[Please Digg this post by clicking here. Updates are at the end. The NYT's Andy Revkin has a very good debunking of Will with detailed comments from leading cryosphere experts, "Experts: Big Flaw in Will's Ice Assertions." Sadly, Andy continues his refusal to correct the harm he did to Gore by equating him with Will. In a day or two, I will attempt to untarnish Gore's reputation to make clear that he did nothing whatsoever wrong -- intentionally or unintentionally -- as opposed to Will who has done multiple things wrong intentionally.]
“When a reputable newspaper lies, it poisons the community; every newspaper story becomes suspect,” declared a New York Times editorial. “Great publications magnify the voice of any single writer. Thus, when their editors or publishers want or need to know a source for what they print, they have to know it and be able to assure the community or the courts that they do. Where this is not now the rule, let this sad affair at least have the good effect of making it the rule.” That editorial was published on April 17, 1981 about the transgressions of a Washington Post reporter named Janet Cooke [who fabricated a story, which the Post later submitted for a Pulitzer Prize "despite the growing signs of problems" with the story's veracity].
Incomprehensibly, the Washington Post — after being roundly criticized for having senior editors and fact-checkers (and then their ombudsman!) sign off on (and then defend) George Will’s error-riddled global warming column — has allowed George Will to reassert in a new column (here) that every single one of his falsehoods was factual. [For a point-by-point debunking of the original February 15 piece, see CP and Wonk Room and this joint letter to WP].
And in what seems to be Alice-in-Wonderland journalism, a senior editor at the Washington Post now asserts it is perfectly reasonable for a non-scientist Post writer to reinterpret a prestigious source’s scientific data to support his or her conclusion — after those sources have repeatedly stated that their data is consistent with the exact opposite conclusion and without telling readers of that disagreement. And not only did Will do that multiple times in his first piece — the Post still let him do it again after he was called on it by multiple writers (see Washington Monthly and CP).
Much as I would like to spend my time writing about the strategies needed to prevent business-as-usual warming of 5°C to 7°C, both of my parents were award-winning professional journalists, and I think this story is simply too important not to focus a maximum spotlight on.
I will go through Will’s new and old falsehoods at length here because, as I noted above, the NYT editorialized on the Post’s infamous Janet Cooke scandal, “When a reputable newspaper lies, it poisons the community; every newspaper story becomes suspect.” Just as with the Janet Cooke scandal, this is about a major Washington Post writer fabricating and misusing soucres.
Media Matters saw Will’s column in advance and debunked it here, showing how Will doubled down on his previous global warming distortions and cited a document on sea ice trends as evidence against human-caused global warming when that “document actually states that the sea ice data are consistent with the outcomes projected by climate-change models.” And Will cited the U.N. World Meteorological Organization [WMO] — with no source citation — saying “there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade,” when, as Media Matters showed, as recently as January 7, Agence France-Presse quoted WMO secretary general Michel Jarraud as saying, “The major trend is unmistakably one of warming.” I have similar quotes from WMO in my original post.
The abuse of sources in Will’s columns — signed off on and defended by the Post’s editors (and ombudsman) should be a cautionary tale equal to the Janet Cooke story. One can only assume, sadly, that given the controversy, Will’s new piece was as at least as fact-checked as the original, which, according to the Washington Post ombudsman was “checked by people he [Will] personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors” (see here).
And yet the fact-checkers let through a lie so egregious that it would seem to utterly vitiate the credibility of the Post all by itself. Will was allowed to publish the following statement: