for comment on this blog, but no response was received by the publication deadline.