The blogospheric response to George Will’s recycling of long-refuted talking points on climate change (a good summary here) has produced lots of insights into the way the mainstream media (particularly the Washington Post) works, and some reasons to be less regretful about its seemingly inevitable demise.
I was particularly struck by the opening statement in the latest contribution of WP Ombudsman Andy Alexander who states:
Opinion columnists are free to choose whatever facts bolster their arguments.
Really? Where I come from, citing supporting evidence and ignoring the existence of directly contrary evidence is called “cherry-picking” (when we are being polite).
Among other pieces of dishonesty, Will pulled together a string of quotes from the 1970s to make the case that there was a scientific consensus that the climate was cooling (with weaselly use of quotation marks, he sort-of avoided saying this in his own voice). But any competent writer (or ombudsman) would have discovered that very few scientists in the 1970s supported this claim, while some others predicted warming. The National Academy of Sciences looked into the question and concluded that we didn’t have enough data, or understanding of the global climate system, to make a prediction.
The fact that Will stuff has been recycled so many times makes the cherry-picking problem worse. Having been recycled dozens of times it’s been refuted almost as many. Thanks to the miracle of Usenet, resurrected as Google Groups, we can find examples going back at least to 1993.
None of this is a problem for the Washington Post, apparently. It’s perfectly happy to print claims about a non-existent consensus on global cooling. Perhaps the editors and owners ought to be more worried about the emerging consensus that the disappearance of the Washington Post would be no loss.