The earth shape controversy revived

by John Quiggin on March 23, 2009

Just about everyone has already piled on to the latest development in the George Will saga – the Washington Post’s belated publication of an opinion piece by Chris Mooney and a letter from the World Meteorological Association pointing out (very politely) that Will was lying in every paragraph of his notorious piece on global warming. And just about everyone has the same take: in the absence of a retraction or correction, the Post is taking the view that Will is entitled to his own facts. (Here’s Matthew Yglesias, for example, and Mooney has a huge list of links at his site).

The absolute refusal of the Post to take a position on the truth or falsity of what it publishes (along with the continued scandal of anonymous sourcing) leads me to a steadily more negative view of the question of whether we actually need newspapers and whether we should regret their seemingly inexorable decline. The standard claim is that without reporters, we in the blogosphere would have no material to work on. But Will’s recycling of long-refuted Internet factoids (something very common among rightwing pundits in particular) shows that, in important respects, the opposite is true.

More importantly as far as political and business news goes, there is almost always someone with an interest in having any given story published. If newspapers are unwilling to take a stand on which stories are true or false, their only function is that of gatekeeper – determining which stories see the light of day and which do not. The potential for corruption in this role is clear, and the reality was obvious particularly in relation to the Iraq war.

Update Lots of readers have inferred that I welcome/wish for the demise of newspapers or opinion columnists. Actually, having written (and been paid for) an opinion column in a national newspaper for the past fifteen years, I am deeply ambivalent on the subject. On the one hand, the deplorable handling of issues like climate change (particularly in opinion pages, but to a significant extent in news as well) the early years of the Iraq war (if anything worse in the news pages than the opinion section), and the ‘inside baseball’ approach to political news in general leads me to think we would be better off without them. On the other hand, there’s obviously a lot to lose here, and it’s not clear how, if at all, some of it can be replaced.

Of course, what will happen will happen, regardless of what I think about it. But maybe if those making decisions about how newspapers are run think more closely about episodes like this one, they might see the need for change, and that change might enhance their chances of survival.

{ 313 comments }

1

Total 03.23.09 at 1:19 pm

This is as close as the Washington Post is going to come out and call Will a liar.

2

Seth Finkelstein 03.23.09 at 1:45 pm

I’m going to say something that’s going to make me unpopular, and perhaps is extremely ill-advised from a risk/reward perspective. But this post hits upon something which has been bothering me for a while about bloggers-vs-journalists.

It’s really, really, easy to rant along these lines:

[begin flame]
It’s an OUTRAGE! It’s an INJUSTICE! It’s an ABOMINATION! If [insert target here] does not change, then they are no better than the devil himself, and deserve to be smashed to ruins, the earth salted, and wiped from the memory of humanity!!!
[end flame]

The problem is – it could be worse. It could be much, much, worse.

I’m starting to think along the lines of Winston Churchill’s quote of
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

3

engels 03.23.09 at 1:50 pm

I do think that calling for the abolition of newspapers on the basis of a bad experience with the Washington Post might seem a little bit over-hasty…

4

El Cid 03.23.09 at 1:53 pm

Are people assuming that if newspapers fail and many journalists cannot continue any real and needed coverage and investigative journalism that this status quo will continue forever?

5

John Protevi 03.23.09 at 1:58 pm

May I point out that being led to a steadily more negative view of the question of whether we actually need newspapers and whether we should regret their seemingly inexorable decline is neither a “rant” or a “flame” (per SF) nor is it “calling for the abolition of newspapers” (per engels).

6

John Gordon 03.23.09 at 1:59 pm

You really need to spend more time reading the OpEd and Editorial sections of the Wall Street Journal.

They haven’t had any connection to reality for years. The weird part is that the journalist side of the paper, pre-Murdoch, was quite good.

There’s nothing novel about a pundit who invents their own reality.

7

Barry 03.23.09 at 2:07 pm

I second John. Seth, you’re looking at a decided non-rant, which is based on a context of repeated failures and corruption on the part of the elite MSM, and calling it a rant.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

8

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 2:09 pm

I have said a few hundred times in the last 3-5 years that the crimes of the Post and the Times are intentional and brazen, and not inadvertent, the result of carelessness or incompetence, or even things that they regret when they’re caught. That is to say, the Times and the Post are bad actors, whether as a result of the direction given to these papers by Graham and Sulzberger respectively, or because of a corrupt institutional culture that Graham and Sulzberger couldn’t change if they tried.

The general response has been to explain to me that there’s no such thing as “agency”, not even in hierarchal corporations, and that “shit happens” is the most convincing explanation of any social fact. I’m just a simple Luddite and don’t understand what these people are saying; I’m just reporting the response.

My theory that the decline of these papers was motivated by advertiser pressure and the financial interests of the publishers (taxes for all companies, the estate tax for privately-held publications, and the other holdings of the large diversified media conglomerates) also met with universal derision. I did note that the editorial boards are not independent of the finance board at either newspaper, with Graham and Sulzberger chairing both boards in their respective papers. This theory also met widespread derision; my theory is that truths become untrue when told to many times the way jokes become unfunny when repeated very often. (And then again: Chomsky! Marx! Satan!)

Something also happened when the mad-dog right succeeded in forcing formal “conservative” representation on editorial boards, starting about 1984. A remarkable proportion of major columnists got their start as Republican operatives: Buchanan, Novak, Will, Safire, and more recently Kristol, Gerson, Goldberg, and Douthat. (Plus others that don’t come to mind). Furthermore, in contrast to comparable Democrats (Stephanopolous, Estrich) they show no signs of having ceased to be Republican operatives. Novak and Will occasionally “go off the reservation” on one issue or another (e.g. when Will sandbagged George Bush the Smarter), but that’s because they’re big enough to be players within the Republican Party.

When a writer is hired as a conservative, writing conservative columns becomes part of his joib description. If he seriously changes his mind about things (as Garry Wills did long ago) he will not be able to do his job, and his job will not last. (An exception is Krugman, erroneously hired as a center-right Democrat. My guess is that there’s a behind-the-scenes story of his non-firing.)

In such cases the columnists are in two chains of command, like zampolits or commisars in the old USSR, or like the mob reps in the old Teamsters union. And the Republican Party is the dominant player. The media became organs of the Republican Party, just as the Department of Justice did, or the EPA, and so on.

Another laughable conclusion of mine was that instead of giving billions of dollars ever few years to brain-dead, Republican-infiltrated major media, the Democratic money people should start a high-quality, non-profit, non-Republican national newspaper or cable network, and staff it with top new people and with quality disgruntled reporters from the major media. People pointed out that I was assuming that either the Democratic party pros or the Democratic money people are unhappy with the present situation, whereas they really aren’t in the slightest. This criticism I understand and accept. On the other hand, there’s lots of money out there and neither task wuld be impossible.

