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Memo to Post: If George Will quotes a lie, it’s still a lie

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"Memo to Post: If George Will quotes a lie, it’s still a lie"

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When New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called upon “young Americans” to “get a million people on the Washington Mall calling for a price on carbon,” another columnist, Mark Steyn, responded: “If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you’re graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade.”

There are lies, damn lies, Breakthrough Institute statistics, and then — at the very bottom, where you find the crap that is really hard to scrape off –  George Will columns, like the one quoted above.  Since the senior editors at the Washington Post continue to publish his long-debunked falsehoods with no caveat whatsoever, one can only assume that they mindlessly endorse every single word of bullshit he writes — and that they hold their readers and letter writers in utter disdain.

When we last left Will and the Post in April, they were once again repeating the disinformation that the globe hasn’t warmed in over a decade — even though they had just published a letter from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) blasting them for this very “misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge” (see “The Washington Post, abandoning any journalistic standards, lets George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages“).

Will is not inaccurately quoting WMO this time — he is just accurately quoting disinformation from the National Review, repeating the long-debunked myth that “there has been no global warming” for 11 years.  Yet the definitive global temperature record from U.S. climate experts would be that of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, which says the warmest year on record was 2005 — not 1998 (see here).  See also “Very warm 2008 makes this the hottest decade in recorded history by far.”

So by failing to put in any caveats or explanation, the Washington Post has managed to let George Will publish the same two outrageous lies in one sentence that two previous letters to the editor had already debunked (see “Washington Post publishes two strong debunkings of George Will’s double dose of disinformation“) — a journalistic first that editorial page editor Fred Hiatt can be proud of, if no one else.   Perhaps Hiatt will now publish three letters debunking Will, and then let Will publish three versions of the falsehood.

Let me come back to the caveats.  First, let’s note another falsehood that Will and the Post publish in the final paragraph:

Which could explain why the Mall does not reverberate with youthful clamors about carbon. And why, regarding climate change, the U.S. government, rushing to impose unilateral cap-and-trade burdens on the sagging U.S. economy, looks increasingly like someone who bought a closetful of platform shoes and bell-bottom slacks just as disco was dying.

[Note to young folks:  George Will and Fred Hiatt and the WashPost would seem to be mocking your commitment to climate action.]

Hmm.  Seems like the pantaloons-wearing George Will and Fred Hiatt and the WashPost have never heard of something called the Kyoto protocol, in which all the other rich countries in the world agreed to “unilaterally” impose emissions reductions on themselves — indeed, they went forward with the reductions even after the United States refused to do anything.  And the Europeans in particular “unilaterally” imposed a cap-and-trade system on themselves to meet the target (see “Europe poised to meet Kyoto target: Does this mean the much-maligned European Trading System is a success?“).  And yet this article explicitly states “On to Copenhagen!” — whose goal is a followup to Kyoto — so it would seem the author does know he’s spreading falsehoods.

But the disinformation machine that goes by the name of the Washington Post editorial page doesn’t mind letting its hundreds of thousands of readers believe the United States is the only country in the planet doing anything (or, in this case, thinking of doing something).   Nor does it mind letting its readers believe that public posturing by developing countries like China actually represents an accurate statement of what they are doing or are prepared to do.

But given the many self-inflicted wounds that Hiatt and Will have delivered to the Washington Post, I guess the other senior editors at the paper are suffering from some version of battered spouse syndrome, whereby they just can’t bear to let go of those who are slowly crushing the life out of their journalistic integrity.

I will end by reposting what the Post itself published from the WMO Secretary General (here):

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.

Duh.

The question is — why did the Post publish this letter in the first place, if it was going to let Will keep republishing again and again and again the same exact “misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge.”  Were they just trying to humor the WMO?  Is their letters column just a placebo that readers should ignore along with the rest of the editorial page? Some questionss do answer themselves.

I would say “shame on the Post,” but they are obviously shameless.

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31 Responses to Memo to Post: If George Will quotes a lie, it’s still a lie

  1. paulm says:

    Crime against humanity.

  2. Kastanj says:

    In a sense, yes. Sooner or later, a skeptic can no longer be said to be concerned about things like “slow and steady changes” or about not getting results for economic investments. At that point, their religious belief that Growth, Corporations and the Holy Capitalism can never have problematic consequences that need to be addressed by governments – or their equally ferocious commitment to hating environmental ideas and everything perceived as left-wing – takes precedence over the lives and welfare of billions of people who have barely polluted at all.

