The Washington Post, abandoning any journalistic standards, lets George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me three times, shame on the media.

In a move that calls into question the journalistic integrity of the entire Washington Post editorial staff — especially editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, who should be fired — the newspaper has published a third disinformation-pushing op-ed by George Will “Climate Change’s Dim Bulbs.”

The distortions and disinformation in Will’s earlier two pieces have been widely criticized and debunked (see “In a blunder reminiscent of Janet Cooke scandal, the Washington Post lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones“).

Indeed, the WP published a devastating critique by the World Meteorological Organization on the “misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge” in using WMO data from one year to try to “invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects” — along with an op-ed making the same exact point (see “Washington Post publishes two strong debunkings of George Will’s double dose of disinformation“).

Why on earth would the Washington Post publish a long letter by the WMO Secretary General (here) last Saturday, explaining how his organizations’ work was misused by Will, and then let Will publish this sentence today:

Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998.

Does the Washington Post editorial staff care that Will is playing them for fools? Does the Post have any idea whatsoever how amateurish this makes them look, like some high school newspaper.

Why does the Post bother publishing letters to the editor if the content of those letters apparently mean nothing whatsoever to the Post itself?

Let me reprint the bulk of the letter the Post published on Saturday:

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 [by Will] — and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.

The difference between climate variability and climate change is critical, not just for scientists or those engaging in policy debates about warming. Just as one cold snap does not change the global warming trend, one heat wave does not reinforce it. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the global average surface temperature has risen 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit.

Evidence of global warming has been documented in widespread decreases in snow cover, sea ice and glaciers. The 11 warmest years on record occurred in the past 13 years.

While variations occur throughout the temperature record, shorter-term variations do not contradict the overwhelming long-term increase in global surface temperatures since 1850, when reliable meteorological recordkeeping began. Year to year, we may observe in some parts of the world colder or warmer episodes than in other parts, leading to record low or high temperatures. This regional climate variability does not disprove long-term climate change. While 2008 was slightly cooler than 2007, partially due to a La Ni±a event, it was nonetheless the 10th-warmest year on record.

So what is going to happen now?

Will the Washington Post publish another letter from WMO Secretary General debunking Will’s anti-scientific claim and its misuse of WMO data. And then let Will do it again. Then publish another WMO letter.

Is the Post in the business of trying to inform its readers or does it just publish anything anybody writes? Does the editorial staff of the Post exercise any editorial judgment whatsoever?

You can write to Andrew Alexander at, but I can’t imagine that would do much good (see “The Post ombudsman whitewashes George Will’s columns, the editors, and his own role“).

Finally, most of Will’s piece is an attack on compact fluorescent light bulbs. You won’t be surprised to learn that it is as misinformed as everything else Will writes on this subject, but I will let others take a first crack at responding in detail — see Get Energy Smart Now. Yes, as is the case with of all new products rushed to market — in this case, very low cost compact fluorescents — not all of them are high quality. They will get better, but they still save consumers big money and reduce pollution — and the tiny amount of mercury they contain locked away in their hardware is infinitely preferable to the vast quantities of mercury released into the air from coal consumption.

The bottom line about conservatives deniers like Will is that they have no plan at all to protect the health and well-being of your children and grandchildren and the next 50 generations from catastrophic global warming impacts: Hell and High Water. They just have lies and disdain for all things green and efficient. They don’t want to conserve a livable climate, natural resources or anything at all but the status quo.

The bottom line about the Post is that it would appear to have no journalistic standards at all for what it publishes on its editorial page and its letters page. Let me end with what Hilzoy of the Washington Monthly wrote about Will’s first (!) piece:

Where I come from, when someone writes something of the form: “P is not evidence for Q, and here’s why”, it is dishonest to quote that person saying P and use that quote as evidence for Q. If one of my students did this, I would grade her down considerably, and would drag her into my office for an unpleasant talk about basic scholarly standards. If she misused quotes in this way repeatedly, I might flunk her.

The Washington Post editorial staff has flunked journalism 101.

