A Few Things Ill Considered

Things Break takes down George Will’s latest

Things Break does a thorough take-down of George Will’s continued dishonesty in the Washington Post. For the background, if somehow you have missed this kerfuffle, check his earlier post.

The story in a nutshell is not remarkable: mainstream columnist prints op-ed full of outright falsehoods, complaints are rejected, paper stands by its right to fill the information age with disinformation. ie Facts don’t matter.


The only remarkable thing really is the attention it is receiving and who knows, perhaps there will be some real consequences… like maybe people will remember this for a change.

It is also worth noting the destructive contribution made by Andy Revkin from the New York Times by his all too standard equation of a questionable characterization in a small portion of an Al Gore presentation (already retracted) and the continual, unapologetic repetition of outright falsehoods by George Will.

I have a little more sympathy than Michael Tobis for people who I think are very well intentioned but working from inside the machine, but sometimes the price of not rocking the boat is too high. Michael is absolutely right that framing the debate with Gore and Will as the two extreme ends puts the “reasonable middle ground” far too far to the wrong. The IPCC’s is not a radical viewpoint, it is a very conservative and cautious, to a fault, voice in the range of viewpoints. Gore is very careful not to stray very far from that conservative consensus. He may chose what to emphasis and when and may simplify his message by sacrificing caveats and error bars, but this is simply nowhere close to the tactics used by the George Wills of this circus. Another egregious error in this equation is that Al Gore’s role in this issue is an issue advocate, George Will is supposedly bound by some journalistic ethics. Revkin does a grave disservice to his readers when he pretends to hold them to the same standard, forget that his standard is clearly a double one in Will’s favour.

Comments

  1. #1 Adam
    February 27, 2009

    “There is little evidence to suggest that it is effective at building broad-based support for policy action,” Dr. Nisbet said. “Perhaps worse, his message is very easily countered by people such as Will as global-warming alarmism, shifting the focus back to their preferred emphasis on scientific uncertainty and dueling expert views.”

    But Dr. Nisbet said that for Mr. Will, there was little downside in stretching the bounds of science to sow doubt.

    Criticism of Mr. Will’s columns, Dr. Nisbet said, “only serves to draw attention to his claims while reinforcing a larger false narrative that liberals and the mainstream press are seeking to censor rival scientific evidence and views.”
    From the Revkin column.

    Though the column itself is frustratingly ‘centrist,’ I think this is a very legitimate point, and really illustrates how much better denialists are at framing the debate (though I’m loathe to use the word debate). Al Gore at least has the honesty to correct mistakes when they’re pointed out to him, whereas George Will just cries censorship. It comes back to the point that the deniers are interested in scoring debating points, whereas ‘alarmists’ are interested in getting the science right.

  2. #2 The Ridger
    February 27, 2009

    Will is not a journalist – and I don’t mean that as an insult. He’s not a journalist. He’s a columnist. He’s not bound by any form of ethics, and he takes full advantage of that. He’s not as obvious or egregious as some, and he writes well so lots of people think he’s “reasonable”, but he’s a partisan hack for all his writing skills.

  3. #3 coby
    February 27, 2009

    Aware that he is a columnist, I was trying to be careful. Do you really think that there are no ethical considerations (at least in theory) for a columnist being published in the WSJ?

    I don’t know, but I would have assumed some…?

  4. #4 James Hrynyshyn
    February 28, 2009

    A columnist is not a journalist? Only someone with no experience in the journalism business would argue that.

    The only difference between an opinion column and a news story is that the former is allowed to make value judgments and the latter simply report the facts. But both must make honest use of source material. A columnist can be and often is a journalist. Some of the best journalists in the business are columnists.

    So let’s get past this notion that George F. Will isn’t obliged, as a paid journalist, to respect the basic tenets of journalism: rely on facts, not lies, and present them fairly and accurately. Just because you’re paid to have opinions doesn’t mean you are exempt from those two basic rules.

  5. #5 Hank Roberts
    February 28, 2009

    Yup. The Ombudsman has widened the circle of scrutiny now by including discussion of the methods used by the writer’s group and editors to check the references they’re using.

    He’s made this teacup tempest into a fine opportunity for growth — big enough for the entire organization.

    I said so in their comments, urging him to post their “20″ links and an explanation of how they check this kind of stuff.