So there’s my unfunny joke one more time. You may return to your previously schedued activities.

9

Seth Finkelstein 03.23.09 at 2:11 pm

Well, to be highly pedantic, I said it “hits upon something”, not “is a specific example of the following”. Implication aside, I think the competing overall ideas are clear. To respond to El Cid, I think it’s entirely possible we could end up worse off than currently.

10

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 2:18 pm

Let’s revise Seth’s Wiki page!

11

Rich Puchalsky 03.23.09 at 2:20 pm

Saying it’s possible we could end up worse is beside the point. “We” don’t control what’s going to happen to the newspapers anyways. The only thing that “we” choose is whether we’re going do our bit to provide rhetorical cover for the newspapers in our little corner of the blogosphere.

And I say no. Let the newspapers die if they’re going to die. We should go strictly on a principle of “what have you done for me lately?”, and what have the newspapers done for us lately? Nothing.

12

MarkUp 03.23.09 at 2:20 pm

“I think it’s entirely possible we could end up worse off than currently.”

Well of course we could, and the safe could actually hurt when the Coyote takes it on the head and don’t get me going about the time Coyote got the A.C.M.E. flame thrower……..

13

Pete 03.23.09 at 2:21 pm

Well, John P., John Q. does seem to imply that he would answer “no” to both questions (whether newspapers are needed and whether their decline is to be regretted) – he has a “steadily more negative view” of both questions. If John Q. had said he had a “less positive view,” I think this would have a different implication. Given his further claim that blogs are doing the much-needed work that newspapers should be doing, it’s not so great a leap to see this as a form of calling for the death of the newspaper (as engels glossed it). He’s saying, I think, that their loss is not to be mourned, but not because, say, they are going to a “better place” (this would clearly have a different implication), but because they suck at their job.

14

Seth Finkelstein 03.23.09 at 2:22 pm

John Emerson/#9 – Umm, you do know that’s exactly why I think it’s dangerous to have one, right?
(getting off topic …)

15

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 2:24 pm

The problem with Seth’s rant is it’s the same old “Better than Hitler! Better than Stalin!” argument, which works for everyone except Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Teodoro Obiang.

And it’s not as though Quiggin had his hand on the lever which would drop the trap to send the Post and the Times to their eternal reward. He’s a powerless and disreputable internet troll, even as you and I, though I’m not sure that he completely understands that.

Not mentioned is that we’re used to thinking of the Post and the Times as actually good media, by contrast to the dominant TV and radio media, but increasingly we’re seeing them converge to the norm.

16

mpowell 03.23.09 at 2:25 pm

Unfortunately, it is the editorials at major newspapers which will take the longest to die and which are also the most worthless (probably add negative value, actually). The service newspapers were best at, digging up local news, will atrophy the most quickly.

17

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 2:27 pm

13: yes, that’s why I said it.

No one should revise Seth’s wiki page, if he has one. Joke.

18

John Protevi 03.23.09 at 2:30 pm

Pete, he is saying their loss is not to be mourned, but it is a “leap,” as you say, to claim he is “calling for the death of the newspaper.” My saying that the end of the Bush administration is not to be mourned is not the same as saying he should be impeached.

19

engels 03.23.09 at 2:31 pm

John Protevi — up to a point, Lord Copper. Isn’t the underlying attitude that newspapers are inevitably going to disappear and we should all be glad to see the back of them? Interestingly enough, this is the same attitude orthodox Marxists have to capitalism. I suppose you could claim that orthodox Marxists don’t ‘call for the abolition of’ capitalism but that might strike some people as being a bit pedantic.

Anyway, I do think you can generalise too much from the condition of the Washington Post and the New York Times (both abysmal imho) to the that of the press as a whole, including in places outside of the US. Which is not, I hope, to be under any illusions about the latter but only to believe that a world where I was forced to get my news from the ‘blogosphere’ is too horrible to think about.

20

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 2:31 pm

It’s an OUTRAGE! It’s an INJUSTICE! It’s an ABOMINATION! If [insert target here] does not change, then they are no better than the devil himself, and deserve to be smashed to ruins, the earth salted, and wiped from the memory of humanity

Sometimes you’re an asshole, Seth.

21

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 2:36 pm

Anyway, I do think you can generalise too much from the condition of the Washington Post and the New York Times (both abysmal imho) to the that of the press as a whole

Not within the US you can’t. In terms of covering the news they are two of the best three papers in the country, hands down. In editorial policy they’re average, with the Times if anything a little to the left of the norm. In integrity they’re probably below average, but only because most US papers rarely write anything original about major world news, so their lapses of integrity are on local stories and don’t have anywhere near the impact.

22

JoB 03.23.09 at 2:40 pm

Well, John, the question is whether bad columnism is a factor in the decline of printed press.

If not, your steadily more negative view and your whether we should regret is a rather opportunistic (as in cheap impact seeking) connection to make, certainly if based on an example of 2 newspapers only.

Maybe the US is very, very different but the economic decline of printed newspapers is mainly a threat to the amount of full-time independent journalists, something extremely regrettable, & not something solved by taking (as one should) issue with malpractice or unbalance.

23

Seth Finkelstein 03.23.09 at 2:40 pm

The problem with Seth’s rant is it’s the same old “Better than Hitler! Better than Stalin!”

In fact, I’m going to agree with you that’s the argument, and say it’s a good argument! And thank you for bringing up Hitler and Stalin, so people don’t jump all over me for using them as examples. There’s reasons people turned to Hitler. There’s reasons people turned to Stalin. Notably, they presented themselves as alternatives to a corrupt regime. And it’s usually accepted that turning to them resulted in the societies being worse off than otherwise. Something similar (not identical of course, but metaphorically harsh) is entirely possible with the evolution of media.

“Sometimes you’re an asshole, Seth” – Huh? I thought my original comment was colorful, not hurtful.

24

John Protevi 03.23.09 at 2:41 pm

@ 18: Pedantic, moi?

Seriously, I think your second paragraph in 18 is excellent. As is this comment.

25

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 2:49 pm

So Hitler and Stalin came into power because people had a bad attitude about newspapers? Karl Kraus’s attacks on the Neue Freie Presse were caused Hitler?

26

Seth Finkelstein 03.23.09 at 2:58 pm

Oh, please – note “not identical of course, but metaphorically harsh”.

The point I keep making is about going from bad to worse – Hitler and Stalin, as you brought up, show just how wrong things can go, where staying with the devil you know (despite all its faults) would have been a much better idea.

27

JoB 03.23.09 at 3:03 pm

Ha, Karl Kraus, “es bilden sich Gruppen”, wonderful stuff – but clearly his point was not that the press should go out of business, rather that the press should be independent.

Do you really think Kraus would support the blogosphere as the sole source of information? I’m rather inclined to see it as a bad thing that groups are being built in pro- & contra-blogs; keeping everybody cosy and unchallenged in its own sphere of truth.

