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Washington Post’s Willfully Civil War

April 9th, 2009 · 7 Comments

The Washington Post clearly has a major internal battle under way. Clear because the discussions and disputes are spilling so clearly into public. This week, five different Washington Post employees (four in The Washington Post or on WashingtonPost.COM) have directly criticized George Will’s Will-ful Deceit in what has escalated into The Will Affair.

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. 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.

What has happened this past week?

On 3 April, the Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Tom Toles’ “Sketch” directly critiqued Will both for his original “irresponsible global warming column” and for Will’s April Fool’s (1 April) joke of a column attacking compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs with his typical shoddy and deceptive style.

On Tuesday, two Washington Post pieces sought to correct George Will’s deceitful statements in regards to global warming issues.

  • Andrew Freedman, Capital Weather Gang, Will Misleads Readers on Climate Science — Again, directly addresses The Will Affair and provides a Washington Post employee, on the record, documenting fault with George Will’s deceit.
  • Juliet Eilperin and Mary Beth Sheridan, New Data Show Rapid Arctic Ice Decline: Proportion of Thicker, More Persistent Winter Cover Is the Lowest on Record, begins: “The Arctic sea ice cover continues to shrink and become thinner, according to satellite measurements and other data released yesterday, providing further evidence that the region is warming more rapidly than scientists had expected.” They include in the article a direct comment about George Will, calling this report a direct contradiction of one of George Will’s deceits. As discussed after the fold, have to wonder whether there will be a correction to Eilperin’s and Sheridan’s story even though there has been no formal correction to George Will’s more egregious and repeated deceits.

These are discussed in detailed at WashPost corrects WashPost re Will-Ful Deceit… Will they need another correction as well?

And, last night, Washington Post Associate Editor Eugene Robinson criticized Will and the Post’s handling of The Will Affair on the Rachel Maddow show.

MADDOW: Eugene, I feel like factchecking politicians is a full-time job and it is a very fun one. But does it sort of feel like there is just more made up stuff in the daily back and forth of political news right now than usual?

ROBINSON: It certainly does, and it’s distressing. I think there’s a distinction here among the examples we cite. What George Will did was cherrypick a sentence in a report, be very persnickety in the way he parsed his sentences, and end up making it sound as if the report had said the exact opposite of what it actually said. He was persnickety enough that his editors, who happen to be my editors, felt he didn’t cross the line. I thought he did. And the ombudsman agreed with me, actually, and wrote about it in last Sunday’s paper.

Have to wonder what Fred Hiatt and George Will are thinking about now …

UPDATE:  Matt Yglesias did a post on the Toles’ cartoon with an excellent point:

It’s very good to see Post staff standing up to Will’s nonsense like this. But ultimately this is an issue for Fred Hiatt and Hiatt’s bosses at the top levels of the company. The newspaper shouldn’t be printing stuff that’s not true, refusing to correct it, and then printing other stuff criticizing the author of the un-true stuff. It shouldn’t be printing the untrue stuff in the first place, and if an error is pointed out it should be corrected. If Will refuses to acknowledge that he’s misleading people, the paper should get rid of him

See Zachary Roth, WaPo’s Anti-Will Uprising

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that there are people at the Post who want to make sure that it remains a source of reliable information about crucial topics in the news. It’s just too bad that — outside of Toles — the uprising doesn’t seem to have spread to Fred Hiatt’s op-ed page, which continues to give no indication it has any problem at all with Will’s writing.

Tags: climate change · environmental · journalism

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