After years of soft-pedaling the science around global warming and actively abetting the Bush administration's strategy of sowing doubt about the problem, it seemed like the media had more or less gotten its act together when it comes to reporting on climate change. This past couple weeks, however, we got an unfortunate reminder that denialism is alive and well on the editorial pages of some of America's most prominent newspapers.
Two weeks ago George Will, occasional bow-tie wearer and one of the media elite's favorite conservative blowhards, penned a column (based at the Washington Post but syndicated nationally) attacking the so-called alarmist doomsaying (read: reality) around global warming. Conservatives ranting about global warming alarmism is of course nothing new, but this column struck a nerve because it blatantly misstated (read: lied about) some basic scientific facts around sea ice and global temperatures.
Others have done an excellent take-down of the distortions, so I won't waste time there. The real story is the ridiculously cack-handed response from Will and the Post.
First, the brand-spanking new ombudsman, Andy Alexander, dug the hole deeper by defending the Post's "fact-checking" and editing process. He pointed out that an astonishing FIVE editors at the Post had looked over the column. He then not only refused to concede the column's obvious and glaring errors, but doubled down on them in Will's defense. No correction has been issued.
This stands in marked contrast to the New York Times, which offered repeated corrections to arch-conservative Bill Kristol’s notoriously shoddy columns during his brief tenure on their opinion page. It's somewhat ironic that after being kicked to the curb by the Times, Kristol is now going to start writing a column for the Post.
(It should be of additional embarrassment to the Washington Post that the Center for American Progress discovered that Will has essentially recycled this same column approximately ten times over the years -- stretching all the way back to 1992.)
The blogosphere was already seething and the Post's non-response response was so troubling that Sierra Club and other groups wrote a letter of protest to Alexander (noting, in part, that Will was entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts), but things really kicked up a notch when Andy Revkin of the Times took on Will. (Revkin also misguidedly attacked Al Gore by equating his supposed overplaying of warming to Will's lying, which then caused its own separate flap in the blogosphere.)
And its not just bloggers, enviros, and media watchdogs who are upset. The Oregonian had refused to run Will's column and Galen Burnett, the paper's commentary editor, had this to say of the Post's response: "I was a little troubled by the response from the Washington Post editors which was basically dismissive of people's challenge of the column. That's the more troubling aspect to me. I would expect more of the Post."
And then it just got totally nuts. Speaking to the Columbia Journalism Review, the Post's opinion page editor, Fred Hiatt, not only defended Will, but then bizarrely asserted that those demanding accuracy and truth when it comes to science were in some way advocating censorship. It gets better. Hiatt then defended Will's right to interpret science as he sees fit and even said that Will has no obligation to even mention that the scientists he is citing vehemently disagree with his characterization of their research.
The escalation has only continued today, with Will writing a new column attacking his naysayers (including Andy Revkin) and doubling down on his original lies. Revkin then hit back, citing scientists discussing science (what a novelty). Our friends at Media Matters and bloggers continue to pile on. Should be interesting to see if Andy Alexander actually does some ombudsman-ing in his column this Sunday or just continues to defend the nonsense being spewed by Hiatt and Will?
At this rate, I'm guessing the hole under Fred Hiatt's desk may reach China before Will makes the rounds on this Sunday's talk shows.