Today, Media Matters President Eric Burns joined Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski, and Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder in issuing a letter (PDF) to Washington Post ombudsman Andy Alexander asking him to address several blatant falsehoods in George Will's February 15 column about global warming. The joint letter rebuts several falsehoods in Will's column.
Pressure on the Washington Post over a controversial George Will column, entitled "Dark Green Doomsayers," has escalated from being the passion project of media watchdog groups to a core concern of environmental leaders. These figures have launched a coordinated campaign against the Washington Post, seeking a correction of the record.
The basic thrust of the column in question, published on February 15, 2009, goes something like this: a long time ago, scientists thought that the planet was poised to undergo a calamitous period of "global cooling," and also some other scary stuff about armadillo migration and the price of copper, and all of this proves that as the scientific community is so prone to lapsing into trendy, chi-chi "doomsaying," there's no real need to heed any concerns about global warming.
Basically, it's an attempt to zero the balance of Will's objections to environmental initiatives by asserting, "once upon a time, these higher minds thought precisely the opposite, so this is just some great comedy." In reality, the article only proves that if you multiply a germ of scientific inquiry with George Will, you get zero. Throughout his piece, Will misuses his cited sources, misrepresents their findings, and omits the essential conclusions they reached.
We do not expect Mr. Will to apologize for the failings of his column. We do hope that the Washington Post, one of America's great bastions of top-notch journalism, will publicly retract and correct inaccurate information that appeared in its pages.
Despite several documented inaccuracies, Post Ombudsman Andy Alexander continues to stand by Mr. Will's column. That's why the folks over at Media Matters brought together the leaders of the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and LCV: to try one more time to set the record straight.
George Will's February 15 Washington Post column, "Dark Green Doomsayers," contained numerous factual errors that painted a highly misleading picture of scientific knowledge about global warming. This is not the first time the Washington Post has published demonstrably false statements written by propagandists who wish to deny climate science.
Please use the form below to send a message to the ombudsman of the Washington Post – the paper's "internal critic" whose "job is to represent the interests of readers, hold The Post to high standards and explain its inner workings to an often-suspicious public" – to demand that the paper formally correct Will's column and stop publishing falsehoods.
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Following widespread protest over George Will's climate-change-denial column, letters-to-the-editor have been popping up in newspapers all over the country. Will's column misused data and distorted statements made by climate experts in order to suggest that human-caused global warming is not occurring, so it isn't surprising to see so many people up in arms over this. Check out this sampling of letters:
Lawrence Journal-World: Will off base (Letter, 2/19/09)
[Will] puts together apparently irreconcilable statements from the mid-1970s and today, apparently in an effort to show that climate scientists don't know climate change from a hole in their hats. I suppose it didn't suit his political purposes to consult a few climate scientists. He says that climate change is No. 20 of 20 concerns according to a public poll. He is apparently Will-ing to have it remain there.
The Advocate: Will erred about global warming (Letter, 2/21/09)
Like many pundits, Will's belief in his own omniscience leads him to assume instant expertise on any topic. It also results in his repeatedly misleading the public on important issues such as global warming.
The Advocate should employ a fact checker for the columns it runs, or share responsibility for their misrepresentations.
Austin American-Statesman: Warming ignorance (Letter, 2/22/09)
George Will showed ignorance and pulled out the tired straw man that those of us who care about stopping climate change are gloom-and-doomers when the opposite is true.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Look out your window, George (Letter, 2/22/09)
I am concerned for the future of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If there is even a small chance that what scientists and climatologists have been telling us for years is true, we owe it to our offspring to take this threat seriously and change our lifestyles. Ignoring this threat is like storing nuclear weapons in your garage. You may not expect them to be detonated, but how can you be sure?
Pensacola News-Journal: Beyond the limit (Letter, 2/22/09)
George Will's column on Feb. 15 ("Global warming issue may be melting") is breathtaking in its obstinate rejection of the science of climate change.
What is melting is the arctic permafrost that could release a hundred million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere this century. This and other "feedback loops," and how they are accelerating the pace of warming, was the subject of an article the same day as Will's column in his home newspaper, The Washington Post.
Will dismisses global warming as a "hypothetical" crisis overshadowed by the economic crisis. He is unable to accept increasing evidence of climate change, even as it piles up like logs in a blazing fireplace.
Times of Trenton: Climate change leaves columnist cold (Letter, 2/22/09)
I am so glad to hear from the eminent climatologist George Will (column, "The fine art of predicting catastrophes," Feb. 15) that the predictions of global climate change will all turn out to be wrong. His justification? The fact that the cooling trend of the mid-20th century didn't lead to an ice age, as some had predicted.
If one climate prediction has been wrong, then they all will be, of course.
That most of the other eminent climatologists understand that cooling is the result of another man-made influence, the increasing particulate pollution from industrialization, and that its end was the result of our efforts to decrease that pollution, is inconsequential. Obviously, all predictions of catastrophe are wrong; otherwise, how could we be here today?
Chico Enterprise-Record: Of course the earth is changing (Letter, 2/23/09)
There's a lot of imaginative computer modeling and fuzzy logic going on by the global warming supporters. In the same paper George Will ("Imagined calamity suddenly shrinks") discussed the impending "return to another ice age," which was a popular scientific "opinion" in the mid-1970s. Read that one too. A grain of salt is always indicated where "scientific opinion" is involved. Hopefully, the satellite just launched by Japan, and the one to be launched by us soon, will provide the facts to clarify that situation once and for all.
I think a lot of the support for global warming comes from the "sustainability" folks who equate carbon dioxide increase with natural resource depletion, which could be a much more supportable position.
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I missed this last week but wanted to share it with everyone here at County Fair.
John Fleck, a science columnist for the Albuquerque Journal, tears apart George Will's climate-change-denial column, in which the Washington Post conservative scribe misused data and distorted statements made by climate experts in order to suggest that human-caused global warming is not occurring.
There is an old canard of the political debate around climate change that goes something like this: How can scientists be believed about global warming today when back in the 1970s they predicted global cooling?
The argument, reprised in Sunday's Journal by syndicated columnist George Will, sounds reasonable, and gets good traction in the political debate.
It is wrong.
There was no widespread belief among scientists in the 1970s about a coming ice age. Will engages in an egregious case of cherry-picking, plucking quotes that seem to support his assertion while ignoring a vast body of literature that does not.
When George Will last wrote about this subject, in May 2008, I sent him a copy of the 1975 Science News article, hoping he might get a fuller picture of what was going on at the time. I got a nice note back from him thanking me for sharing it. It doesn't seem as if he read it, which would have been nicer.
This is not the only factual error Will mustered in Sunday's column.
"According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center," Will wrote, "global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.
Here's what the folks at the University of Illinois had to say in response: "We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km.
Following the flurry of protests over George Will's climate-change-denial column, in which the Washington Post conservative scribe misused data and distorted statements made by climate experts in order to suggest that human-caused global warming is not occurring, the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, which carries Will's column, printed the following letter-to-the-editor today:
George Will's factual meltdown
I regularly read George F. Will's columns even though he often refuses to let a few facts spoil his right-wing opinions. In a recent column published by the PG on Feb. 16 ("Hypothetical Calamity") he claimed that global sea ice levels are as extensive as in 1979 as supported by the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center.
Unfortunately, those pesky facts are getting in Mr. Will's way. The center posted this on its Web site in response to Mr. Will's allegation:
"In an opinion piece by George Will published on February 15, 2009, in The Washington Post, George Will states 'According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.'
"We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California and Oklahoma combined."
When will the conservative icon issue his correction?
What about you? Have you taken action?
As numerous progressive and science bloggers have noted, Washington Post columnist George Will misused data and distorted statements made by climate experts in order to suggest that human-caused global warming is not occurring. Moreover, in his reported response to criticism of Will's column, Post ombudsman Andy Alexander falsely suggested that a statement by the Arctic Climate Research Center supports Will's claims about sea ice levels when, in fact, the ACRC statement rebuts the very argument Will was making.
the problem is not just the Post's relationship with George Will, but the Post's utter failure to hold their columnists to any reasonable standard in terms of evidence when it comes to climate change and energy pieces.
the Post has a lousy tradition when it comes to correcting egregious errors in their editorial pages. Or, should we say, failure to correct them in a responsible and forthright fashion.
Check out Siegel's post for details and examples of global warming misinformation in the Post's news pages, as well as on its Op-Ed page.
when you, on behalf of what used to be a respected newspaper, endorse his dishonesty, there's something seriously, seriously wrong. There are still honest and competent reporters writing for the Post, but if any article in the paper is to be believed it will now have to be on the basis of the reporter's known integrity and skill, not on the fact of its publication in a newspaper that not only publishes palpable falsehood but then justifies doing so.
This started as a problem for Will, his direct supervisors, and the Post's ombudsman. But now that the Post as a paper is standing behind Will's deceptions, I think it's a problem for all the other people who work at the Post. Some of those people do bad work, which is too bad. And some of those people do good work. And unfortunately, that's worse. It means that when good work appears in the Post it bolsters the reputation of the Post as an institution. And the Post, as an institution, has taken a stand that says it's okay to claim that up is down. It's okay to claim that day is night. It's okay to claim that hot is cold. It's okay to claim that a consensus existed when it didn't. It's okay to claim that George Will is a better source of authority on interpreting the ACRC's scientific research than is the ACRC. Everyone who works at the Post, has, I think, a serious problem.
As Media Matters noted on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that Heartland Institute publisher Dan Williams "said Heartland is skeptical about the crisis that people are proclaiming in global warming" and that former Sen. Harrison Schmitt "said he's heartened that the upcoming [Heartland] conference is made up of scientists who haven't been manipulated by politics." But at no point in the article did the AP note that Heartland receives funding from the fossil fuels industry. Moreover, the AP uncritically reported that Schmitt "said ... the rise in carbon dioxide is because of the temperature rise," echoing a claim widely disputed by scientists.
