Controversy Continues Over George Will’s Column on Climate Change

There continues to be controversy over George Will’s recent column on climate change. As  many bloggers I linked to point out, Will’s scientific claims were not accurate. The Washington Post’s ombudsman has responded to the controversy today.

While I commented briefly and linked to those presenting the evidence that Wills was wrong, I did not get upset over this as many others did. This was an opinion column. It would be nice to live by Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum that “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” Realistically those who present different opinions will often include facts which we do not believe hold up. This is going to be true in a conservative newspaper such as The Washington Post and certainly will be true from their conservative columnists. It was far more alarming when newspapers such as The Washington Post dropped the ball in their actual reporting in the run up to the Iraq war.

To be shocked that there are inaccuracies in a column by George Will on global warming strikes me as somewhat like Captain Renault saying he is shocked to see gambling going on in Casablanca. Still, while I fully expect this from conservative columnists, once the ombudsman is involved I would expect a stronger statement regarding the inaccuracies in the column (even if giving some acceptance of this in an opinion piece). In this day and age of instant response, inaccurate information of this type should have led to the posting of factual information to counter it.

Climate Progress provides more information on the pertinent facts. Andrew Sullivan points out a major error made by George Will and writes, “You can’t use scientific evidence whose source believes it points to global warming to argue that it points against it – without some clarification, at least.” He also points out why toleration of this will not work:

The blogosphere responded at light speed. And the WaPo then had to pretend that it somehow exists in another more acceptable zone of media – and undertook its investigation and correction process independently of the vulgar – but factually accurate – blogs.

Memo to WaPo: your days of thinking like this are over. If you don’t want to go the way of the Rocky Mountain News, wake up and smell the competition.

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  1. 1
    battlebob says:

    John Kerry has a pretty good rebutal.
    George Will and facts don’t get along very well.

  2. 2
    Ralph says:

    “To be shocked that there are inaccuracies in a column by George Will on global warming strikes me as somewhat like Captain Renault saying he is shocked to see gambling going on in Casablanca.

    Correct. Now the question becomes, why would the WaPo keep running a column that so often twists the facts to support its author’s pre-ordained conclusions?

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    That is part of running opinion columns. While there are problems with columnists which present misinformation, it would also be overly inhibiting of the free exchange of ideas if columns were not run because of questions of accuracy. If I owned the newspapers I would give columnists a lot of leeway in what they say in an opinion piece. It is better to go too far in this direction than to risk shutting down opposing ideas in case the fact checkers themselves are guilty of bias.

    Of course there is a limit to this. The New York Times was right in dumping Bill Kristol when he regularly ignored facts in his columns. Even then this was handled by deciding against renewal of his contract, not by refusing to run any particular column, even when his facts were suspect.

    Columnists should have a pretty free hand in what they write, but there is also a place for fact checking after the fact. I think the best way for the Washington Post to have handled this would have been to quickly run a column which corrects the factual errors made by Wills.

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