    That is, eschewing responsibility and letting your own desires trump the birthrights of your neighbor. The same people who whine about taxation and “the nanny state” are the same people who are ready to destroy the lives of others because of their inability to act responsibly. Just like the worst kind of religious people are the ones that subconsciously have forgotten the humility their god demands, the worst kind of neo-liberals are the ones that only cared for their philosophy and ideology as long as they could wield its doctrines against others.

    Pursuing all your desires as long as you never prevent others in their pursuits – is this not the axiom Rand, Reagan, Mises and the right-wing saints repeated over and over?

  3. Sable says:

    Joe asks: “The question is — why did the Post publish this letter in the first place, if it was going to let Will keep republishing again and again and again the same exact “misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge.“ [?]”

    ——

    The only things which come to mind are:

    1) It’s because of their notion of “journalistic fairness and balance” – presenting both sides of a controversy. Although one side in this argument has no evidence to back their claims, which leads to -

    2) It’s a cynical manipulation of an issue in order to profit by selling papers.

    3) They are irresponsible.

    4) They are ignorant.

    5) All of the above.

    Most (nearly all) of the establishment media in the USA and around the world has long since become a joke. Their pronouncements cover the range from the trivial and mind numbingly stupid, to dangerous misinformation and demagoguery, with little else of value.

  4. ken levenson says:

    All I’m waiting for is Will to pickup Lou Dobbs’ concern over where Obama was born. Amoral mfs all.
    thank god for Jon Stewart –
    http://tpmtv.talkingpointsmemo.com/?id=3019429&ref=fpblg
    - perhaps Jon could do a segment on Will and climate change????????????

  5. Jim Beacon says:

    A deliberate and factual falsehood is not called an “opinion”. It is called a lie.

    Would the Washington Post continue to print George Will’s so-called “opinion” column if he wrote that President Obama is not a natural born citizen of the United States but actually was born in Kenya and is therefore not the legal President of the United States?

    No, they would pull his ticket in a hot second for printing such a lie. But this lie about there being no global warming for the past 30 years is every bit as much of a bare-faced lie — something that can be PROVED to be a lie –and is not an “opinion” in any way.

    Printing this kind of thing cannot be put down to a paper trying to be “fair and balanced and print both sides of a controversy”. Not when every piece of scientific data from around the world clearly shows that the past 30 years has seen the most rapid acceleration of global warming in recorded history.

    There can be no question about it: The Washington Post has gone over to the dark side. Both it and George Will are indeed guilty of crimes against humanity.

  6. Sable says:

    @#2:

    Well said Kastanj. I would add that it’s more than just ideology – there is a deeply ingrained materialism in the first world – and no moral compass. Little or no restraint, nor sense of limits.

    The average householder in the developed world has no idea of how the “other half” ekes by. We take for granted our gadgets and endless conveniences, and easily forget or ignore that the fabulous wealth which fuels the engines of progress has largely been built by exploiting the politics, resources, and peoples of the rest of the world. Most of the people talking about this in developed countries are marginalized and ignored.

    But I don’t want to demonize Americans, Europeans, or the Japanese, etc. – myopia, ignorance, and being reactionary are a big part of human nature. If the shoe was on the other foot, say Africans or Indians were the wealthiest peoples… things would be much the same.

  7. I feel another Double Dumb Ass Award coming on.

  8. Philip H. says:

    Joe,
    How about you send the Post a letter on this, and then repost it here so we, your loyal readers can use it as well? Sort of an informal flash mob, but in writing. Maybe if the get a couple of thousand letters, Hiatt will at least turn read and hide for a day or two.

  9. Will says:

    Ken, it seems Stewart is not very passionate about climate change…he did a whole segment making fun of how boring cap and trade legislation was. He partially made up for it in his interview of Secretary Chu and bit on how stripped down the bill is becoming.
    http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/239133/tue-july-21-2009-steven-chu

  10. ecostew says:

    Yes – denier lies, and not skeptic perspectives, intended to impede progress on AGW climate legislation and confuse the public debate.

  11. Lou Grinzo says:

    I apologize in advance for the tastelessness of what I’m about to say, but I believe it’s accurate:

    Certain media outlets have become the information equivalent of arms dealers who start and then prolong wars. They don’t care one iota which side “wins”, all they care about is that the war goes on as long as possible and they maximize their profits by selling ammunition.

