Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned Watch: Ombudsman Andrew Alexander Parodies Himself
Last week the new Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander wrote what "was understandably seen as an institutional defense" of the Washington Post editors and their climate change-denialist columnist George F. Will. This week, Alexander makes a half-hearted attempt to recover his reputation.
First, he misrepresents his own words. This week Alexander writes: "Although I didn't render a judgment, my response was understandably seen as an institutional defense." But if you go to what Alexander actually wrote, he did render a judgment: it was "understandably" seen as an institutional defense because it was one:
Washington Post Ombudsman Andy Alexander: Thank you for your e-mail. The Post’s ombudsman typically deals with issues involving the news pages. But I understand the point you and many e-mailers are making, and for that reason I sought clarification from the editorial page editors. Basically, I was told that the Post has a multi-layer editing process and checks facts to the fullest extent possible. In this instance, George Will’s column was checked by people he personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors. The University of Illinois center that Will cited has now said it doesn’t agree with his conclusion, but earlier this year it put out a statement http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/global.sea.ice.area.pdf that was among several sources for this column and that notes in part that "Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979."
Washington Post Ombudsman
Second in the March 1 Post Alexander writes a painfully passive-voiced column about how it would have been better "if Post editors, and the new ombudsman, had more quickly addressed the claims of falsehoods" in George Will's climate change columns. But he reaches self parody: in the column he does not address, and he still has not addressed, the claims of falsehoods in George Will's climate change columns.
George Will's Column on Global Warming: Opinion columnists are free to choose whatever facts bolster their arguments. But they aren't free to distort them. The question of whether that happened is at the core of an uproar over a recent George F. Will column and The Post's fact-checking process. Will's Feb. 15 column, headlined "Dark Green Doomsayers," ridiculed "eco-pessimists" and cited a string of "predicted planetary calamities" that Will said have never come to pass. A key paragraph, aimed at those who believe in man-made global warming, asserted: "According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979." The column triggered e-mails to The Post from hundreds of angry environmental activists and a few scientists, many asserting that the center had said exactly the opposite.... The ruckus grew when I e-mailed readers who had inquired about the editing process for Will's column. My comments accurately conveyed what I had been told by editorial page editor Fred Hiatt -- that multiple editors had checked Will's sources, including the reference to the Arctic Climate Research Center. Although I didn't render a judgment, my response was understandably seen as an institutional defense...
No judgments at all. And a lot of passive verbs eliminating agency, and a lot of statements not about how things are bu thow they are seen.: "asserting that the center had said exactly the opposite," "what I had been told by... Fred Hiatt," "my response was understandably seen."
Later on in the column comes the paragraph that would have been Alexander's lead--if he had even half the courage of a mouse:
[Fact-checking] should have triggered a call... to the [Arctic Climate Research] Center. But... there was no call from Will or Post editors.... [N]ot until last Tuesday -- nine days after The Post began receiving demands for a correction -- that he heard from an editor... Autumn Brewington.... Readers would have been better served if Post editors, and the new ombudsman, had more quickly addressed the claims of falsehoods...
But eve here, note what Alexander doesn't say. He doesn't say that the Post shouldn't have printed Will. He doesn't say that the Post should have printed Will. All he says is that readers "would have been better served if Post editors, and the new ombudsman, had more quickly addressed the claims of falsehoods..." But even now Alexander doesn't address the claims of falsehoods.
Third, Alexander ends his March 1 column with the standard plague-on-both-your-houses:
There is a disturbing if-you-don't-agree-with-me-you're-an-idiot tone to much of the global warming debate. Thoughtful discourse is noticeably absent in the current dispute. But that's where The Post could have helped, and can in the future. On its news pages, it can recommit to reporting on climate change that is authoritative and deep. On the editorial pages, it can present a mix of respected and informed viewpoints. And online, it can encourage dialogue that is robust, even if it becomes bellicose.
Well, to encourage dialogue that is robust, let me ask Andrew Alexander to address two claims of falsehood in George Will's climate change-denial columns:
(1) A 1976 article in Science reads:
Science: ...ignoring anthropogenic effects... the long-term trend over the next several thousand years is toward extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation...
Should the Washington Post print George F. Will when he claims that the authors of the Science article "anticipated 'a full-blown 10,000-year ice age' involving 'extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation'? Should the Washington Post refuse to print a subsequent correction? Should the Washington Post ombudsman continue to fail to address the claim that the Post has printed a falsehood?
(2) On or about January 12, 2009, the University of Illinois Arctic Climate Research Center wrote:
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/global.sea.ice.area.pdf: Almost all global climate models project a decrease in the Northern Hemisphere sea ice area over the next several decades under increasing greenhouse gas scenarios. But, the same model responses of the Southern Hemisphere sea ice are less certain... some recent studies suggesting the amount of sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere may initially increase as a response to atmospheric warming.... Observed global sea ice area, deﬁned here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979.... However, observed N. Hemisphere sea ice area is almost one million sq. km below values seen in late 1979 and S. Hemisphere sea ice area is about 0.5 million sq. km above that seen in late 1979....
Global climate model projections suggest that the most signiﬁcant response of the cryosphere to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations will be seen in Northern Hemisphere summer sea ice extent. Recent decreases of N. Hemisphere summer sea ice extent... are consistent with such projections. Arctic summer sea ice is only one potential indicator of climate change, however, and we urge interested parties to consider the many variables and resources available when considering observed and model-projected climate change. For example, the ice that is presently in the Arctic Ocean is younger and thinner than the ice of the 1980s and 1990s. So Arctic ice volume is now below its long-term average by an even greater amount than is ice extent or area...
Should the Washington Post print George F. Will when he claims this means "According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979"? Should the Washington Post ombudsman write that "the University of Illinois center... has now said it doesn’t agree with his conclusion, but earlier this year it put out a statement http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/global.sea.ice.area.pdf that was among several sources for this column and that notes in part that "Observed global sea ice area... is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979"? Should the Washington Post refuse to print a subsequent correction? Should the Washington Post ombudsman continue to fail to address the claim that the Post has printed a falsehood?