Damned, we should revive him – it would be bloody interesting to hear from Karl on the now.

28

Barry 03.23.09 at 3:05 pm

JE: “The problem with Seth’s rant is it’s the same old “Better than Hitler! Better than Stalin!””

Seth Finkelstein 03.23.09 at 2:40 pm
“In fact, I’m going to agree with you that’s the argument, and say it’s a good argument! And thank you for bringing up Hitler and Stalin, so people don’t jump all over me for using them as examples. There’s reasons people turned to Hitler. There’s reasons people turned to Stalin. Notably, they presented themselves as alternatives to a corrupt regime. And it’s usually accepted that turning to them resulted in the societies being worse off than otherwise. Something similar (not identical of course, but metaphorically harsh) is entirely possible with the evolution of media.”

Yes, that is true – to be pedantic. For example, if Kerry had won in 2004, we’d have been rid of the Bush administration (four years earlier than in our timeline), but it *is* entirely possible that Presdient-for-life, later God-King, later Destroyer of the World Kerry would have been far, far wose than Bush.

29

politicalfootball 03.23.09 at 3:33 pm

I’ll certainly second J. Quiggin’s sentiment here. The George Will imbroglio was despicable on the part of the Post from start (the column itself) to finish (Mooney’s response, which was late and only tangentially acknowledged the corruption in the Post’s decision-making process).

Sensible people are not going to be endeared to old-line journalism if this is the sort of hairball that old-line journalism is going to cough up. Hiatt’s idea seems to be that publishing bullshit is not an offense against the Post’s professional standards. To the extent that you agree with Hiatt’s opinion of the Post (and I don’t), there’s not much reason to fret about the demise of the Post.

(And yes, I get how presumptuous it is of me to propose that I might have a more accurate opinion of the Post’s professional standards than Hiatt. But still …)

30

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 3:58 pm

All three major newspapers give columnists completely free rein, including permission to lie (though not always, at the WSJ at least permission to deviate far from the RNC/Movement Conservative line). This is a routine, ongoing problem. Yet columnists from these same newspapers (Kristoff just now — granted that he himself is not a liar) are the ones leading the charge against the irresponsible, slanderous, divisive, polarized, ideological internet. Blatant cognitive dissonance of this sort is pretty sure evidence that the print-media side, at least, is so stupefied by its ideologies and interests that it’s in the false-consciousness zone. Reason isn’t going to get us anywhere.

31

JoB 03.23.09 at 4:16 pm

John, you go from columnists in 3 major newspapers in one country & then you wind up in “the print-media side” presumably including journalists alongside columnists & all newspapers with these 3 & the press globally with that in the US.

Aren’t you giving yourself not too much free rein here? At least as far as extending low standard of opinionating to low standard of reporting.

You mentioned Karl Kraus – wouldn’t you see similarities in the groups he saw trying to use our language to their partisan benefit & at least some of the internet? In fact isn’t a lot of the blogs a whole lot like the columns in the 3 major newspapers?

32

Seth Finkelstein 03.23.09 at 4:21 pm

Alternate theory: Paid liars resent the enroachment on their turf by unpaid liars. But not all opponents of the unpaid liars are paid liars. Paid honest people might privately oppose both the paid liars and the unpaid liars, but be politically constrained not to publicly oppose the paid liars yet be able to publicly oppose the unpaid liars.

The hard question is what decreases the proportion of liar influence to honest influence. The potential bad outcome is that it actually increases in the decline of newspapers.

(tedious point: this is not refuted by citing all the times newspapers got things wrong)

33

Watson Aname 03.23.09 at 4:31 pm

So Seth, if you assume political constraints on not publicly opposing the “paid liars” that leave you free to a publicly oppose the “unpaid liars”, why do we not see (afaics) public support of the “unpaid honest people”? Or is the political constraint merely to oppose the unpaid, via any workable attack?

There is some terrible journalism being done on the web by unprofessional (or semi-) sources, both in terms of quality and accuracy. There is also some of the absolute best. Should that be sacrificed in the name, if not the fact, of supporting newspapers?

As far as I can see, the decline of newspapers has little or nothing to do with amateur web journalism at all (though a fair bit to do with advertising revenues plus craigslist and friends). Newspaper journalism quality has been sharply falling since long before that was even arguably a factor.

34

Seth Finkelstein 03.23.09 at 4:47 pm

> why do we not see (afaics) public support of the “unpaid honest people”?

Because in general criticism is more prevalent than praise? It’s well-known that doing something very wrong can draw much more negative reaction, than doing something very right will draw positive reaction.

Who was talking about sacrificing some of the absolute best?

I agree with you about “the decline of newspapers has little or nothing to do with amateur web journalism at all ” – However, I think there are lot of people cheering (or very close to it) or good-riddancing that decline who then use amateur web journalism as part of the justification for their position.

35

MarkUp 03.23.09 at 5:01 pm

But are newspapers declining, or is it that since Gore invent the internet, they are [used loosely] evolving? Pretty much all the current griping and grousing about papers slants, inclusiveness/exclusiveness have been going on for some time [read as, well before the electronic age]. I know we discussed it in 8th grade civics or social studies [had the same teach for both…] way back OMG in the 60’s. Just as some folks like their paid jobs and do indeed entertain many things to try and keep them many of the “unpaid” masses are indeed paid. Perhaps not directly or immediately, but the Pentagon is not the exclusive owner of the revolving door.

36

english 03.23.09 at 5:11 pm

thanks for following up on this. and for the links.

when smaller papers -like ones in my neighborhood- get lazy and resort to derivitave editorials based on those like Will’s and industry shill soundbites, it’s good to be able to refer to responses like the WMA’s and hold editors accountable.

37

Alex 03.23.09 at 5:12 pm

There’s certainly an argument for *new* newspapers, just as there is an argument for new banks. Note that the US papers that have gone bust recently have basically done so because of the debts they contracted, or rather, that their proprietors contracted and loaded on them in order to be Press Barons by the power of leverage. Well, the debts die with the papers, and the barons with’em up to a point. Anywhere where the paper was cashflow positive before debt service can support a new newspaper/newspaper-like entity.

Further, it’s depressingly typical that the newspaper business should discover all the causes of its problems except the quality of its product, the appropriateness of its pricing, and the wisdom of its financial structure.

38

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 5:28 pm

30: Not “three major newspapers”. “The three major American newspapers”. The #4 American newspaper (Chicago Trib? LA Times?) is at besy just barely major.

I do get a “WTF are you trying to say?” feeling from your comment, but anyway:

I haven’t said anything about the press outside the US, though is some countries it’s as bad or worse.

News coverage is not as bad as editorial policy, but it can be pretty bad.

