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Mea culpa: I trusted George Will and Washington Post fact checking

April 9th, 2009 · 7 Comments

Writing mea culpas and apologizing for errors isn’t necessarily the most joyous thing for a writer, analyst, commentator to do. But, standing up and admitting error and seeking to learn from faults is a fundamental basic obligation that an author has in their implied contract with their readers. And, for myself, my own ethical standards. Thus, for those who wish to notice, let me take a moment to write a mea culpa. In multiple posts, I made an error. I referred to the “University of Illinois Arctic Climate Research Center” when, in fact, there is no such institution. Getting names right is a basic thing, that first check-mark to be notched by any fact-checking organization. As with many others, I relied on the professionalism of The Washington Post‘s fact checkers and George F Will’s research staff and wrote posts using “Arctic Climate Research Center” without assuring that there was such an actual institution. I apologize for relying on The Washington Post and George Will to actually get names right.

QUICK BACKGROUNDER/REMINDER: On February 15, George Will published a deceitful column on Global Warming. Unlike past events, this set off a chain of blogosphere critiques that led to journalism critiques of Will, responses from both the Post’s ombudsman and 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. In this past week, five Washington Post staff members have gone public with their concerns about Will’s truthiness and the Post’s (mishandling) of The Will Affair. For annotated links to much of this material, see: The Will Affair … struggling to keep up. For additional sources, see Dylan Otto Krider and Greenfyre’s George F Will goes platinum.

Other corrections statements around the web about this issue

James Hrynyshyn wrote a truly excellent piece that I valued reading, Rule No. 1 of journalism (and blogging)

Back when I was an editor of a small-town community weekly, I had a bumper sticker affixed to one of my office walls with a simple message: “ASSUME NOTHING.” One of my predecessors had left it behind. I really should get a new one because, like even the best journalists and bloggers, I need to be reminded of that cardinal rule, and regularly. …

[T]here’s nothing petty about getting names correct. It is something that every responsible journalist should make a top priority. And there is really no excuse for not doing so. I’ve corrected my blog post, and my like-minded colleagues in the blogosphere have as well. Have Asher, Tomlinson and Will? Not the last time I checked. And that’s the difference between those who are truly interested in getting at the truth, and those who only want to push an ideological wedge between their readers and reality.

All of which brings up a question that is being asked more and more frequently these days: Has the blogosphere become more responsible than the mainstream media?

Carl Zimmer, The Loom, Discover, Correction

In several posts in my series on George Will’s misleading claims about global warming in the Washington Post, I have referred to the “Arctic Climate Research Center” at the University of Illinois. It has been brought to my attention that no such center actually exists. Instead, there is a group of scientists at the University of Illinois who conduct research on climate in the Arctic…

The phrase “Arctic Climate Research Center” is apparently the concoction of Michael Asher in a January 1 Daily Tech post. George Will has stated that he based his (erroneous) claims about global sea ice on Asher’s post. I can only assume he also got the fictional center from the same source. In writing my own posts on this controversy, I conducted a Google search on the name and ended up on a page with the banner “Arctic Climate Research at the University of Illinois.”

As with any error, I regret this oversight. I am now adding clarifications to all the erroneous posts. …

[H]ave we really reached the point now where blogs [shudder] are becoming more conscientious about corrections than the editorial pages of the Washington Post?

Chris Mooney, The Intersection, Discover, I Made an Error. I Now Correct It.

it turns out that a lot of us got so wrapped up in debunking George Will’s serious errors about climate science that we were blinded to a much more mundane error, and thus unwittingly repeated it.

Dylan Otto Krider, Skepticism Examiner, George Will’s critics issue correction

A remarkable thing happened today: scientists and journalists who have demanded a correction from Will have had to issue their own.

Brad Johnson, The Wonkroom, To The Washington Post Editors: George Will’s ‘Arctic Climate Research Center’ Is A Right-Wing Fabrication seems to have been the first to note and write on this error. His conclusion, to a must read post:

Despite publishing criticism of factual errors and distortions in “Dark Green Doomsayers” by Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander, science journalist Chris Mooney, Secretary General of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization Michel Jarraud, Post blogger Andrew Freeman, and Post reporters Juliet Eilperin and Mary Beth Sheridan, the Washington Post has yet to issue a single correction for Will’s column, syndicated in dozens of newspapers nationwide.

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