I repeat, editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, should be fired.

41 Responses to The Washington Post, abandoning any journalistic standards, lets George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages

  1. ecostew says:

    Nice discussion and covers mercury:

  2. Russ says:

    I guess we have to conclude that with these editors we have an extreme version of the two-equal-sides-to-every-issue bias.

    They evidently really think whether or not global average temperatures have increased over the last 10 years is a matter of opinion, like arguing about the morality of the capital gains rate.

  3. Jeff Green says:

    I believe that this is writing to get the greatest readership. Controversey without taking sides stirs up competition and involvement in the newspaper foormat. This trumps scientific truth.

  4. Jeff Green says:

    Dear Ombudsman.

    George Will is nothing but wrong about global warming. But I bellieve I understand why you allow this very low standard of journalistic truth. You are desperate for readership and there’s nothing like controversy over a dangerous future like global warming.

    What are you in the journalistic search for truth? Could this be one of the reasons newspapers are failing.

    Anything less than truth is a lower standard of journalism.

  5. JW says:

    My Theory: Fred Hiatt is terrified to take sides on the Strauss vs. Habermas cage match.

  6. Lou Grinzo says:


    Bingo. As I keep saying, many US media outlets have devolved to the point where they’re so desperate for readers or viewers that they are willingly assuming the role of arms merchant. They’re so focused on their very short term finances that they don’t care which side is right or wrong, or even what service they’re providing to the public, as long as they get to profit from a protracted, heated battle.

    I know people don’t like this analogy, and I don’t like it, either. It’s a disgusting image applied to a profession I once had great respect for (and still do, on those rare occasions when I see it done right). But until someone comes up with a better explanation for this horrific pattern of behavior we’re seeing at the WaPo and many other outlets, I think we have to assume this arms merchant model fits the available data.

  7. ZS says:

    “Because all fluorescents contain mercury, a toxic metal, they must never be put in the trash, so Home Depot and other chains offer bins for disposing of dangerous bulbs. Driving to one of these disposal points might not entirely nullify the bulbs’ environmental benefits.”

    A world of people with George Wills’ rationality would be truly frightening.

    George Will world:

    “Oh, look honey, one our fluorescents is burned out. Let’s put dinner on hold, hop into our SUV and immediately head over to Head Depot to do one thing only – recycle one fluorescent bulb!”

    What actually happens:

    Your fluorescent burns out, you put it aside, and next time you’re heading out ANYWAY to a place where you can recycle it, you take it along with you.

  8. John Mashey says:

    CFRL’s: and they burn-out *so* often. We put in dozens of them when they first started appearing in hardware stores, which must be 10? 15 years? ago.
    We’ve had one burnout.

  9. Dano says:

    This is Corporate Media, dancing the gavotte for their corporate masters.

    Come now. What else would you expect? Get real.



  10. John Mashey says:

    WaPo brings in money. How does it do that?
    a) Circulation
    b) Advertising.

    a) If anyone gets the print edition, think about canceling it, with a note to the editors saying so.

    b) OR, look at the advertisers. See if you can find someone who might either be sympathetic to pulling their ads, or, to write that continued ads in WaPo will cause you to stop buying their products & services.

    How about posting:
    a) An quick analysis of WaPo’s revenues.
    b) A sample of major advertisers; pick a couple that might well respond to a letter-writing campaign.

    At least in broadcast, companies have sometimes pulled ads from shows.

    Put another way: there has been enough complaint about this to be pretty sure this isn’t an accident. Newspapers make mistakes, so be it, but this sure looks like a pattern. I don’t get WaPo, or I’d do this.

  11. TomG says:

    George Will has painted himself so tightly into his little corner that his shoes are starting to change colour…and it ain’t green.

  12. dhogaza says:

    Your fluorescent burns out, you put it aside, and next time you’re heading out ANYWAY to a place where you can recycle it, you take it along with you.

    Like … ummm … when you go buy the replacement bulb?

    Just as you would when an incandescent bulb burns out?

    Gosh, why didn’t George Will think of that?