By relying on selected internet sites for my news, I get more in-depth and more accurate national and international news than I could get from any cable, TV, or radio network, or from most of the non-major American newspapers (whose non-loacl coverage is increasingly thin). Compared to the three American majors, the internet gives me more accurate news on the major topics, but is unsatisfactory for in-depth coverage of issues which aren’t usually on the front page.

It’s true that if I randomly chose internet sites I’d be misinformed, but no one does that and it’s really all wrong. The diversity is a good thing. On the internet I can choose between sources and compare them, whereas with the major media you get a very narrow range of homogenized Villager interpretations. Over the last half-century we’ve trapped ourselves in an authoritarian centrist consensus point of view, which has been drifting rightwards for much of that time. I really miss yellow journalism.

Note that my suggestion in #7 was consistent with Soros or some consortium just buying up the nearly-bankrupt NYT or WaPo and running it as a non-profit. This would be a far better bequest than dormitories and gymnasiums at some university, and it would be a politically wiser expenditure, with more positive long-term results, than doling out hundreds of millions every election year for the imbecile TV networks to piss away.

It’s also consistent with a co-op nonprofit with a million members buying up the Times and running it.

I’d be happy either with a good, honest, professionally run newspaper, OR with a normally-partisan Democratic newspaper, and I think that you could actually have both at once. I think that the Post/Times centrist insider kingmaker-gatekeeper strategy is toxic by now and probably always was.

While I did mention Kraus, you will note that I did so only to aske whether he was responsible for the rise of Hitler.

39

Ralph Hitchens 03.23.09 at 5:32 pm

The ideological gap between the news articles and op-ed pages in the Washington Post rivals that of the Wall Street Journal.

40

bilejones 03.23.09 at 6:02 pm

Given the ongoing role of the corporate media in enabling the various crimes of Government over the last several decades, I’m not convinced that depriving the CIA of its reliable propaganda organs would be a bad thing.

41

Rich B. 03.23.09 at 6:17 pm

Somebody thinks Teodoro Obiang wasn’t better than Hitler or Stalin?

42

JoB 03.23.09 at 7:00 pm

John,

As to the courteous WTF – what I said was that columnism isn’t the same as journalism, that the US is not the world and that a definite article in front of 3 does not increase the generality of a claim. Three qualifications originally absent from your sweeping swoop.

I do not doubt that the internet is progress but as is clear from your Soros idea (I think it’s a good one although I’d hope we could dispense with Soros et al. to realize it) that is not a reason to be happy the printed press is in bad shape. See my 21: whether in print or otherwise, having less full-time journalists is a bad thing (and certainly one of those reasons why journalism isn’t as good as it should be).

PS: you mentioned Karl approvingly so it shouldn’t be a cause of strong language afaik to ask what he would think about it; your preferred source of news seems awfully close to some of the best biting bits he did

43

purpleOnion 03.23.09 at 7:45 pm

The newspapers and pundits have been all over the place trying to describe or inform readers about the demise of newspapers, but they invariably leave out the most important one – not informing readers with objective information. Instead the publishers have decided to become the propaganda wing of the U.S. government, the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, and big business. In our newly formed upside down world a free press means the freedom to deceive its audience. The freedom to misinform, mislead, misdirect, distract, anything but inform its readers is now sacrosanct.

I remember a time when there was a morning paper and an afternoon paper. The morning paper was basically conservative, but by no means like the present, and the afternoon paper represented democratic interests. Regardless of whether the papers stood behind one political party or the other there was an effort to be reality based. The free press’s original intent was to contain government and big business so that they too had to play within the rules established for all Americans.

As a reader can easily see there is little or no attempt toward accuracy in journalistic reporting. Most of our so-called journalists are nothing more than writers who disrespect their audiences enough to lie to their faces daily. The propaganda is relentless and merciless. Those two aspects of modern journalism are all I need to inform me that what we read, hear, and see today is nothing more than big business propaganda.

How betraying the American people, (as if they are an enemy,) by spying on them, misleading them, and treating all of them like suspects is a matter of projection. Since the press is criminal, unethical, and corrupt so too must be the American people; therefore, any lengths they use to oppress the people, before they wake up to the reality that they are being screwed, is permissible.

Americans are being forced to accept a two tier legal and political system with one set of rules that apply to the aristocracy and another set of rules that apply to the common rabble. Apparently the only established rule was at one time not to be caught, but this has changed. Now, if someone among the aristocrats is caught they simply change the rules. It is rule by men; therefore, it is arbitrary. This is a push to the opposite extreme of the Constitution’s original intent, but the plutocrats believe that as long as citizens are unwilling or unable to defend the way of life so many have sacrificed for they do not deserve the freedom that they took from the robber barons.

The right wing in this country is seeking nothing less than the absolute right, without consequence, to exploit the American people. This is based on the beliefs that human dignity does not exist, presumed innocence is a fantasy, and due process is a waste of money. Its intent is to turn America into a cult, rather than a nation of free and independent thinkers. After the failure of leadership, in America, to persuade the people to follow them blindly into the valley of death, (unnecessary wars,) and let the people push back, because a vocal minority did not agree, as was the case with Vietnam, the leaders swore that other world leaders would never see this presumed crack in the walls of power again.

The leaders in this country to this day do not think of Americans’ independence as strength, but a weakness due to an inability to completely control citizens’ behavior. If the leaders order soldiers to attack an orphanage for physically challenged children that is run by nuns, they don’t want them to ask why; they want them to do or die. Evidence for this can be seen in the promotion of torture, “If the president does it, it is legal.” Then and only then will U.S. leaders have proven to the rest of the world who is in control, for that is the measure that tyrants use to evaluate power. The corporate run newspapers are assisting in this goal; therefore, they are responsible for the betrayal of American values and Americans. Since many newspapers have become the distributors of propaganda there is no reason for Americans to buy them or use their advertisers, because to do so is to support authoritarianism.

44

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 7:55 pm

40: I’ll let you speak for the cannibal-friendly community.

41: I’m still WTF?

Yes, we can learn to separate the lying columnists from the much-less-likely-to-lie journalists. So we have a newspaper which systematically publishes liars on the editorial page (and even though these are “opinion” columns they’re full of purported facts) and mostly-nice guys elsewhere.

These papers are still organs of misinformation, since in actual fact most readers skim them. (Stupid readers! Bad citizens! Read every word! ) And, not mentioned so far, the semi-good papers often hide major stories on the back pages, and sometimes suppress them entirely.

There are really only three papers in the US which offer substantial coverage of world newe, and all of them have the problem we’re discussing here in a big way. If you still have failed to get my point, by all means ask again, and I’ll dumb it down further for you.

I was pretty sure that it’s been tacitly agreed that we’re talking mostly about US journalism here. But if I was wrong, I beg your forgiveness.

I’ve spent years working up #8, and the consistent flatness and negativity of the response has been really phenomenal. All I ever get are a few small quibbles. I’m accustomed to this, but still puzzled. It makes perfect sense to me.