Well, yesterday the Austin American Statesman came out with a story making reference to Heartland and what did they do? Emphasis added:
He is "regarded with reverence," said Dan Miller, a publisher at the Heartland Institute, which puts out a newsletter asserting no scientific consensus on global warming and gets money from energy corporations. "He has been in this battle, in the trenches for a long time. He's a warrior of epic proportions on this issue."
Climate scientists, however, hold that carbon dioxide emissions have a significant effect on a changing climate.
A 2007 climate change study by an international group of scientists found that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and said with "very high confidence" that the net impact of "human activities since 1750 has been one of warming."
Atmospheric and climate scientists at UT and Texas A&M University have said that temperatures will rise in Texas, coastal communities are at risk from rising sea levels in the Gulf, and weather conditions are likely to include more severe droughts and flooding.
I'm not saying the Statesman piece is perfect but they do two important things in this story. (1) When they go to the Heartland Institute for comment, they let their readers know where Heartland gets its money -- the energy industry. (2) They counter Heartland's bogus claims with facts based on science from scientists. They show the scientific consensus that exists over global climate change and the impace humans are having.
In an article discussing whether the Environmental Protection Agency would begin to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act, The New York Times quoted Jeffrey Holmstead warning that such efforts are "[p]otentially ... a huge mess." While the article mentioned that Holmstead is the "director of environmental strategies at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani," it did not note that Holmstead lobbies on behalf of energy companies and that -- as the Times previously reported -- Bracewell & Giuliani is an energy lobbying firm.
The AP reported that Heartland Institute publisher Dan Williams "said Heartland is skeptical about the crisis that people are proclaiming in global warming" and that former Sen. Harrison Schmitt "said he's heartened that the upcoming [Heartland] conference is made up of scientists who haven't been manipulated by politics." But at no point in the article did the AP note that Heartland receives funding from the fossil fuels industry. Moreover, the AP uncritically reported that Schmitt "said ... the rise in carbon dioxide is because of the temperature rise," echoing a claim widely disputed by scientists.
Zachary Roth at TPMMuckraker's on the case, contacting both Will and his WashPost boss, Fed Hiatt, editor of the Post's Op-Ed page, trying to find out if and when the Post is going to correct central factual errors found in Will's most recent anti-global warming column.
Will's assistant told us that Will might get back to us later in the day to talk about the column. And Hiatt said he was too busy to talk about it just then, but that he'd try to respond to emailed questions. So we emailed him yesterday's post, with several questions about the editing process, then followed up with another email late yesterday afternoon.
But still nothing from either of them, over twenty-four hours after the first contact was made. Nor has the online version of Will's column been updated, even to reflect the fact that the ACRC has utterly disavowed the claim Will attributes to it.
We're hearing that the Post's editing process for opinion pieces is virtually non-existent. Maybe that makes sense in some cases -- it certainly seems reasonable to give most columnists a freer hand than straight news reporters get. But it's difficult to know for sure when the Post won't talk about it. And that approach sure didn't serve the paper well here.
Check out this amazing piece over at TheWonkRoom which identifies the cast of characters used by Marc Marano, communications director to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), to push climate change skepticism.
Marc Morano, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK)'s environmental aide, sits at the center of the right-wing global warming denier propaganda machine — of fifty-two people. Conservative columnist Fred Barnes recently refused to tell TPM Muckraker who's informed him "the case for global warming" is falling apart, but all signs point to Marc Morano. Morano's "entire job," Gristmill's David Roberts explains, "is to aggregate every misleading factoid, every attack on climate science or scientists, every crank skeptical statement from anyone in the world and send it all out periodically in email blasts" to the right-wing echo chamber. The Wonk Room has acquired Morano's email list, and we can now reveal the pack of climate skeptics, conservative bloggers, and corporate hacks who feed the misinformation machine.
Promoted on the Drudge Report and Fox News, Morano's moronic misinformation enters mainstream discourse through columns by Barnes, George Will, Robert Samuelson, and others. Many in the Morano gang are funded by right-wing think tanks, though a few are committed activists, conspiracy theorists who believe their homebrew interpretations of climate data. Others are aging scientists with strong conservative beliefs, motivating them to challenge action on global warming not because they disbelieve its existence, but because they are ideologically opposed to regulation of pollution.
Check out Marano's full list here.
You may recall our recent posts on Fred Barnes' super-secret climate change source and George Will's refusal to correct his recent wacky climate change denial column.
The conservative columnist's stab at becoming a global warming denier has attracted lots of attention and ridicule this week. But perhaps more important than the guffaws is the question, where's the WashPost correction regarding the sizable factual error at the center of its writer's column?
As blogger Dan Kennedy noted:
Syndicated columnist George Will presents only one piece of evidence in his Sunday piece denying global warming — and he gets it wrong...What does it take for Will and/or the Washington Post to append a correction? As of 6:30 p.m., there was still nothing. Is it because his entire commentary looks ridiculous if he retracts the sole relevant factual nugget he included in his diatribe?
Good question. Is anybody at the Post listening?