[NOTE: 5 March 09: For a more up-to-date bibliograpy, see: The Will Affair … struggling to keep up.]
The Washington Post editors are, in essence, going silent when it comes to George Will’s use of their pages for disinformation on global warming issues. And, from that silence, the Post’s Ombudsman emerged to embrace the Will-ful deceit. And, for whatever reason, unlike the myriad other times that Washington Post opinion pages have been handed over to truthiness from global warming deniers, skeptics, and delayers, this occasion is seeing a bit of a blogosphere wide expression of outrage.
Some of the excellent discussions:
- Joe Romm, Climate Progress, Is George Will the Most Ignorant National Columnist? and The day DC journalism died: Washington Post is staffed with people who found ZERO mistakes in George Will’s error-filled denial column
- Zachary Roth, TPMMuckraker, Where There’s a (George) Will There’s A Way … To Deny Global Warming
- Brad Johnson, Wonkroom, George Will Believes In Recycling and Washington Post Defends George Will: The Editorial Page ‘Checks Facts To The Fullest Extent Possible’»
- Chris Mooney, The Intersection, George Will: A Conservative “Intellectual”? Not.
- Nat Silver, 538.com, George F. Will Takes on Science, Loses Credibility, 16 Feb 09, provides a statistics based analysis to show George Will as distorting the situation. After complimenting Will (“whom I’ve usually regarded as being fairly intellectually honest”), Silver concludes “That so little progress has been made on climate change and sustainable energy in spite of the overwhelming economic, environmental and national security imperatives to do so is perhaps the single greatest indictment of our democracy.”
- George Monbiot, Guardian Newspapers blog, George Will’s climate howlers
- Hilzoy, Political Animal at the Washington Monthly, The Washington Post’s “Multi-Layer Editing Process”
- Carl Zimmer, Discover blog, George Will: Liberated From the Burden of Fact-Checking and The Sea Ice Affair, Continued, 19 Feb 09, focusing on Post fact-checking claims. “It’s easy to think of fact-checking as a luxury of old-time journalism, akin to three-martini lunches and business class flights. But if fact-checking is done right, it can make newspapers and magazines reliable and trusted–a distinction that may help them survive in these competitive times. Sadly, in this case, we see what happens when the process fails.”
- James Hrynyshyn, The Island Of Doubt, The importance of actually reading what you cite, and George F. Will, ethics, conservatism and the future of journalism,
These are just a taste of the outrage that has spread across the blogosphere re Will’s outrageous column this past Sunday and the weak (being generous) Post editorial response to questioning of it.
It goes beyond Will …
Many of these discussions, however, are losing a larger picture. Staying within the Post, it isn’t just this one Will column, he’s done it before. And, it is far from just George Will.
To provide a sense of the Post‘s record in this regard, here is just a sampling of this one blogger’s work:
- WashPost complicit in disinformation of explicit collaboration?, 15 Feb 09
- Washington Post global warming reporting fair and balanced, 27 Jun 08
- Fair and Balance strikes WashPost global warming reporting again , 26 June 08
- Will-fully ignorant, 3 June 06
- Truthi-Samuelson strikes again, 30 Apr 08
- Truthiness strikes the Post again, revisited, 15 Oct 07
- Truthiness strikes the Post again, 14 Oct 07
- J’accuse! Robert J Samuelson. J’accuse!, 15 Aug 07
- Krauthammer’s fact-free foray into energy issues, 1 July 07
- Washington Post’s schizophrenic approach to global warming, 4 Feb 07
- J’accuse! Distorting reality in global warmings’ real inconvenient truth, 5 July 06
In short, 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. (To be clear, not all this blogger’s work is critical of the Post, such as WashPost does it right: publishes McKibben, 30 Sept 07).
Too often, the “fair and balanced” routine ends up in reporting as well:
- What makes good reporting on climate change
- We: WashPost reporting “fair and balanced” vs objective
- Framing climate change politics: truthiness reigns at the Post
And, 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. When called to task for dishonesty on their pages, the Post responds with weak corrections which few read, if they react in public at all. See GoreOPhobia, the WashPost, and Howell’s pseudoApologia (17 June 07) for a saga about a Post editor commissioning a piece to respond to a fundamentally dishonest opinion piece for publication, being told it was going onto the web and potentially in print, and then to find out that it was pulled due to internal embarassment over the situation. In the end, the Post chose to not publish any form of serious retraction of what was a blatantly false piece.
It is time for The Washington Post to not just fact check, but truth check their OPED pieces on climate issues.
Will … Krauthammer … Samuelson … Lomborg … they can have their opinions, but they don’t have a right to create their own facts. And, as long as they continue their disconnect with reality, The Washington Post shouldn’t waste column inches on them.
UPDATE: Will be adding additional posts from around the blog on this. Just noticed that Media Matters is focusing on this. See, for example, Jamison Foser’s excellent In support of shunning and The Washington Post Wakes Up With Fleas, derived from Mark Kleiman’s “Letter to the Washington Post”. And, at Daily Kos, science expert Darksyde has a front-page post highlighting that Will has a history of getting the science wrong.