45

JoB 03.23.09 at 8:32 pm

Well, WTF right back at ya then ;-)

I leave you to your personal space & beg forgiveness for not being absorbed in a world according to John’s gripes.

Wouldn’t want you to stoop so low as to come near my level where applause is not the spontaneous reaction to your ideas.

46

Alex 03.23.09 at 8:39 pm

Obiang didn’t have their opportunities. You have to understand the problems the structural violence of our society imposed on him. When you start in Equatorial Guinea, you have to content yourself with cannibalising a few thousand citizens; you just don’t have access to the best railway network in the world plus the best industrial chemists and a pretty good secret police network, or to a longstanding tradition of mass repression and 15,000 T34 tanks.

47

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 8:48 pm

44: More meaningful and intelligible responses in 31, 41, and 44 would have been welcome. I’ve actually made a fair number of substantive comments here, of which you’ve chosen to comment glancingly on 3 or so.

But you did answer my question. It’s the cootie thing. I’m sort of like a tar pit or quicksand sink, and anyone who pays attention to me is in dire risk of being absorbed in a world according to John’s gripes, a fate which few survive.

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novakant 03.23.09 at 10:15 pm

Why would anyone read editorials in the first place?

49

John 03.23.09 at 10:23 pm

On the occasions over the years when I’ve been an insider to a story, and these have ranged from how the Labour Party elects its leader to the restructuring of Heinz Australia, what has been published in the newspapers has been so far removed from what was actually going on that I sometimes wondered where on earth the stories as published had come from. Newspapers may have entertainment value but I think they are esentially works of fiction.

50

Righteous Bubba 03.23.09 at 10:46 pm

Why would anyone read editorials in the first place?

I dunno, but they seem awfully similar to that thing up there at the top of this thread.

51

John Quiggin 03.23.09 at 10:52 pm

The thread seems to be have been pretty thoroughly derailed while I slept. Seth, you’re right that comments like this make you unpopular, not because your viewpoint is indefensible but because you put the same point (or a variant) forward so reflexively and disruptively every time anything related to the Internet comes up here. Unless you have something different to say, I’d prefer that you don’t comment on my posts in future.

52

John Emerson 03.23.09 at 11:05 pm

At the end of the day, Wiki was probably right about Seth after all.

Novakant, this thread actually wasn’t about your reading pleasure or your tastes.

53

roy belmont 03.23.09 at 11:23 pm

A refusal to mourn the death from revenue attrition of print journalism in the US.
The numerically largest demographic gets its news such as it is from the cable news shows.
Actual reading by actual readers is shrinking everywhere not just in current events journalism.
That plus the internet is shutting off the revenue stream for newspapers.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
Etc.

54

John Quiggin 03.24.09 at 12:12 am

To attempt a restart, here’s how I would have defended the Post, if I had to. I’d make the following claims

1. In a two-party system such as that of the US, it’s essential for a newspaper to present the claims of both parties.
2. If these claims, involve fundamental disagreement over the facts the job of the paper is to present the positions of both sides and let readers make up their own minds.
3. Granting (contrary to existing practice) that news reports should present the truth where it can be determined, opinion writers (at least those who represent a major body of opinion) are still entitled to their own facts, or at least to cherrypicked data, quotations that misrepresent the view of those quoted and so on.

I don’t agree with any of these points. It seems obvious, however, in the specific circumstances of the US at present, that the only alternative is for the print media to take sides in the way that has already happened on radio and on the Internet. This need not mean mindless partisanship, but it does mean (for the papers I would regard as having any value) an evidence-based presumption that most things said by Republicans are lies, and that any verifiable facts cited by Republicans have been cherrypicked so as to be misleading and deceptive. (The non-partisan aspect would be a willingness to conclude that Democrats and progressives are lying, or clearly in error, when the evidence points that way.)

Clearly, that would be a radical change for the Post, NYT etc. But their unwillingness to move in that direction leads me to be less regretful about their decline than I would be if I regarded them as a source of (on balance) reliable factual information about political issues in general and climate change in particular.

But if anyone would like to amplify the points I’ve suggested, or offer an alternative view of the Post’s actions in this matter (more interesting than “you’ll miss it when it’s gone) I’d be keen to discuss more.

55

Seth Finkelstein 03.24.09 at 12:33 am

Just for the record of defense, I wish to strongly deny I’ve done anything “disruptively”. Please note John Emerson just made a comment that is purely personal attack on me in #51, and I’ve done nothing of the sort to him or anyone in the thread. I do have many critical views, but I argue them in appropriate contexts (i.e. it is simply false to charge “anything related to the Internet”) and I believe I take much more grief for them than is objectively justified, per the two examples just noted.

56

joel hanes 03.24.09 at 1:01 am

[John Emerson’s] theory that the decline of these papers was motivated by advertiser pressure and the financial interests of the publishers … met with universal derision

Only because I was not there to agree with it.
Because I do agree with it, and so do the small number of practicing journalists that I know personally.

57

John Emerson 03.24.09 at 1:18 am

I was just keeping the Wiki joke rolling.

58

John Quiggin 03.24.09 at 1:26 am

Seth, if you wanted me to regard you as constructive rather than disruptive you might have put forward a serious argument that newspapers do useful stuff that can’t be replaced, rather than putting up a hyperbolic caricature of my position and getting everyone to debate whether or not such a caricature was really a misrepresenation.

I don’t want to be derailed into yet more meta-stuff, so I won’t debate you any further. Feel free to have the last word if you want, but please make it the last.

59

purpleOnion 03.24.09 at 1:54 am

The decline of television news was incremental. Like the frog that does not know it is being boiled until it is too late television audiences have grown to accept the ten second sound bite, because all that the viewer needs to do is add his personal emotional take on any given report and in so doing believes he has a complete picture.

The disappearance of the raised brow when a person being interviewed is obviously speaking falsely. The upgrading of known political hacks to supposed objective pundits took place over a period of a few months. There is a recognizable singular perception that runs through most of the news and it is a corporate one.

Americans are like the silent witness to a murder. The victim is a democratic republic. There is an ongoing silent coup taking place that is usurping commonly held beliefs and values with a cynical and callous view of events and people. Olaf Stapleton referred to this view being similar to a parasite. The parasite is the hatred that is held for other human beings. When hatred has gained dominance over citizens minds there a very few things that can be done to them that one will not accept. It is the greatest threat to Western democracy since the Cold War.

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politicalfootball 03.24.09 at 3:25 am

a serious argument that newspapers do useful stuff that can’t be replaced

I am increasingly persuaded that no such argument exists – a very tough admission for someone who has had a longstanding sentimental attachment to newspaper journalism.

It’s an inescapable problem for printed journalism that genuine experts are willing to give away their expertise. Someone who wants to know what’s going on, by-and-large, has better sources than newspapers.

