Hiatt: George Will’s Critics Are “Trying To Shut Him Down”

April 29, 2009 12:30 p.m.

Fred Hiatt has waded back into the debate over George Will’s global warming distortions — a debate that only makes Hiatt look more out of touch than ever.

During an online chat with readers that was supposed to be about President Obama’s first 100 days, Hiatt, the editor of the Washington Post‘s editorial page, had the following exchange with a reader:

Boston: This doesn’t relate to Obama but would you care to address the
whole George Will global warming column controversy? Is there any concern that lax standards for accuracy hurts the prestige of The Post opinion page more generally?

Fred Hiatt: Happy to, because we don’t have lax standards for accuracy. He addressed the factual challenges to his column in detail in a later column. In general we do careful fact checking. What people have mostly objected to is not that his data are wrong but that he draws wrong inferences. I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down.

Let’s start by handing this over to the Post‘s own Andrew Freeman, who wrote earlier this month:

[Avoiding narrow factual errors] does not constitute the end of Will’s responsibility to readers. There is another important consideration, which is whether he provides readers with misleading climate science information that conflicts with what scientists know about the climate system. This is more nuanced than blatantly stating falsehoods, but it is perhaps just as important.

That’s exactly right, and implicates not just Will, but his editor, too. The “wrong inferences” that Will drew — to take one example, suggesting that cherry-picked data on global sea ice, a measurement that scientists don’t even use to gauge global warming, indicate a lack of certainty about whether global warming is occurring — go far far beyond the realm of honest debate. They are, pure and simple, deliberate attempts to mislead the Post‘s readers. So for Hiatt, Will’s editor, it’s not adequate to say, as Hiatt has before, that this is an appropriate subject for debate. By suggesting there’s a debate to have, Hiatt leaves readers worse informed than before about a crucial subject.

It’s almost impossible to believe that the editorial page editor of a major paper would need to have this spelled out.

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