Mum’s the word for George Will and the Washington Post when it comes to explaining how misinformation on global warming got into Will’s most recent column.
Yesterday morning we called Will to ask him about the misrepresentations in his Sunday column. We also called Fred Hiatt, the editor of the paper’s editorial page, to ask about the editing process that the Post’s editorial page employs. Neither chose to answer our questions.
As we reported yesterday, Will twice misrepresented the facts in his Sunday column, to make it appear that there’s no expert consensus that warming is happening.
In one case, Will wrote that the respected Arctic Climate Research Center had found that global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979. But within hours, the ACRC had put up a statement saying those levels have in fact significantly decreased, and adding: “We do not know where George Will is getting his information.”
In the second, Will, apparently seizing on a year-old (and since corrected) BBC story, wrote: “[A]ccording to the World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade.” That’s technically true, since 1998 was a particularly hot year. But the implication was that the organization doesn’t believe warming is occurring. Will didn’t tell readers that the WMO had followed up by confirming its uncontroversial view that global warming is continuing, and making clear that gauging climate change by looking only at one year is all but useless.
So there’s no question that, whatever Will’s intention, his column misinformed readers. But here’s what happened when we tried to talk about all this yesterday morning with Will and Hiatt:
Will’s assistant told us that Will might get back to us later in the day to talk about the column. And Hiatt said he was too busy to talk about it just then, but that he’d try to respond to emailed questions. So we emailed him yesterday’s post, with several questions about the editing process, then followed up with another email late yesterday afternoon.
But still nothing from either of them, over twenty-four hours after the first contact was made. Nor has the online version of Will’s column been updated, even to reflect the fact that the ACRC has utterly disavowed the claim Will attributes to it.
We’re hearing that the Post’s editing process for opinion pieces is virtually non-existent. Maybe that makes sense in some cases — it certainly seems reasonable to give most columnists a freer hand than straight news reporters get. But it’s difficult to know for sure when the Post won’t talk about it. And that approach sure didn’t serve the paper well here.
As for Will, it’s not hard to understand why he wouldn’t want to discuss a column as misleading as Sunday’s.