Paul Krugman is an excellent columnist, but he might be better as a blogger, especially if he devoted his full time to it – and folks like Krugman have the inclination and ability to do so without collecting a salary. The New York Times was smart as hell to employ him.

Everyone who is talking on the Internet about Geithner’s latest plan has linked the NYT, the WaPost, or the WSJ. Everyone. Already, there are very few other relevant sources for national spot news journalism. Even if McClatchy has a smarter take on the subject, it doesn’t much matter.

And in any event, come Monday, the plan was available to the general public – and all the bloggers. The only real service that the major news outlets provided was a two-day headstart on interpretation of the program.

Local news, local sports – that’s what’s left for the other print newspapers. We may be in for a golden age of state government graft, because I’m not sure anybody wants to pay for coverage of that stuff.

We have already entered the era of gross federal criminality, and the major media have been enablers, not impediments.

61

bad Jim 03.24.09 at 3:32 am

The focus on opinion pieces is odd, considering the generally discreditable job most pundits did before the invasion of Iraq. I resolved then to ignore any who supported the war, since they were clearly either more ignorant than I was, had worse analytical skills, or were simply dishonest. It’s since become clear that my objections were mostly beside the point: they don’t perform any analysis at all! They simply observe the positions others have taken and choose theirs accordingly.

I want to take issue with Emerson’s dismissal of the L.A. Times (which, by the way, opposed the war, unlike the big three). Back in 2003 I spent a week in a hotel in Washington where the Post was free. It seemed as thin and insubstantial as the S.F. Chronicle, barely one coffee’s worth of reading. I had to buy the N.Y. Times just to get through breakfast. It was no surprise to see the L.A. Times on sale at the nearest corner. Its war reporting was some of the best, and at least it didn’t promulgate lies as the N.Y. Times did with Judith Miller and Michael Gordon.

62

lemuel pitkin 03.24.09 at 3:42 am

Interesting that literally the next post after this one simply consists of calling attention to a newspaper article that, as Kieran says, “must be read to be believed.” I wonder if stories like that will really be disseminated as readily in the post-print world?

63

politicalfootball 03.24.09 at 3:47 am

It’s interesting that literally the next post after this one didn’t link to a piece of paper, but a place on the web. Rupert contends that the WSJ matters as a brand and not as a printed news outlet. I have no idea if he’s right, but I think there’s a fairly strong presumption that he’s an expert, and that he doesn’t have an incentive to lie about this.

64

lemuel pitkin 03.24.09 at 3:57 am

politicalfootball, you’re being silly. The people who write stuff like the WSJ story aren’t amateur bloggers or “experts giving away their expertise for free.” They’re professional reporters, who in the current state of things are employed mainly by newspapers. And John Q.’s post says nothing about print. (I did, but it was just loose language: change post-print to post-newspaper, if you like.)

Of course, I suppose it’s much easier to say we don’t need newspapers if you define “newspaper” to exclude things like the Wall Street Journal…

65

Quinnat 03.24.09 at 4:20 am

George Will isn’t a journalist. He doesn’t write newspaper articles– he writes an opinion column. He is one of the stable of cranks that American newspapers have always kept around to appeal to various tastes. Think Westbrook Pegler, David Lawrence, Colonel McCormick– there were hundreds of these guys since at least the ’30’s, and given that newpaper publishers tend to be to troglodytes the political columnists tend to be right-wingers, which means that they are usually wrong.

Will has nothing to do with newspaper reporting. He has hardly more to do with the state of American journalism than a department store display ad or the word-jumble puzzle or horoscope or the special color of a sports section’s newsprint. He was a minor political science academic who got into the business bloviating in National Review. He is irrelevant to the discussion in most of this thread. What you want a newspaper for is the people paid to report on real events. George Will is lagniappe. Just a clown in a bow-tie.

66

Eli Rabett 03.24.09 at 4:29 am

Try this (it is more or less John Emerson)

The left/center accepted newspapers as useful until newspapers (~1980)decided they had to have “conservative” voices and act as mimeo machines for the RNC. Given that the right was NEVER going to accept newspapers, this tactic ensured a death spiral since the newspapers now have no defenders. PBS is flushing itself down the same toilet. TS.

67

John Quiggin 03.24.09 at 4:29 am

Lemuel, that thought occurred to me also, and I don’t have an immediate answer either way. I’m guessing that the story originated with those that JAMA tried to gag. Suppose they had gone instead to, say, Chris Mooney or Inside Higher Education. Would things have been much different?

68

politicalfootball 03.24.09 at 5:10 am

lemuel, did you read my comment? I read yours. Let’s take it line by line:

The people who write stuff like the WSJ story aren’t amateur bloggers or “experts giving away their expertise for free.”

It was precisely my point that this was so. Did you read my comment?

They’re professional reporters, who in the current state of things are employed mainly by newspapers.

It was precisely my point that this was so. Did you read my comment?

And John Q.’s post says nothing about print.

Horseshit. It was precisely his point to talk about print. Did you think he was discussing the impending demise of “Talking Points Memo”? Did you read his post? It referred quite explicitly to “newspapers” more than once – one assumes to the exclusion of other media. Did you think that by “newspaper” he meant to include web-only outlets or do you think, maybe, he was talking about, um, newspapers?

Here’s what Quiggin said:

leads me to a steadily more negative view of the question of whether we actually need newspapers and whether we should regret their seemingly inexorable decline.

Not only that, you son of a bitch, but you say this:

(I did, but it was just loose language: change post-print to post-newspaper, if you like.)

Well fucking excuse me for responding to your actual comment. And somehow you said this:

Of course, I suppose it’s much easier to say we don’t need newspapers if you define “newspaper” to exclude things like the Wall Street Journal…

Fuck you. I don’t read here much, and I’ve hardly commented here at all, but I thought this was a serious-minded blog. This is the exact opposite of my explicit intent. Once again, here’s the relevant part of the comment to which you were responding, you dishonest piece of shit:

Rupert contends that the WSJ matters as a brand and not as a printed news outlet. I have no idea if he’s right, but I think there’s a fairly strong presumption that he’s an expert, and that he doesn’t have an incentive to lie about this.

How, in good faith, is my comment consistent with your response:

Of course, I suppose it’s much easier to say we don’t need newspapers if you define “newspaper” to exclude things like the Wall Street Journal…

I mean Jesus Fucking Christ. I may seem a bit rude, but if this is the standard for discourse around here, then I badly need to be banned. The topics discussed here are interesting to me, and the front-page posters, at least, seem intellectually honest, but it seems likely that y’all would be doing me a favor by removing the temptation for me to contribute here. This is horseshit.

69

sleepy 03.24.09 at 5:16 am

“If newspapers are unwilling to take a stand on which stories are true or false”
And this is new? SoWilliam Randolph Hearst started off as a stringer for Rupert Murdoch.
“True or False” On this page, when it comes to Israel?
Can someone please tell me why the proposition “Zionism=Racism” is not “true”?

