I’m dwelling on George F. Will’s latest violation of journalistic ethics because it seems to have hit a nerve. Journalists ordinarily too polite to attack another journalist for fear of appearing biased and unprofessional have broken with their habits to call Will on his misrepresentation of the mythical “global cooling” consensus of the 1970s.
It’s not surprising to come across sarcastic and caustic reviews in places like the Think Progress Wonk Room or TPM Muckraker. And I would have been shocked if Joe Romm hadn’t blown another in his infinite supply of gaskets. But the opprobrium has spread to more civil circles.
Author and scienceblogger Chris Mooney uses uncharacteristically harsh language such as “the stunning, boneheaded, egregious errors” in an effort “to dismantle the idea that he deserves to be considered a top conservative intellectual.”
Author, former Scienceblogger and Discover columnist Carl Zimmer focuses on the responsibility of the Washington Post to ensure its columnists don’t make “glaring errors.” It’s clear from the headline of his blog post, however, that he’s primarily frustrated with the columnist: “George Will: Liberated From the Burden of Fact-Checking.”
And then there’s John Fleck, blogger and columnist with the Albuquerque Journal, writing disparaging about how “Will engages in an egregious case of cherry-picking…”
These are all journalists for whom I great respect, in part because they are usually able to do a much better job than I of keeping their criticisms of fellow journalists free of unecessary invective. Will, it seemed, has crossed the line once too often.
When I was what they used to call a cub reporter a couple of decades ago in Canada, George F. Will was frequently invoked as an example of the smartest of American columnists. Many newspapers ran his syndicated columns in the slot reserved for conservative opinion, the implication being Canada had no comparable intellectual writers on that side of the political spectrum. But Will’s recent record has breathed new life into the question: “If this is the best thinking conservatism can muster, then what does that say about the intellectual foundations of conservatism?”
I’d also like to second Carl’s questions for the Washington Post. As Will has made the same mistakes over and over, after they had been drawn to his attention, why is he being allowed to repeat them? Surely there comes a time when the editors should wonder why they’re paying the guy to write anything. As I’ve written before, climate change is far more important than most of the subjects that get space in a typical paper, and yet how long would a sports columnist who makes up statistics last?
I suspect that the failure of so-called “responsible” new outlets to police their own columnists is a major reason why so few Americans and Canadians have any confidence in journalists to tell them what’s really going on in the world. At some point, the Washington Post‘s reputation won’t be worth anything more than that of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. And that would be a shame.
Will is giving journalism a bad name. And it’s time to do something about it.