Journalism is not complicated. Honest. But sometimes people practicing it pretend that it is. They pretend that it's very complicated and that every fact has nine different sides and it's impossible--impossible--to figure out what the truth really is. And because it's impossible, who's to say who's right and who's wrong. Who's to say what's correct and what's incorrect. It's all open for debate.
The Post's Fred Hiatt, busy contorting himself into a pretzel, is playing that (dumb) game with regards to George Will, the increasingly heavy anchor that the columnist has become around the daily's neck. Will and the Post refuse to apologize, or in newspaper terms they refuse to issue a correction, despite the fact that Will's now infamous column last week was built around falsehoods about global warming. But rather than trying to figure out how to fix the problem, Hiatt and Will have apparently been brainstorming on how not to accept responsibility.
The Post and Will are above corrections because they've pored over the available information and they can spot a ray of daylight where they can claim Will was not categorically wrong in his global warming claim. And if there is a daylight toward deniability, they're going to choose that over transparency, and honesty, with their readers.
Hiatt insists Will's entitled to his opinion about the global warming facts because those facts are just too complicated--too unknowable--and who the hell are readers to claim otherwise? Hiatt told CJR:
If you want to start telling me that columnists can't make inferences which you disagree with—and, you know, they want to run a campaign online to pressure newspapers into suppressing minority views on this subject—I think that's really inappropriate. It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject — so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don't make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn't be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him.
That sound you hear is Hiatt digging the Post an even deeper and more embarrassing hole.
I have two favorite parts. The first was Hiatt's insistence that Will has every right to draw inference--to make claims of fact in his column--based on data that most scientists reject. Good Lord, what is Will not allowed to do in a Post column? And does the Op-Ed page maintain any guidelines?
And second, I chuckled when Hiatt insisted that if people disagree with Will's published falsehoods, they shouldn't try to pressure the paper to publish corrections, they should, y'know, "debate him." Right, because Will and Post editors have been so open and willing to address--to debate--the controversy.
Hiatt and Post are hunkered down in serious denial mode. And that's when journalism becomes unnecessarily complicated.
P.S. When is the Post's media critic, Howard Kurtz, going to weigh in on this growing press controversy in the pages of the newspaper, even if it does feature a star Post columnist?
The Washington Post lost $192 million last year. This is not a newspaper that can afford to alienate its readership.
And yet, the Post is going all-in on George Will's credibility.
For the past week, Will and the Post have faced sustained criticism over dubious claims Will made about global warming - and over a pattern of such claims from both Will and the Post.
Earlier today, Media Matters obtained an advance copy of Will's next column, in which Will doubles-down on his previous global warming misinformation. As Media Matters explained:
In his new column, Will falsely claims that in his February 15 column, he "accurately reported" on the contents of an Arctic Climate Research Center (ACRC) document when, in fact, the document he cited rebutted the very argument he was making. The ACRC document that Will relied on actually stated that the sea ice data are consistent with the outcomes projected by climate-change models. In the words of TPM Muckraker's Zachary Roth, Will's new column "amounts to a stubborn defense of the amazing global warming denialist column he published earlier this month, that was ripped apart by just about everyone and their mother."
Then Columbia Journalism Review weighed in with a piece posted this evening, featuring quotes from Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt. Hiatt defends Will's previous column:
"If you want to start telling me that columnists can't make inferences which you disagree with-and, you know, they want to run a campaign online to pressure newspapers into suppressing minority views on this subject-I think that's really inappropriate. It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject - so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don't make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn't be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him."
But this controversy is not about "inferences" by Will with which others "disagree." It is about Will spreading falsehoods. And it is about the Washington Post standing by those falsehoods - a rather large gamble for a newspaper that cannot afford to lose readers or credibility.
That's a lot riding on someone with Will's track record.
In a column obtained by Media Matters in advance of its publication, George Will falsely claims that in his February 15 column, he "accurately reported" on the contents of an Arctic Climate Research Center document on sea ice data. In fact, while Will suggested the ACRC data undermine the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming, the document actually states that the sea ice data are consistent with the outcomes projected by climate-change models.
On his Fox News show, Glenn Beck again attacked the recovery act by citing a provision he did not understand. Beck stated that the final version of "[t]he spending bill, clean of earmarks, has ... $800 million for carbon capture projects." Meanwhile, on-screen text read: "$800M to Carbon Capture Project: What Is That?"
In drawing a false equivalence between a February 15 column by George Will and Al Gore's statement that global warming "is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented," New York Times reporter Andrew C. Revkin wrote that "[b]oth men, experts said afterward, were guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements." But while the major theme of Will's column -- that human-caused global warming is not occurring -- has been completely rejected by what Revkin describes as "a strong consensus among scientists," Revkin did not note that the IPCC has stated that humans "[m]ore likely than not" have contributed to an increasing likelihood that many of the types of events Gore cited will occur.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Holman Jenkins didn't like Barack Obama's comments about developing renewable energy sources:
Put away the "energy independence" conceit. This notion, a favorite of Tojo and Hitler, was debunked by Churchill, who reasoned that true energy security came from a diversity of suppliers, not the foolish pursuit of self-sufficiency.
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.