Climate

Washington Post reporters take unprecedented step of contradicting columnist George Will in a news article

The Washington Post published a terrific article, “New Data Show Rapid Arctic Ice Decline,” on page A3 today by reporters Juliet Eilperin and Mary Beth Sheridan.  The piece begins by noting that “the region is warming more rapidly than scientists had expected.”

In a stinging rebuke to columnist George Will and editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, it contains this remarkable paragraph:

The new evidence — including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s — contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.

Wow!  I have never seen a major newspaper so overtly contradict the lies misstatements by one of its own columnists in its news pages (as opposed to its editorial page). I’d be interested if any readers have seen anything like this before.

But this isn’t just a rebuke to Will, who, after all, is a widely debunked anti-scientific extemist when it comes to global warming (see “Is George Will the most ignorant national columnist?” and “Washington Post publishes two strong debunkings of George Will’s double dose of disinformation“).

This is a slap at the man who, though know idealogue, keeps letting Will publish his anti-scientific disinformation, the man whose actions have truly tarnished the reputation of the Washington Post op-ed page and letters column, editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt (see “In a blunder reminiscent of Janet Cooke scandal, the Washington Post lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones” and “The Washington Post, abandoning any journalistic standards, lets George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages“).

Serious journalists at the Post are so concerned about how this has all tarnished the newspaper’s reputation that another Post journalist, Andrew Freedman, has also today published a harsh rebuke to Will: Will Misleads Readers on Climate Science – Again,” which concludes:

George Will’s recent columns demonstrate a very troubling pattern of misrepresentation of climate science. They raise some interesting questions about journalism, specifically concerning the editing process. Editors and fact checkers are there to ensure that publications like the Washington Post don’t print factually incorrect information. But how much oversight should there be of opinion pieces that address scientific subjects such as climate change, particularly when they are written by persons with little scientific training? Is there any additional role for editors to play in ensuring that scientific facts are not manipulated into making assertions that most scientists say are misleading, and essentially inaccurate? Or is it necessary to err on the side of allowing opinion writers flexibility in how they use facts to present their point of view, regardless of whether their argument may be viewed as flawed in the eyes of the mainstream scientific community?

Kudos to the real science and environmental journalists at the Post for speaking out against his efforts to misinformed the public and thereby delay the actions needed to protect billions of people from the misery of enduring the harshest global warming impacts: Hell and High Water.

But none of it will matter much if Hiatt simply continues to let Will continue to mislead the public.

12 Responses to Washington Post reporters take unprecedented step of contradicting columnist George Will in a news article

  1. Jim Beacon says:

    This is an important question for journalists and newspapers (online and print) — but it shouldn’t be, because all this was decided long ago. An opinion page is just what it says: The place to put stuff that doesn’t belong in the news sections because it *is* opinion. However, the fact that the article in question is clearly labeled “opinion” does NOT relieve the newspaper or web site from the responsibility of fact-checking the opinion piece. If the opinion writer has stated easily-checked facts wrong (either accidentally or deliberately), then the editor then has the responsibility of contacting the author and instructing changes be made to the piece, or changing the piece himself to match the facts, or simply not publishing the piece. To go ahead and publish incorrect facts just because the article is labeled an opinion piece is not an option for responsible publishers.

    You expect this kind of sloppy editorial control at the average web site, but for it to happen in the Washington Post is simply unacceptable — and in the print edition nonetheless! I have noticed the same thing happening in the online versions of ALL major newspaper sites from the NY Times to the LA Times web sites. It seems the institutions are not bothering to apply their print standards to their online editions. That’s a really bad precedent and certainly does not bode well for the future of the so-called “information age”.

  2. Anne says:

    It is interesting that reporters of a paper would challenge their own columnist and the paper’s editor would allow it. It’s about time. George Will is a bag of hot air, too self-inflated to be of any real use to anyone. We should call him out and demand that he reveal his factual sources. We have to believe he is getting coached from, perhaps, CEI, Heartland, the Chamber of Commerce, or maybe even the Viscount Monckton of Brenchley has his ear. If I were in charge, I’d put him on an administrative leave, and send him on a career-advancement trip to Antarctica to watch the ice melt.