Matt Yglesias with Washington Post Stands By Climate Change Denialism
The week anniversary of Will’s will-ful deceit saw the publication of a Washington Post apology for its failures … at the Wonkroom: A Suggested Correction For Will’s ‘Dark Green Doomsayers’ Column. Extremely well done, recommended.
Last night, on GESN, see: Will-ful Deceit: three blunt examples.
Dan Lashof, at the NRDC Switchboard, with Cold Comfort.
UPDATE 3: 24 Feb 08
Liz Rose, The Skywriter, George Will’s Shoddy Climate “Journalism”, 23 Feb 09
Media Matters, Will’s climate change column sparks outrage in environmental community, 24 Feb 09
Media Matters, They get letters (lots of letters) … about George Will, 24 Feb 09
Brad Johnson, Wonk Room, Wonk Room Report: The Washington Post Should Correct George Will’s Column, 23 Feb 09 and George Will’s ‘Global Cooling’ Column Is Almost Old Enough To Vote
Chris C Mooney, The Intersection, George Will: He Isn’t Even Phoning It In, He’s Cutting and Pasting, 24 Feb 09
Karl Zimmer, The Loom, A Wrinkle in Ice (or Not), 22 Feb 09, examining ice coverage issues.
UPDATE: 26 February 2009: Still no Washington Post correction and it seems as if they are proud to have the “George F Will truthless zone” in their pages. See The Way Things Break Waiting for WaPo for an extensive, overlapping list of blog posts on this.
UPDATE: Zachary Roth, TPM Muckraker, In new column, Will sticks to his guns on global warming, 26 Feb 09
Media MattersLashing out at critics, George Will spreads more falsehoods in new global warming column, 26 Feb 09
Columbia Journalism Review published The George Will Affair
Media Matters with WaPo Goes All In.
UPDATE: 27 Feb 09:
Friends of the Earth, George Will uses the Washington Post column to lie about global warming
Joe Romm, Climate Progress, In a journalistic blunder reminiscent of the Janet Cooke scandal, the senior editors of the Washington Post let George Will reassert several climate falsehoods plus some new ones, 27 Feb 09
Media Matters, WashPost’s Fred Hiatt plays dumb for George Will, 27 Feb 09
Chris Mooney, The Intersection, George Will Lies; His Editor Does Nothing, 27 Feb 09. “George Will wrote another deceptive global warming column. It’s full of utter nonsense, retracts nothing, and pathetically tries to defend his previous errors.”
Carl Zimmer, The Loom, Unchecked Ice: A Saga in Five Chapters, a tour de force examination that begins: “I guess I don’t understand editorial pages. The laws of physics must be different there.”
Update: 27 Feb 09:
Tim Lambert, Deltoid: Washington Post decides that George Will is entitled to his own facts, 27 Feb 09, focuses on how Will’s statement re quoting the UI Arctic Climate Research Center “is unequivocally false and the Washington Post just does not care.” (Earlier post, Washington Post rejects the concept of objective facts, 20 Feb 09.)
Things Break offers up George Will and The Washington Post – Reputations gone up in smoke over global warming denialism, 27 Feb 09. In particular, this post provides a pdf of a 1975 New York Times article that George Will quotes and, surprisingly, misrepresents egregiously. (Evidently, George doesn’t think, even now, that people are actually going to fact check him.)
John Quiggin, Crooked Timber, Recycling in the digital age, 26 Feb 09, questions Will’s laziness in repeating the same arguments in the Internet age. “the switch from newsprint to digital publication has changed things in a couple of important ways. On the one hand, self-plagiarism is now much easier to detect. Anyone with Google can check you it. On the other hand, the justification for repetition is much more limited. When yesterdays brilliant insights lined today’s bird cage, you could be forgiven for repeating them a few months later, for readers who might have missed them the first time. But now that every column is preserved for ever, there’s much less need. And when your column consists largely of a string of tattered talking points that anyone who wants to can already find on the Internet, it has very little justification for existing.”
Joe Sudbay, AMERICAblog.com, George Will stands by his discredited global warming column and will regurgitate the same false information in his next column, 26 Feb 09 who highlights how the right might have reacted: “If a progressive columnist authored a blatantly false column in the Washington Post, the Republicans on Capitol Hill will be up in arms. There would be speeches and resolutions galore. But, there has been silence from the Democrats over George Will’s egregious error and his failure to own up to it.”
Isabel Macdonald, Huffington Post, Challenging George Will’s Reign of Climate Error, 27 Feb 2009, speaks to how the blogosphere is giving accountabiliy to distorters like WIll.
Jonathan Schwarz, A Tiny Revolution, So much nicer to be George Will before the Internet, 17 Feb 09, highlights an old example of Will’s distorting (falsifying) statements.
Big Tent Democrat, TalkLeft, WaPo: Misstating Facts Is Good “Journalism”, “Paul Krugman coined the memorable phrase “GOP Says World Is Flat; Dems Disagree” as an example of what “journalism” is today – “He Said, She Said” emptiness. Fred Hiatt, unsurprisingly, confirms this … there is no debate. George Will writes falsehoods. And Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post prints them. That is the problem.”
AmHill, An Open Letter to Andrew Alexander, Ombudsman at the Washington Post, 27 Feb 09, an appeal to “Please start double-checking George Will’s facts when he talks about science.”