The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Steve Rendall,,Tel: 212-633-6700 x13

More Hot Air from George Will

Columnist defends errors in climate change column


Syndicated Washington Post columnist George Will and the Post's
ombud Andrew Alexander are still failing to address the majority of the
inaccuracies in Will's February 15 column on climate change.

Facing down critics (including FAIR--Action Alert, 2/18/09), Will claimed in a new column (2/27/09)
that his original "column contained many factual assertions but only
one has been challenged." Taking up that "one" challenge, Will
continued to insist that his summary of research done by the University
of Illinois' Department of Atmospheric Sciences was correct--despite
the researchers' repudiation of Will's argument.

Of course, critics had pointed out two other inaccuracies: Will had
suggested that global cooling was a prevailing scientific concern of
the 1970s--a falsehood he repeated in his new column--and claimed the
United Nations has found there has "been no recorded global warming for
more than a decade," an inaccurate interpretation that the U.N. has
tried to correct in the past. How the legion of fact-checkers that
(according to Alexander) scrutinize Will's columns managed to miss the
fact that Will's critics had cited multiple errors of fact in the
previous column is hard to understand.

Will's real point was to criticize a New York Times report by Andrew Revkin (2/25/09)
for not naming the experts that Revkin said found Will's column to
contain inaccuracies. This, too, is specious, as Revkin noted that the
sea ice researchers from the University of Illinois said Will was wrong
about their data. (Revkin's piece was troubling, but for a different
reason entirely; see FAIR Blog, 2/27/09.)

In his February 27 column, Will added another exaggeration, suggesting
that scientists face enormous pressure to toe the line on climate
change even though the scientific evidence is questionable:

February 18 the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that
from early January until the middle of this month, a defective
performance by satellite monitors that measure sea ice caused an
underestimation of the extent of Arctic sea ice by 193,000 square
miles, which is approximately the size of California. The Times
("All the news that's fit to print"), which as of this writing had not
printed that story, should unleash Revkin and his unnamed experts.
Will seems to be going for a two-fer: This measurement error is alarmingly significant ("the size of California"), and the New York Times
("a megaphone for the alarmed," in Will's view) is not reporting this
obviously important news. Except that this doesn't appear to be all
that important; as the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center explains
on its website (2/26/09),
this discrepancy was reported almost immediately, and "does not change
any of [their] conclusions regarding the long-term decline in Arctic
sea ice extent.... Any discrepancies fall within the margin of error."

That Will would cite scientists who immediately identified and
corrected an error is an irony he would be better off not highlighting.

For his part, the ombud dismissively likened the controversy
surrounding the inaccuracies in Will's column to being "like watching
chairs being thrown in a bar fight," although he acknowledged that
Will's reference to sea ice research should have prompted further
inquiries by the Post. Alexander also noted that "readers would have been better served if Post editors, and the new ombudsman, had more quickly addressed the claims of falsehoods."

Yet given that Will's critics are still waiting for a response
regarding two out of the three documented inaccuracies in Will's
February 15 column, the ombud's call for improved timeliness misses the
more important point.

FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.