Friday Favorite Physics Cats »« Where Are They Now? Confused Con Edition

Hilzoy Takes WaPo to the Woodshed

This, my darlings, is a thing of beauty. To briefly recap: George Will, fact-challenged Washington Post columnist extraordinaire, recently penned a climate change denialist column so egregious in its errors that it nearly defies description. Days went by as we waited with baited breath for the WaPo to publish a correction. None was forthcoming. And then, a response!

I have also been following the various requests for comment from the Washington Post, and wondering when the Post might respond. Now they have:

“Thank you for your e-mail. The Post’s ombudsman typically deals with issues involving the news pages. But I understand the point you and many e-mailers are making, and for that reason I sought clarification from the editorial page editors. Basically, I was told that the Post has a multi-layer editing process and checks facts to the fullest extent possible. In this instance, George Will’s column was checked by people he personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors. The University of Illinois center that Will cited has now said it doesn’t agree with his conclusion, but earlier this year it put out a statement that was among several sources for this column and that notes in part that “Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979,”

Best wishes,

Andy Alexander

Washington Post Ombudsman”

Until I read this, I had been under the impression that newspapers didn’t do as much fact-checking as magazines, because of deadline pressure; and I had imagined that the inaccuracies in George Will’s column might result from applying standards designed for reported stories to columns. But on reading that Will’s column had been subjected to a “multi-layer editing process”, and that this “process” had checked the facts “to the fullest extent possible”, I realized that I had been wrong. Naturally, I clicked the link Mr. Alexander provided, and read it. Did he? I don’t know what would be worse: that he did, and takes it to support Will, or that he didn’t take his job seriously enough to bother.

Hilzoy takes Mr. Alexander’s link, and beats him thoroughly with it. Then she continues the beating by reading the Science article Will quoted in defense of his indefensible position. Go witness. It’s a classic in the annals of correction, destined to go down in history as one of the most merciless trips to the woodshed in blogging history. She does the job that the WaPo’s “multilayer editing process” somehow found impossible.

It’s incredible to me that a national paper could not only publish something so insanely wrong on every level, but then claim they’d fact-checked it. Were I the Post, I’d be claiming an unprecidented breakdown in the editing process – it would be far less embarrassing than demonstrating that multiple people failed to read so much as the two most easily-accessed papers cited in Wills’ column, both of which take a howitzer to his conclusions.

Alas, one trip to the woodshed, even one as epic as this, will not be enough for the WaPo team. They need to be set back a grade and placed in special education for the clueless on climate change. Thankfully, a class is available, and it has a proven track record helping the climate change challenged wake up and smell the CO2.

Let us hope it can rescue the WaPo before they become the identical twin of the Moony Times.

Comments