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Post Editorial Board Admits Error in The Will Affair … implicitly

March 21st, 2009 · 6 Comments

More than a month after the column that spark a storm of outrage and after having only published a sarcastic (correct, but not a refutation of Will on the substance) letter to the editor, the Washington Post published an opinion piece by Chris Mooney (author, Republican War on Science) and a strong letter to the editor from the head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

These were, published, by the way, without any form of editorial comment or acknowledgment. In other words, publishing two strong refutations, five weeks later, after allowing Will another shot at deception, does not absolve Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post editorial board, and The Washington Post Writers’ Group from their responsibilities as aiders and abetters of deception and dishonesty on the most crucial issue of the 21st century.

A quick reminder …

On 15 February, The Washington Post and hundreds of other newspapers (courtesy of the Washington Post Writers’ Group) published George Will’s “Dark Green Doomsayers”, which was an all-out attack on those concerned over Global Warming, a deceitful attack that misrepresented sources and turned yes into no for many “cited” authorities. Unlike most of Will’s past deceitful OPEDs, this one exploded into outrage across the blogosphere, with specialist after specialist dissecting Will’s comments from different angles and refuting them. It ‘escalated’ into a number of media analysts writing retrospectives on the ‘explosion’, with the mounting discussion of Will’s global warming denier pieces, the web dynamics, and the Post’s arrogant reaction getting pegged as “The Will Affair”. (For links to many of them and more background, see The Will Affair … Struggling to keep up.) The Washington Post lead editorial editor (Fred Hiatt) and the Post’s new ombudsman upped the anti with full-throated and then half-baked defenses of Will and their publication of his deceptive work. And, Will followed up with another deceitful piece, that included additional direct falsehoods that Hiatt (and thousands of others) had no excuse for no realizing were falsehoods.

Is The Will Affair behind us?

Let’s be honest, this OPED and letter come five weeks later, after the Post likely received 100s of proposed OPEDs (including two from me) and 1000s of letters. As Joe Romm put it,

Today the Washington Post attempted to restore some of its lost reputation as a credible source of information to the public.

The Post took the unusual step of simultaneously publishing an extended debunking by a leading science journalist, Chris Mooney, and by the Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michael Jarraud, whose organizations’ work was misused by Will.

Kudos to everybody who wrote a letter to the post or its ombudsman and shamed the Post into publishing some journalism that is science-based, rather than ideology-or disinformation-based, as Will practices. Let’s hope it is a trend — the health and well-being of the next 50 generations depends on it.

Chris’ perspective on publishing of the OPED is more generous than my perspective:

As any reader of this blog knows, I was for a while very critical of the Washington Post editorial page amid the George Will affair. Now, my view has changed.

Today the Post publishes, replete with links to many scientific sources, my op-ed answering three claims Will made in his now infamous “Dark Green Doomsayers” column, and also making a broader point about why we need standards in science-centered journalism and commentary.

I’m extremely heartened that the Post ran the piece, and has at least allowed me to correct Will–or, to “debate” him.

Again, Chris’ interpretation is more generous than mine. Will the Post refrain from allowing Will to continue his deception? Will Lomborg have the front page of Outlook again? Will Samuelson have free rein to decive? How about Krauthammer? Will the Post allowed their overwhelming conservative stable of OPED writers to publish drivel focusing on the cost of climate legislation, without referencing the most greater benefits? Will there, on issues related to climate legislation, be a requirement for truth from the columnists unlike what The Post has enforced to date? While this publication is a good sign, it does not signal an end to the problem …

My perspective is simple:

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.

Devastating rebukes

Chris’ OPED is, for anyone ready to read it with an open mind, a devastating rebuke of Will’s dishonesty. Chris provides a substantive confrontation of Will’s deception on science on Global Cooling in the 1970s, global ice coverage and its implications for understanding climate change, and whether there has been global warming since 1998. (My take on these: Will-ful Deceit: Three Blunt Examples.) and a call for taking some of the best of scientific practice into the common discourse on issues of science.

Readers and commentators must learn to share some practices with scientists — following up on sources, taking scientific knowledge seriously rather than cherry-picking misleading bits of information, and applying critical thinking to the weighing of evidence. That, in the end, is all that good science really is. It’s also what good journalism and commentary alike must strive to be — now more than ever.

Let’s be honest. If it were only Chris’ piece, it would be too easy for ‘unsure’ (and there are actual ‘unsure’ people out there) to fall into a ‘he says, she says’ attitude — one journalist says one thing, and the other says another. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in-between. But, it isn’t only Chris’ word against Will’s (deceit).

On the facing page, the letter from letter from Michel Jarraud, Secretary General, World Meteorological Organization, which is an organization that Will used as an authority to state that there has been no global warming for the past decade. Jarraud very bluntly refutes Will. The first two paragraphs of this letter:

Data collected over the past 150 years by the 188 members of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) through observing networks of tens of thousands of stations on land, at sea, in the air and from constellations of weather and climate satellites lead to an unequivocal conclusion: The observed increase in global surface temperatures is a manifestation of global warming. Warming has accelerated particularly in the past 20 years.

It is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record — as was done in a recent Post column [“Dark Green Doomsayers,” George F. Will, op-ed, Feb. 15] — and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.

This is a clear and strong statement from the head of a major scientific institution, directly and powerfully refuting a common global warming denier framing.

While Chris OPED is powerful, at the end of the day, Chris is a “journalist” (a damn fine one, but …), Jarraud speaks with authority … an authority that Will seeks to stand on in his deception. It is important that the scientific community stand up and speak out clearly when someone abuses their reputations and authority as openly as George Will.

NOTE: This is an interesting case study for all who read these “pages”. Without the blogosphere, with a systematic, high-quality, interactive discussion and dissection of Will’s serial deception, it is unlikely that The Post would have been embarrassed into publishing anything on the issue. Chris’ OPED is, again, quite good and the following comment is not meant to take anything away from it. There have been, over the past five weeks, a good number of extremely high quality discussions of Will’s deceit. For an annotated bibliography (of sorts) of 10s of blog posts on The Will Affair, see The Will Affair … Struggling to keep up.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 George F. Will goes platinum « Greenfyre’s // Mar 30, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    […] Post Editorial Board Admits Error in The Will Affair … implicitly […]

  • 2 The 1970’s Ice Age lie, co-starring George Will and James Inhofe « Greenfyre’s // Mar 30, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    […] Post Editorial Board Admits Error in The Will Affair … implicitly […]

  • 3 Will Writes, Will Whines // Apr 2, 2009 at 7:34 am

    […] Post Editorial Board Admits Error in The Will Affair … implicitly […]

  • 4 Washington Post’s Willfully Civil War // Apr 9, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    […] the editorial editor, Fred Hiatt, an additional (deceitful) Will column, and publication of both a substantive OPED and a letter to the editor on the same day dissecting Will’s deceit. For annotated links to much of this material, see: The Will Affair … struggling to keep up. For […]

  • 5 Hiatt Again Stands Up For Will-Ful Deceit // Apr 30, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    […] dissent from within The Washington Post, dissent that has gone public in many ways, and with the Post editorial board implicitly having rebuked George Will’s repeated Will-ful deceit in multiple ways, Washington Post opinion page editor […]

  • 6 POSTal Schizophrenia re Climate Science strikes again // Feb 14, 2010 at 9:33 am

    […] page will publish an absolutely dishonest piece, be challenged to such an extent that they will publish multiple letters (including from misquoted scientists/scientific institutions) calling …, and then give George “Will-ful Deceit” Will (for example) column inches to repeat the […]