George Will, <i>Washington Post</i> Mount Defense Of Widely Debunked Editorial [UPDATED]

Fred Hiatt's defense of Will's op-ed shows that either he doesn't have the slightest clue what he's talking about, or he's saying that literally misleading his readers is fair game for his op-ed page.


Via Media Matters/Columbia Journalism Review, the Washington Post's Fred Hiatt offered a defense of his own, clearly hoping that the word "inferences" will manage to do some heavy lifting:

"We looked into these allegations, and I have a different interpretation than [those who signed the letter] about what George Will is and is not entitled to," said the paper's editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt. "If you want to start telling me that columnists can't make inferences which you disagree with--and, you know, they want to run a campaign online to pressure newspapers into suppressing minority views on this subject--I think that's really inappropriate. It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject -- so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don't make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn't be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him."

Hiatt said that he has invited both the World Meteorological Organization and the Arctic Ice Center at the University of Illinois to write a letter for publication taking issue with anything that George wrote, but neither organization has taken him up on the offer. Hiatt added that he doesn't think Will has an obligation to point out, "in every column he writes about climate change," that such organizations disagree with his interpretation of their data.

I'm not at all sure Hiatt understands the issue. Clearly, if Will, "in every column he writes about climate change" takes the "data" of different "organizations" and tells his readers that the "data" indicates a "conclusion," and that "conclusion" turns out to be wrong - then Will has not "made an inference." Rather, he has led his readers to "make an inference." An incorrect one, at that. Worse, if Will ascribes these incorrect conclusions to different organizations, then the reader might "infer," again, incorrectly, that these "organizations" endorse these conclusions. This is a very pure and simple instance of Will misleading his readers. Either Hiatt doesn't have the slightest clue what he's talking about, or he's saying that literally misleading his readers is fair game for his op-ed page.

That the "World Meteorological Organization and the Arctic Ice Center" have not agreed to "debate" Will is entirely beside the point. I can just imagine it: "Hello, World Meteorological Organization and the Arctic Ice Center! My name is Fred Hiatt! I run a forum in which participants are allowed to mislead people without consequence. How would you like to hold a debate in that forum?" To which they no doubt replied: "Sounds like a waste of time to pursue what is obviously a fool's errand."

Now, did the conversation literally go down like that? I'm going to say yes, it did, because if I go by the Washington Post's own standards, why not? After all, if Fred Hiatt wants to start telling me that I can't make inferences which he disagrees with, I think that's really inappropriate!



Zachary Roth, over at TPMMuckraker has gotten a look-see at the next column coming from George Will and notes that Will has decided to stand behind his decision to cut-and-paste his way through his last column on global warming, which was debunked with alarming alacrity by many, many people who sort of noticed Will was misrepresenting the conclusions of other people's work.

Roth sees two elements of defense at work in Will's forthcoming piece. The first, a bit of pot-kettle-black hackery that seems placed to help obscure the issue:

Will's new effort is framed as a response to a New York Times story, by science reporter Andrew Revkin, from earlier this week, which asserted that Will's earlier column, published February 15, was guilty of "inaccuracies and overstatements," in the view of experts. (That Revkin story itself provoked some blogospheric ire by equating Will's out-and-out distortions with some minor exaggerations on the other side by Al Gore -- but that's a whole other story.)

The second, a more full-throated defense of whatever he calls the "research methodology" he employed in his February 15th column, which we remind you, will not get you far in most accredited middle schools.

Second, Will stands by the substance of the February 15 column, maintaining, in the case of the key factual dispute, that he had accurately reported the findings of a respected climate research center on the question of sea-ice levels. Though the center has since put out a statement disavowing Will's use of its data, Will claims that last month it posted confirmation of that very data on its web site -- and, getting all bloggy, includes a link.

Hilariously noting that he didn't have to expend much of an effort, Roth finds immediate fault, catching Will - again! - misstating the conclusions of others:

We'll leave it to others to parse the finer points of this defense -- though it's immediately noticeable that Will doesn't mention that the center's confirmation of its findings notes that the data concerns global sea ice levels, rather than northern hemispheric levels. Global levels, it says, "may not be the most relevant indicator."

Obviously, Fred Hiatt is leaving the door open for any or all amount of unsupported silliness on his op-ed pages, which I suppose now may be considered some sort of "creative writing" outpost.

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