    In the case of some media outlets, they’re in very desperate times, economically, and they know that if they side with science this entire “debate” will die quicker than you can say, “AIDS denier” or “moon landing denier” or “cigarettes don’t really cause cancer”. If it disappears, so does some further slice of their readership, as well as the advertising revenue from large entities on either side taking out full page ads to plead their case.

    It’s disgusting and it’s a crime against humanity.

  12. Col says:

    Maybe we need a new word or two here. Or maybe we need to resurect an existing but obscure word or two that our culture has lost from common usage.

    I’m not a walking thesaurus, so maybe I’m wrong here, but I do find it interesting, and possibly revealing of the role of corporations in our lives, that we don’t have a commonly used or understood word for people who knowingly spread lies about what is scientifically understood in our world in order to support ideological, political or commercial interests (there are hucksters and snake oil salesmen but these are people who spread lies about products, not physical realities).

    You just had a cartoon on ‘denial’ and that word seems okay, but there’s denial and then there’s actively promoting denial and then there’s actively promoting denial when you know better but you’re being paid to do it.

  13. Brooks Bridges says:

    Yet another reason that Dean Baker always refers to The Washington Post as “Fox on 15th Street”. And he writes primarily on economic matters.

    http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/beat_the_press

    My neighbors have been passing on their Sunday edition (my main interest is the comics). Time to tell them no more and try to persuade them to cancel this increasingly revolting faux-newspaper.

    And speaking of 1 million people marching: I hope there’s no age limit. It’s time. I will if you will.

  14. Mike#22 says:

    How do these people sleep at night?

    Maybe they don’t…

  15. Col – some other terms that fit nicely:

    Climate Denialist Shill

    Saboteur of the sensible

    Carbon Collaborator

    Strategically Ignorant agent

    Active Encourager of Stupidity

    Remorseless Opportunist

  16. Dano says:

    Lou, they are playing to a market. They need to maintain their cash flow. Sadly, this is the human condition.

    Best,

    D

  17. Anna Haynes says:

    Who besides Fred Hiatt is in the chain of command, on the editorial pages of the Washington Post? Does he just report directly to WaPo publisher Katharine Weymouth?
    (fyi, a number of Hiatt’s family-of-origin members gave thousands to Obama; Hiatt didn’t learn this at home.)

    Something from Hank Roberts keeps coming back to me -

    “My measure is to imagine how this will all read to youngsters in 50 and 100 years, if they look back to assess how well we did by them, managing what would become their world.”

  18. Rick Covert says:

    Everytime I see George Will on TV or read an acount of a column of his on any subject from the bailout, to global warming to Judge Sonia (not Maria) Sotomayor my BS Meter pegs off the scale.

  19. Anna Haynes says:

    Debra Saunders of the SF Chronicle did it again too, in her July 12 column. I emailed to ask her about the genesis of this column, but didn’t get a response.

    I’d give her the benefit of the doubt, but I did that last time. Fool me once, shame on me.

  20. Anna Haynes says:

    (oops – George Bush and I have something in common, we both can’t get the saying right.)

  21. Mark says:

    More accurate expression than the weasel terminology used by the deniers would help, too.

    They, weaselly, say “There’s been no global warming since 2000′ They actually mean there’s been no _extra _global warming.

    A glance at the graph above shows it’s still too hot.

    A bit like someone with a fever, which is stable, being told they don’t have a fever.

  22. JeandeBegles says:

    Joe, I don’t understand why you throw Breakthrough Institute in this mess.
    They have nothing to do with deniers of the man made global warming.
    By the way thank you for the link to the Friedman article in favor of a carbon tax (and supporting ACES bill). Without you I would have missed it!
    Regards.

  23. quakergardener says:

    Not only is the Post at fault, but all the papers in which Will’s column appears, such as the Chicago Tribune where it appeared today. Here is my letter to the editors using facts from this excellent blog:

    “I am wondering why the Tribune does not hold its syndicated columnists to the same standard of factual accuracy as its own columnists and reporters. In today’s column George Will quotes another writer’s erroneous statement that global warming has not occurred in a decade.
    Actually, according to the NOAA, the warmest year to date has been 2005, and the 2000s are on track to be nearly 0.2°C warmer than the 1990s.

    I teach a college class that involves reading and writing about environmental issues. If the Tribune publishes such inaccuracies, how can I let my students use it as a reliable source for their research essays?”