  13. Rick C says:

    Q: How can you tell when George Will is lying?

    A: Anytime he opens his mouth.

    Will’s ignorance of Global Warming is legion. The earth has warmed since 1998 and continues to do so in spite of the nano ice age we’re experiencing.

    Additionally, I have been using CFLs for 15 years. When I bought them back then they were $26 each and they did take a couple of minutes to warm up and yes the color temperature was a bit on the cold blue side. Today you can buy a pack of 2 GE CFL’s (I do not own stock in, work for or endorse GE products) for $6 a pack. They turn on instantly and the light they emit is indistinguishable from light from incandescent bulbs but which use only 16% of the power for the same lumen level output.

    They do contain a trace amount of mercury. It’s about 4 milligrams that’s less than 1% found in old thermometers. If you handle them responsibly they’re safe and you will be preventing considerably more mercury from entering the environment from coal fired electrical generating plants.

    George Will is impossible to embarrass. On a Sunday chat show where he appeared with Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman, hosted by George Stephanopoulos, Will argued that Roosevelt’s New Deal programs made the Great Depression worse. To whit Krugman had to school Will on the fact that the New Deal programs reduced the unemployment rate from 25% to 15% by 1936 but they went up because Roosevelt was listening more to the ‘balance the budget’ mantras of the Republicans and blue blood Dems and unemployment went up again. Nice try Will but NO BONE FOR YOU!

    Will’s job is safe because no matter how many times you are wrong you will always find a home in the MSM. Just ask Bill Kristol.

  14. When physicist Wolfgang Pauli read bad science papers he would often exclaim “This isn’t right, this isn’t even wrong!”

    George Will isn’t even wrong. Washington Post tsk, tsk.

  15. Andy Gunther says:

    Mr. Ombudsman:

    Maybe I’m misinformed, but I thought on part of your job to make sure that your newspaper publishes information that is true, and when it makes a mistake, learns from this mistake and makes sure it does not continue to misinform its readers. I was therefore heartened to see the letter to the editor (Understanding Climate Change, Saturday, March 21, 2009) in which the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) explained the inaccuracies and incorrect interpretation of their data contained in Mr. Will’s column (“Great Green Doomsdayers”).

    Yet today Mr. Will’s column (Climate Change’s Dim Bulbs) continues to misinform your readers by again implying that the earth must be cooling since 1998 was the warmest year on record. Given what the WMO published in your paper last week, it is clear that Mr. Will is attempting to intentionally misinform your readers regarding the implications of the temperature records and the WMO’s interpretation of that data.

    This is just another version of lying, and I’m stunned that you consider it appropriate for the Washington Post. There is active scientific debate about many aspects of global climate change, but the trends in the average surface temperature of the earth is not one of those aspects.

    It is no wonder the newspaper industry is have such a hard time maintaining readership.

    Andy Gunther

  16. George Will is one of the funniest writers working in comedy today – and I don’t just mean the hysterically humorous way he dresses and speaks – or his deadpan, Jack Benny-style facial expressions. I’m talking about his material – it’s brilliant satire.

    Who among us has not had soy milk explode out of our nose like an underground Tonga volcano while reading some of George’s absurd and outlandish jokes?

    I’m afraid many of you are missing out on valuable endorphins by mistakenly taking Will ‘O The Wasp seriously.

    Enjoy his yucks the way the man intends for you to do and don’t be afraid to laugh out loud every time his name gets mentioned.

  17. Sam says:

    You should publicly offer to debate Will!

  18. DB says:

    “Oh, look honey, one our fluorescents is burned out. Let’s put dinner on hold, hop into our SUV and immediately head over to Head Depot to do one thing only – recycle one fluorescent bulb!”

    What actually happens:

    Your fluorescent burns out, you put it aside, and next time you’re heading out ANYWAY to a place where you can recycle it, you take it along with you.
    Or, more likely, it gets chucked in the trash can.

  19. Dan McCuaig says:

    Maybe the column was meant to have been published yesterday (April 1st)?

