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Hiatt Again Stands Up For Will-Ful Deceit

April 29th, 2009 · 7 Comments

Facing 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 Fred Hiatt was pitched a softball question in an online chat enabling him to undo some of the damage done to the paper’s credibility. Hiatt saw the pitch, swung, and struck another blow to any claims of journalistic integrity.

Boston: This doesn’t relate to Obama but would you care to address the whole George Will global warming column controversy? Is there any concern that lax standards for accuracy hurts the prestige of The Post opinion page more generally?

Fred Hiatt: Happy to, because we don’t have lax standards for accuracy. He addressed the factual challenges to his column in detail in a later column. In general we do careful fact checking. What people have mostly objected to is not that his data are wrong but that he draws wrong inferences. I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down.

Okay Fred:

1. Sadly, from all evidence, you do have “lax standards“. You aren’t even getting the basic facts right … or posting corrections when your writers get them wrong.

2. Will did not “address the factual challenges to his column in detail in a later column”. In fact, in that “later column”, Will misrepresented the challenges, repeated the misrepresentations, and added to them.

3. Let us be clear: many challenging Will’s Will-ful deceit stated quite explicitly that he was presenting false information (to claim it was “data” seems to be a Hiatt effort to boost Will’s credibility, as if there was real substance to his truthiness and deceit) even if what we “mostly object to [is] that he draws wrong inferences” and then makes outrageous and reckless statements using those “wrong inferences” to bolster his deceit. Will’s work contained many falsehoods and errors (three examples).

4. “Folks would be eager to engage in the debate …” Okay, Fred, let’s lay it out as to eager. In the past three months, I have sent four letters to the editor and to the Post’s Ombudsman. I have sent two unsolicited opinion pieces. And, I have sent you three emails asking for an opportunity to respond to these dishonesties. And, I am far from the only person to have done so. In response: the sound of silence.

More importantly, Fred, this is not about George Will or even about you, but about a desire for The Washington Post opinion section to stand up to the standards you set of “careful fact checking” and not having “lax standards of accuracy”.

The Washington Post is an institution with a long, proud history which is not strengthened by arrogant defensiveness about the indefensible.

Hat tip to Media Matters for picking this up and to Brad Johnson, at the Wonkroom, for another excellent piece on The Will Affair. See also Zachary Roth at Talking Points Memo and Dylan Otto Krider.

NOTE: You have to wonder whether Hiatt cares that his behavior has made The Post a laughing stock across those who follow journalism ethics. See, for example, this 14 April 09 Guardian piece: George Will’s global meltdown: The venerable Washington Post columnist’s climate change denial is taking its toll on his newspaper’s credibility.

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Tags: climate change · Global Warming · journalism

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