Firing John Yoo
Econ 210a Memo Question for February 25

Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned Watch. We Make Phone Calls

So we called Mr. Andrew Alexander at the Washington Post and left him a message:


The Washington Monthly this morning publishes a letter http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2009_02/016968.php from Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander defending George F. Will's use of scientific sources. In it, Mr. Alexander defends Mr. Will's citation of the University of Illinois Arctic Climate Research Center and provides a link http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/global.sea.ice.area.pdf. Either Mr. Alexander did not read the ACR note, or he read the note and decided to mendaciously misrepresent what it said. Will claimed the note said that sea ice changes since 1979 do not provide evidence of global warming. The note says the opposite: that the shrinkage of arctic and (smaller) expansion of antarctic sea ice is evidence of global warming.

This appears a serious breach of either professional responsibility--the responsibility to read what you cite to make sure it says what you claim it says--or professional ethics--the duty not to lie about what your sources say.

Can you tell me whether Mr. Alexander did in fact read the ACR note? (It definitely says that global sea ice patterns since 1979 are in fact what we would expect if global warming is proceeding. Yet Alexander's letter is written as if he does not know that that is what the ACR note says.)

Can you tell me, if he in fact read the ACR note, why Mr. Alexander decided to misrepresent what the note said? (For it is a misrepresentation to say that the note said 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" while omitting that the note said that "global climate models project a decrease in the Northern Hemisphere sea ice... under increasing greenhouse gas scenarios. But... some recent studies suggest... sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere may initially increase as a response to atmospheric warming...")

Can you provide me with any reason why Mr. Alexander should not be immediately fired from the Washington Post for not doing his job to speak truth to editors, reporters, and readers?


Andrew Alexander in his own words:

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 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,"

Best wishes,

Andy Alexander
Washington Post Ombudsman

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