  20. John Ramming says:

    California requires a number of items to be kept out of household trash and disposed of as hazardous waste. (4′ and 8′ Fluorescent lights, CFLs, batteries, e-Waste, and a wide variety of chemicals) The problem that George Will imagines of single trips to dispose of single items is easily addressed. For the last few years, all the employees where I work (and their extended families) can bring in their household hazardous waste items and place in collection bins. A few times per year one of us takes all the bins to the collection site.

  21. DavidCOG says:

    Not only does Will cherry pick his climate data points, he cherry picks his definition of words:

    > Fervent. 1. Hot, burning, glowing, boiling.

    Could it be that America is going to “fervently” engage in talks on global warming means with: enthusiasm, zeal, conviction, persistence, passion?

    The mental process that must be at work inside the heads of these people is completely alien to me. Knowingly, repeatedly, brazenly lying – for what? Attention? Money? Political ideology point scoring?

    A quick dig shows that WaPo is no stranger to journalistic incompetence and dishonesty:

  22. JW says:

    George Will isn’t interested in science. He’s interested in culture warring against the dirty hippies. Hippies being, anyone with a brain who would speak up and correct George Will and his editors.

    What, you’re being “fervent”? QED: you are a dirty hippie. So sit down, shut up and stop bugging me and Fred Hiatt, so we can continue broadcasting falsehoods to the heartland and the beltway elite who worship me.

  23. SecularAnimist says:

    George Will is not playing the Post editors for fools. They are all playing on the same team: ExxonMobil’s team.

    Fred Hiatt has obviously decided that in a time when major print newspapers are struggling to stay in business, while at the same time the fossil fuel industry’s campaign of deceit and denial to undermine public support for legislative action to reduce CO2 emissions is kicking into overdrive, that it is “good business” for The Washington Post to join the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal as an aggressive purveyor of ExxonMobil-scripted lies about the reality of anthropogenic global warming.

    George Will and Fred Hiatt are bought-and-paid-for liars. They knowingly, deliberately lie — for money. It’s as simple as that.

  24. hapa says:

    a lot of will’s authority comes from his syndication.

  25. Robert says:

    If you’d rather not be counted as a click on WP’s site, Will’s pieces show up same day in ProQuest database (I’d assume the same for Ebsco’s).

    Most likely you have free access to one or both through the public or school library.

    It would seem he is being a bit selective in his use of OED. Even MW gives a second definition: “exhibiting or marked by great intensity of feeling”.

  26. Ben Lieberman says:

    The Boston Globe does much the same thing with Jeff Jacoby. He publishes poorly researched drivel that appears to be cobbled together from a few right wing web sites, and they run it. I think the Globe has in error decided that generating a torrent of criticism is the same thing as making an actual contribution to journalism. The paper is shedding circulation, its possible demise is being openly discussed, and they publish this stuff because they think outraging readers is a measure of relevant debate.

  27. It is good that George Will has the courage (or ignorance, or …) to give voice to the denialist position. George Will talking climate science in the Washington Post has the shock and awe of an intellectual train wreck. You get the same amusement as with Jay Leno’s Jaywalking sketches (where he interviews typical college students about history and science), or a Sarah Palin interview. It’s good entertainment, and isn’t that what a newspaper these days is supposed to be?

  28. John Mashey says, “Again: who advertises there?”
    Unfortunately, that’s precisely the problem.

  29. John Mashey says:

    Well, some combination of folks seems to have spent $100M on print advertising 4Q08. From your website, it looks like GM & oil&gas.

    It would be a wonderful service if someone who normally got the WaPo print edition would spend a few minutes/day for a month and record {advertiser, color-vs-B/W, and size) for ads >= 1/4 page, and then summarize that. Alternatively, someone might spend a few hours in a library and summarize March 2009 that way.

  30. CapitalClimate volunteers to do Mashey’s suggestion for the full-page ads.

  31. P.S. If you are the same John Mashey who worked on development of the MIPS architecture, I really enjoyed teaching it.