  3. MarkB says:

    “…contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will”

    If I could nitpick a bit, the wording here is misleading. It leaves readers with the impression that there is a controversy over the Arctic sea ice trends. One piece of data says but contradicts another piece of data that says something else. In fact, it is the false claims by George Will and other propagandists that are being contradicted, not the data.

  4. John Mashey says:

    So, people, especially WaPo subscribers should make sure to write to the reporters and/or their editors expressing Appreciation, see A2 and A3.

    And speaking of appreciation, for JM: “Preview” really helps…

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    It is clear that Fred Hiatt has decided it is “good business” for the Washington Post editorial page to join the Wall Street Journal editorial page as an aggressive purveyor of ExxonMobil-funded denialist propaganda — no matter what some lowly reporters write in their news pages.

  6. Deep Climate says:

    This is a wlecome development. But the Post still doesn’t have it quite right.

    “.. contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will.”

    This implies that the “data” cited by Will was valid, but has been contradicted by more recent or complete findings. But then again it is probably too much to ask the Post to print as fact that Will presented misleading information, taken from sources known to be purveyors of disinformation.

    The Freedman column is very interesting, not the least because of the example he discusses. For me, the “global warming stopped in 1998” meme is a litmus test. Any scientist or analyst who ascribes to it, or even acknowledges its plausibility (like “honest broker” Pielke Jr), is simply not credible.

  7. Deep Sixer says:

    The Post’s science editor Nils Bruzelius who chose to chide George Will has some explaining to do. This is last year’s low-ice story recycled, as the 2+ year old ice is the same ice which was being reported last year as a minimum 1+ year old ice.

    If that science editor looked at the article he should have noticed the one-year-old ice number was missing. That number is an increase by 25%. Why aren’t they making a fuss about a huge increase in ice which is one year old?

  8. Steve Bloom says:

    Joe, Toles also has a cartoon (h/t Kit Stolz).

  9. Steve Bloom says:

    Deep Sixer, the one year old ice is also quite vulnerable to melting, the point being that overall vulnerability has increased.

  10. jorleh says:

    When speaking of Arctic ice there must be two stories to tell: the area and the thickness of ice. The volume of ice is the point. Of course we must have some more technology for precise measurement of thickness, but I think we have all tools for that too.

  11. David Raikow says:

    Speaking of George Will and the arctic, I recently posted a piece examining Mr. Will’s statement: “The warming that is reasonably projected might be problematic, although not devastating, for the much-fretted-about polar bears, but it will be beneficial for other species. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment anticipates increasing species richness.” It’s from a piece he wrote two years ago, but problematic nonetheless. I think it stems from the misconception that the goal of envrionmentalism is to always maximize diversity.

  12. papertiger says:

    The new evidence — including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s — contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.

    So Nasa has invented a satellite that can “see” through 9 feet of ice?
    The way I heard it the cryosphere today uses old military satellites designed to detect Soviet missile launchs and they are stymied by as little as a millimeter of surface water on an ice field, reading it as open water rather then as a film of surface melt.

    Then there was Fat Albert’s movie where he said they had to involk the freedom of information act to get sonar soundings of the Arctic ice pack from the Navy in order to guestimate how thick the ice was that way.

    Wonder why they didn’t tell the Catlin Arctic Survey group? As you know they are on a five year mission to the pole (at the rate they are going – :P) drilling ice cores in the multi year ice as they go to find out how thick it is. Kind of mean letting those people freeze to death for no good reason.

    And now we find out of the blue from a couple of newsettes that satellites can “see” through 9 ft of solid ice. Interesting.

    Could it be Mary & Juliet are just making stuff up? Sounds likely.
    I’d put it at the 95% confidence level.