Will’s Global Warming Distortions Called Out … By Washington Post

April 7, 2009 12:22 pm

It looks like some members of the Washington Post‘s news section are fighting back against George Will’s efforts — aided by the paper’s editorial page — to mislead readers about global warming.

Via Grist‘s Dave Roberts: Deep down in a story about the alarming thinning of Arctic sea ice, triggered by global warming, Washington Post reporters Juliet Eilperin and Mary Beth Sheridan write:

The new evidence — including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s — contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.

The Post wouldn’t talk to Roberts about the reporting and editing process, other than to say they “stand behind their reporting.” But it seems clear that the journalists who worked on this story are directly calling Will out for his misleading use of data to claim that ice levels haven’t declined since 1979 — which TPMmuckraker, along with scores of others, pointed out in February. (We also had some fun with the Post‘s bizarre refusal to take any action on the issue.)

In fact, there appears to be a slight error in today’s story’s characterization of what Will said. He didn’t address “sea ice in the Arctic”, but rather “global sea ice levels” (our itals). It was that figure that, Will claimed, hasn’t declined since 1979. And no doubt he’ll say that the data released yesterday doesn’t go to that issue.

But as we’ve noted before, the very experts who Will cited have made clear that the key indicator of warming is northern hemispheric ice levels — in other words, Arctic ice levels — rather than global levels. So though Will my not have technically written anything untrue, his rendering of the issue unquestionably distorted the facts, and badly misled readers.

That’s why it’s nice to see some at the Post fighting back.

Late Update: Roberts has now heard back from the Washington Post editor on the story. He writes:

[UPDATE: After I put this post up, science editor Nils Bruzelius gave me a call and was quite collegial and open about the story. It was actually him who had the idea to reference Will, since the, ahem, “data” Will had distributed got so much publicity and was on people’s minds. He said he and the reporters agreed, it was a routine news judgment, nothing about it struck him as unusual, and as far as he knows no one above him questioned or was even aware of it. I don’t know how much of that is feingned (sic) innocence–I’ve certainly never heard of a similar case–but it seems there was no big process inside WaPo behind this. Cheers to Bruzelius for the transparency.]

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