  32. Deep Climate says:

    You think your “Post” is bad – you should try ours. The (Canadian) National Post features a whole stable of cretinous climate commentators, including one Lorne Gunter, who takes all the staple anti-AGW “arguments” and then mangles them:

  33. Dunc says:

    “Is the Post in the business of trying to inform its readers?”

    No. As others have observed, they’re in the business of selling advertising space. The news media do not exist to inform the public – that idea is merely part of their own advertising, and no more reliable than the notion that Our Amazing New Product will cure cancer, restore hair loss, clean your bathroom without scrubbing, and taste great on toast.

  34. The list for April through today is now posted:
    WaPo Wall of Climate Shame

  35. John Mashey says:

    CapitalClimate: thanks for the work.
    of those Home Depot might be a good choice to contact, given <a href=”” and Energy Star note . A company like HD has widely-dispersed stores, and hence has a fairly broad geographic community connection (~2200 stores, ~$70-80B revenue), which not all companies do.

    a) I have no idea whether that ad is part of a national placement, or a regional one, or even a relatively local one. For example, the space buy may be placed though some national ad agency … or a bunch of stores inside the Beltway may have gotten together to pay for the WaPo ad.

    Here’s their Leadership Team, of whom
    “Brad Shaw
    Senior Vice President
    Corporate Communications & External Affairs”
    is probably located at HQ near Atlanta:

    The Home Depot, Inc.
    2455 Paces Ferry Rd. NW
    Atlanta, GA 30339-4024
    GA Tel. 770-433-8211
    Toll Free 800-430-3376
    Fax 770-384-2356

    b) An angry letter to the local HD store may not be useful.
    [Personally, I’ve often shopped at the local HD, had good service, and think their eco-advertising is at least partly real, not just greenwash, and it is rarely useful to blast a local employee for something they didn’t do. On the other hand, passing along a message sometimes works. Put another way, I generally like HD, although I haven’t own their stock for years.]

    c) But if I were in DC area, or were at least a WaPo subscriber, I might send a friendly note to HD that says something like:

    “I think you are trying on the eco front, but HD is advertising in a newspaper that seems to have given up on facts regarding global warming, which HD may not realize, and newspaper choice may well be made via ad agencies. Still, I’m not encouraged to buy from companies that make a big deal of eco-friendliness and still advertise there. “Summarize Will affair.

    If you live in D.C. area, you might make up a little note to drop off at nearby HD’s, saying “I know it’s not your fault, but…”

    Go to Google Maps.

    In Search box, enter: home depot loc: Washington, DC

    Which shows 11 HD’s inside the Beltway, and a similar number in the area outside.

    Search box: lowes loc: Washington, DC

    will show that Lowes is an alternative….

    I am perfectly happy for newspapers to offer lots of opinions, whether I agree with them or not. I’m not happy when they give platforms to people offering at-best-ill-informed and clearly wrong opinions about science. I’ve long argued with local newspapers to discourage them from doing so,sometimes successfully. See what to do about poor science reporting.

    Ad revenues matter to papers; most blog opinions *don’t*. Image matters to (some) companies, and you will have more luck affecting companies that might actually care.

    And as for MIPS comment, thanks! As far as I know, no other person has the same name,as the surname is extremely rare, but I certainly was one of the MIPS designers.

  36. Lepus says:

    After a suitable period of mourning over the missing WMD, George Wills decides to become on himself.

  37. Nick says:

    Given that the WaPO’s editorial policy is to ‘teach the controversy’ in order to increase traffic on their web-site, it is now incumbent on the management to demonstrate to shareholders that this extra traffic is definitely translating into improved revenue for advertisers. Because most of the extra readers ain’t buying..

  38. jcwinnie says:

    Joe, Joe, Joe, ya gotta consider the audience. If you have been working hard all day in the halls of Congress spreading the Clean Coal Lie, do you want to come home and see the Truth in your newspaper?

  39. Weekend update: Target, GM (again!), Safeway:
    WaPo Wall of Climate Shame

  40. Maxx57 says:

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