There is no “truth” when it comes to language. It’s in there somewhere but we all lose sight of it, and always will. People defend what they want to believe, but some are more sophisticated than others.
“We want it in black and white!!”

Thanks to the web we have web pages and blogs by experts who write about what they know. Journalists are amateurs on every subject they cover. They’re writers not mathematicians, not lawyers, not economists, not historians. It amazes me that no one points that out. Experts can be deluded, but they’re still experts.

The amateur blogosphere is actually less important than the expert one. We have a world of blogs by people who used only to appear in the press as the authors of op-eds.
And they’re in direct communication with their readership. Quiggen and Chris Mooney are angry experts and we can bypass Will, who isn’t.
But still, “true or false.” Don’t make me laugh. Read up on the AMA in the next post if you don’t believe me. The AMA are experts. And I’m a “nothing and a nobody”!!!
And anonymous sourcing includes “Deep Throat.”

What you should be asking for is not truth but maturity from the editorial staff of a supposedly serious newspaper in our society. Maturity is still relative but at least there’s an attempt. “Why is the Washington Post reading like the NY Post!!?”
That’s the question. “Why are serious people[normative] behaving like idiots [normative] !??
The problem with Platonism in intellectual life is where it leads.
You follow?

70

JoB 03.24.09 at 8:47 am

John,

you might have put forward a serious argument that newspapers do useful stuff that can’t be replaced

Uh!? At the risk of being called disruptive or worse: so you really believe that us failing to meet your criterion is evidence for your pet belief that the internet can replace all newspapers (& this on the basis of specific issue you raise with 1, conveniently shifting your syntax from indefinite to definite articles)?

Newspapers (whether printed or on the internet) employ full-time independent journalists that have the time, the talent and the professional skill to report. A newspaper is not less of one, if it evolves to be available outside of print-only. The blogosphere isn’t an alternative for the press, if anything it is a huge extension of newspaper opinion pages (and the fact is that opinion pieces in newspapers have been greatly extended as a result of the blogosphere).

In fact your 3 claims intended to make everybody ‘not having the position of John Q’ rdiciulous are not far off the mark. It is typical for the bogosphere to represent truth and facts as simple, & mostly supporting one’s own position accusing anybody disagreeing of being untruthful.

71

John Emerson 03.24.09 at 10:59 am

Will has nothing to do with newspaper reporting. He has hardly more to do with the state of American journalism than a department store display ad or the word-jumble puzzle or horoscope or the special color of a sports section’s newsprint. He was a minor political science academic who got into the business bloviating in National Review. He is irrelevant to the discussion in most of this thread. What you want a newspaper for is the people paid to report on real events. George Will is lagniappe. Just a clown in a bow-tie.

He was published on one of the most-read pages of one of the nation’s most-read, most-authoritative journalistic publications. He may have been wearing a “opinion” hat instead of a “reporter” hat, but his piece was factual, except that all the facts were wrong. And the WaPo will not repudiate that.

The independence of columnists from management sounds like a good thing, but as I pointed out, it isn’t a good thing at at if they’re political commissars reporting to a political party (or to wealthy groups hiring them to make speeches at what, $200 / hr.?

Waving a magic wand doesn’t work.

What people should be saying is the the big newspapers do the detailed reporting that requires footwork and extensive research and digging. A nice compromise would be just to get rid of the editorials and columnists entirely.

72

sleepy 03.24.09 at 12:15 pm

73

politicalfootball 03.24.09 at 1:50 pm

your pet belief that the internet can replace all newspapers

Sigh. Seems like an odd reading of the conversation so far.

There are interesting extant questions about the economics of newsgathering and the value of newsgathering under current economic arrangements. There are two sets of circumstances under which – in Mr. Quiggins’ words – we might take

a steadily more negative view of the question of whether we actually need newspapers and whether we should regret their seemingly inexorable decline.”

We might regret the demise of newspapers less if web journalism continues to improve. Likewise, we might not regret the demise of newspapers as much if they continue to decline.

There seems to be general agreement here that there’s not much worth saving in “opinion journalism” in its current form. The acknowledged benefit from newspapers is their focus of professional manpower on discerning questions of fact. However, two examples on this thread – the Geithner Plan and the JAMA controversy – could have just as well been handled by “amateurs” like Delong or Calculated Risk or whomever.

One could argue that the JAMA story required professional reporting – but given the WSJ’s dry, routine handling of the story – “Medical Journal Decries Public Airing of Conflicts” – it wasn’t written to attract attention. It seems as though you need the web to put these things in their proper light: “The Journal of the American Medical Association Does a Fine Impression of Vito Corleone (or is it Fredo?)”

The good stuff in that story – the threat of retaliation against a whistleblower – was buried at least 15 paragraphs in. And look at this paragraph:

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, JAMA editor-in-chief Catherine DeAngelis called Dr. Leo “a nothing and a nobody.” In the editorial Friday, Dr. DeAngelis and co-author Phil Fontanarosa, JAMA’s executive deputy editor, said her comment about Dr. Leo “was erroneously reported” and that Dr. Leo “certainly is somebody doing something very important.”

You have to read the article pretty closely to see that the WSJ is calling DeAngelis and Fontanarosa a pair of liars.

Dr. Leo is obviously interested in publicizing this case. What about this article leads us to believe that, absent the WSJ, Dr. Leo wouldn’t have found another outlet? The whole controversy started because Dr. Leo did, in fact, seek another outlet than JAMA to discuss the matter.

I wonder, comparitively speaking, how much genuinely productive manpower is expended on reporting now vs. 20 years ago, if you include the time spent by amateurs exposing useful information. I’m not sure it’s less.

74

Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 3:26 pm

I’ll try and be delicate here, as when I blogged about this before Mark Kleiman, who I respect greatly, jumped all over me (in a very classy way).

I consider myself a progressive liberal and have despised George Will for decades. I also am unconvinced that anthropogenic contributions to greenhouse gases are potentially disastrous. I don’t like much of the company I keep on this issue, but that’s hardly the point here. (My post and Kleiman’s response are here: http://newsfan.typepad.co.uk/pestle/2009/03/george-will-and-the-madness-of-bloggers.html

1. What are the responsibilities a newspaper owes its readers, and how far do they extend to writings of opinion?
2. Where is an analogous relationship that can guide us to correct behavioural description? Is there something in academia that can help?
3. What George Will did is something he could easily justify to his editors by referring to published material. There were many popular articles written about a coming ice age–I read them when they were published. The caveats about the time frame of any ice age were sometimes missing, or always easy to miss. There were a couple of dozen academic or scientific papers discussing the issue published between 1972 and 1975. It is not wrong to suggest the issue was being debated–Will exaggerated when he suggests consensus, but no more than that. Similarly, he was six weeks out on his Arctic ice claim. The claim was true and was written about, but when Will’s piece was written the facts had changed. If a Wapo editor approached Will about this (can you imagine how the discussion was arranged and/or took place?) do you not think Will could quite easily make a prima facie case to justify his point of view?
4. The opposing side has had many opportunities in a variety of channels to make its case. The public has no trouble finding the conventional position on global climate change. If WaPo declines to put forward a position on the issue, George Will’s opinion does not commit WaPo to the same position. What are Wapo’s ethical responsibilities–if they do not agree with you, if they do not agree with Will, if they don’t know what the truth is?