    Thank you Joe for your tireless work in reporting facts and exposing lies. I frequently send my students to your site.

  24. Joe M says:

    Just because you say it’s debunked doesn’t mean it is debunked.

  25. Chris Winter says:

    Quite right, Joe M. But if George Will quotes a source that has already been debunked, then the criticism has some substance.

    It’s a tactic of Denialists to ask for fully detailed rebuttals every time one of their threadbare talking points is denigrated on a blog. If, in the present case, they were truly concerned with factual accuracy, they could do a little research and discover why George Will is wrong once again about climate change.

  26. David Schonberger says:

    I still personally like Joe’s acronym, Denier Industrial-Complex Kooks (DICKs) as an apt description of these cynical fraudsters.

  27. Anon says:

    “…as an apt description…”

    In my view, name-calling like that is counterproductive. Deniers, denialists, inactivists, cranks, contrarians and crackpots yes, but these are objective terms.
    (and the latter three are charitable, since they assume the positions are held in good faith)

  28. David Lewis says:

    Geoffrey Heal’s London School of Economics lecture in May 2009 was supposed to discuss climate change economics debate after the Stern Report, but he offered some reasons that the US is so far behind the EU on climate.

    He identified three factors.

    One, the US, as the largest producer of fossil fuels in the world, has the most powerful lobby working at all levels, in the media and in government, to promote its interests.

    Two, he noted that Reaganite conservatives are still clinging to influence in the US, as opposed to the Thatcherites, etc in the EU who have faded away.

    “These are…. people who believe in unadulterated free markets and absolutely minimum role for government in the state. And if you hold that position, it is actually difficult to reconcile that with the reality of climate change, or indeed any environmental problem, because climate change is obviously caused by the free operation of markets. Its a market failure. Its a massive market failure in economic terms. So if you’re someone who really believes profoundly that free markets ‘get it right’, then you can’t combine that with the recognition of the reality of climate change. There’s a kind of cognitive dissonance that’s going to arise in that context. So free market Conservatives downplay climate change….”

    and last, religious conservatives:

    “There’s no parallel really in Western Europe to this group. These are people who actually believe that the Bible is the gospel truth… and there are significant Senators and Congressmen who actually believe this. Its difficult to see this from a Western European perspective, but its true. So these people are naturally hostile to much of modern science. I mean they’re hostile to the theory of evolution, they’re hostile to the theories of planetary formation, because they undermine the beliefs they choose to hold in respect to the origin of species and the origin of the world. People like this are hostile to much of modern science, and skeptical of much of modern science. And, again, they’re hostile to climate change…. And many people like this were appointed to important positions in the Bush Administration.”

    Newspapers see themselves as dying out and the people working for them and running them are not sure of the way forward. This period of change also works against the news being reported as it should. Pandering to morons may be seen as a way of keeping more readers than printing analysis of hard truth.

  29. Start Loving says:

    Joseph – keep on! (Just got your book; looking forward to reading it.)

  30. Please says:

    - “Nor does it mind letting its readers believe that public posturing by developing countries like China actually represents an accurate statement of what they are doing or are prepared to do.”

    Wait, you mean when China comes out and says “it is natural for China to have some increase in its emissions , so it is not possible for China in that context to accept a binding or compulsory target” or announces that “its continuing reliance on coal as its primary source of energy will require increasing coal production 30 percent in the next six years” – that could actually indicate that they really WILL commit to policy targeting lower emissions and lower coal usage? Seriously?

    – “But the disinformation machine that goes by the name of the Washington Post editorial page”

    Seriously, if you or anyone else is getting their “information” from the “editorial” page of a newspaper, it’s probably better if you left the gene pool anyway.

  31. Chris Winter says:

    “Seriously, if you or anyone else is getting their “information” from the “editorial” page of a newspaper, it’s probably better if you left the gene pool anyway.”

    Reading the newspaper thoroughly every day is always the best option. So is brushing your teeth after every meal. But we can’t always.

    Editorials are very useful because they condense the reporting done by the paper into a recommendation supported by a few facts or conclusions — for example, when they endorse a politician.

    That assumes, of course, that the paper publishes trustworthy editorials. At least in the area of climate science, the editorials and columns in The Washington Post have become of questionable trustworthiness. (And that newspaper is not alone in this.)

    The solution is not to categorically reject editorials as a source of information (or, as you put it, “information”), but to find editorial sources that remain worthy of trust.