Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me three times, shame on the media.
In a move that calls into question the journalistic integrity of the entire Washington Post editorial staff — especially editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, who should be fired — the newspaper has published a third disinformation-pushing op-ed by George Will “Climate Change’s Dim Bulbs.”
The distortions and disinformation in Will’s earlier two pieces have been widely criticized and debunked (see “In a blunder reminiscent of Janet Cooke scandal, the Washington Post lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones“).
Indeed, the WP published a devastating critique by the World Meteorological Organization on the “misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge” in using WMO data from one year to try to “invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects” — along with an op-ed making the same exact point (see “Washington Post publishes two strong debunkings of George Will’s double dose of disinformation“).
Why on earth would the Washington Post publish a long letter by the WMO Secretary General (here) last Saturday, explaining how his organizations’ work was misused by Will, and then let Will publish this sentence today:
Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998.
Does the Washington Post editorial staff care that Will is playing them for fools? Does the Post have any idea whatsoever how amateurish this makes them look, like some high school newspaper.
Why does the Post bother publishing letters to the editor if the content of those letters apparently mean nothing whatsoever to the Post itself?
Let me reprint the bulk of the letter the Post published on Saturday:
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 Niña event, it was nonetheless the 10th-warmest year on record.
So what is going to happen now?
Will the Washington Post publish another letter from WMO Secretary General debunking Will’s anti-scientific claim and its misuse of WMO data. And then let Will do it again. Then publish another WMO letter.
Is the Post in the business of trying to inform its readers or does it just publish anything anybody writes? Does the editorial staff of the Post exercise any editorial judgment whatsoever?
You can write to Andrew Alexander at email@example.com, but I can’t imagine that would do much good (see “The Post ombudsman whitewashes George Will’s columns, the editors, and his own role“).
Finally, most of Will’s piece is an attack on compact fluorescent light bulbs. You won’t be surprised to learn that it is as misinformed as everything else Will writes on this subject, but I will let others take a first crack at responding in detail — see Get Energy Smart Now. Yes, as is the case with of all new products rushed to market — in this case, very low cost compact fluorescents — not all of them are high quality. They will get better, but they still save consumers big money and reduce pollution — and the tiny amount of mercury they contain locked away in their hardware is infinitely preferable to the vast quantities of mercury released into the air from coal consumption.
The bottom line about conservatives deniers like Will is that they have no plan at all to protect the health and well-being of your children and grandchildren and the next 50 generations from catastrophic global warming impacts: Hell and High Water. They just have lies and disdain for all things green and efficient. They don’t want to conserve a livable climate, natural resources or anything at all but the status quo.
The bottom line about the Post is that it would appear to have no journalistic standards at all for what it publishes on its editorial page and its letters page. Let me end with what Hilzoy of the Washington Monthly wrote about Will’s first (!) piece:
Where I come from, when someone writes something of the form: “P is not evidence for Q, and here’s why”, it is dishonest to quote that person saying P and use that quote as evidence for Q. If one of my students did this, I would grade her down considerably, and would drag her into my office for an unpleasant talk about basic scholarly standards. If she misused quotes in this way repeatedly, I might flunk her.
The Washington Post editorial staff has flunked journalism 101.
I repeat, editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, should be fired.
This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.