I think in George Will and WaPo you have found easy villains to attack and are proposing constraints that will hurt the progressive liberal cause far more than it will help us in future. Or do you think the Wall Street Journal will not use your arguments against you the next time Republicans hold power?

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politicalfootball 03.24.09 at 3:47 pm

What are Wapo’s ethical responsibilities—if they do not agree with you, if they do not agree with Will, if they don’t know what the truth is?

Tom, these are interesting questions, but they aren’t in play in this case. The question is: What is the Washington Post’s obligation if the newspaper knows that it has published, as fact, false information.

I say the newspaper has a professional obligation to provide the correct information, and to be sorry that it provided incorrect information, and to strive not to do so again in the future. Hiatt disagrees. What do you say?

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John Emerson 03.24.09 at 4:03 pm

Besides editorial-page garbage, newspapers habitually bury stories, and frequently misreport stories. During the American dirty war on Central America (~1979 — ~1985?) Europeans newspapers routinely reported stories the American newspapers ignored, and American newspapers also softened and blurred the coverage of the stories they did cover. That’s when phrases like “plausible deniability” became respectful instead of contemptuous — if someone lied effectively, he was given points for lying effectively. People openly talked about a “secret war”, not indignantly, but with a tone like “everyone’s agreed not to officially recognize that this is happening, though of course we know that it is, and in order to seem like non-morons we must occasionally refer to it somehow, without actually formally admitting that it’s happening.” Sort of like not “recognizing” Red China while admitting the realities.

77

Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 4:17 pm

Hi all

What I actually think WaPo has an obligation to do is to push George Will to further address the issue–which he did two weeks later, albeit in much the same vein as his first piece. I would then probably commission an internet-only blog debate between Will and perhaps someone like Chris Mooney. But I’ll bet big money that George Will is an independent contractor and has a contract to write what he pleases for WaPo, who probably can only refuse to run a column, not edit it (except for typos and space).

I have seen no evidence that WaPo is a climate warming skeptical organisation (and remember that I am a skeptic myself–I don’t think they agree with me.) I think what you all are arguing for is something that no established syndicated opinion columnist would agree to, and that their agents would resist, and that the editorial boards of newspapers are not in a position to fight.

Unless you think the WaPo has consistently, over time, refused to cover global warming, reporting the statements of those who think this is the paramount issue of the age (and you’ll have real trouble convincing me that that is the case), I think that you are making a mountain out of a molehill, and taking time away from issues such as the JAMA case, which to me is far more serious.

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lemuel pitkin 03.24.09 at 4:33 pm

However, two examples on this thread – the Geithner Plan and the JAMA controversy – could have just as well been handled by “amateurs” like Delong or Calculated Risk or whomever.

Could have been, maybe, but in point of fact they weren’t.

All I’m saying is that (1) people who doubt whether newspapers still perform a useful social function need to be careful not to overlook instances in which they themselves continue to depend on newspapers and (2) the claim that new online institutions could in principle do everything news papers do, which may well be true, with the claim that they already do everything newspapers do, which certainly isn’t.

And I guess (3) that a newspaper is still a newspaper even if you’re reading it online. I thought that was obvious, but maybe not.

79

Righteous Bubba 03.24.09 at 4:34 pm

Tom, it’s not really about climate change, it’s about whether or not untruths should be blithely ignored.

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Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 4:40 pm

Hi, Righteous Bubba,

Yes, I understand that–but the contractual relationship between Will and the Post is really the driving force behind this dispute. Someone like the Creator’s Syndicate has a standard contract that governs editorial submissions from name authors for use in newspapers. The Washington Post cannot force George Will to do anything. They can either address it with another opinion writer with whom they have a more direct relationship, commission a third party to address the issue, or launch a journalistic investigation into their… business model, I guess. They took the second path, albeit after a delay. I actually think they chose wisely.

To me the real issue is framing this discussion in a way that does not come back to haunt liberal writers in the future. I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of it.

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Righteous Bubba 03.24.09 at 4:43 pm

The Washington Post cannot force George Will to do anything.

It’s not about forcing George will to do anything either.

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lemuel pitkin 03.24.09 at 4:46 pm

I’m guessing that the story originated with those that JAMA tried to gag. Suppose they had gone instead to, say, Chris Mooney or Inside Higher Education. Would things have been much different?

Well, I don’t know either. but I’m not sure I’m willing put equal weight on a story that actually appeared and was widely read, and the one that hypothetically might have.

More generally, I think we need to be sensitive to the ways we actually use newspapers. Despite the way this stuff sometimes gets framed, Will’s columns and the Post’s handling of them, however bad, don’t cancel out useful stuff elsewhere in the paper. I would never rely on the New York Times for reporting on Israel (or on foreign politics generally) but that doesn’t stop it from being essential on lots of US topics. The WSJ is a perfect example — we all know how mendacious the editorial page is, but that evidently doesn’t poison us against the news section.

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onymous 03.24.09 at 4:51 pm

I have seen no evidence that WaPo is a climate warming skeptical organisation

Leaving aside that this is a troubling use of the word “skeptical”, what would this even mean? WaPo as an organization doesn’t have opinions; all that we can do is look at what they print and see whether it reflects a systematic bias. I think it’s clear that if you look at the collection of articles and op-eds that they’ve published that contain a substantial treatment of global warming, the fraction of “skeptical” views far outweighs the fraction found in the community of experts on the subject (among whom there are, essentially, none who would hold views comparable to Will’s).

Leaving aside whether WaPo is systematically biased, Will’s column was a collection of blatant lies, half-truths, and misdirections from start to finish. Any newspaper deserving of respect should be ashamed to have published it.

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lemuel pitkin 03.24.09 at 4:55 pm

Any newspaper deserving of respect should be ashamed to have published it.

Well again, this is the problem. I’m not sure “respect” and “shame” are the right categories to be using here.

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politicalfootball 03.24.09 at 5:22 pm

A few quotes lifted from Tom:

I consider myself a progressive liberal
proposing constraints that will hurt the progressive liberal cause
in a way that does not come back to haunt liberal writers

To the extent that liberals feel no need to honor factual accuracy, then they, too, ought to be held up to public ridicule and scorn. The complaint about Will in this instance is not that he is insufficiently liberal, but that he has fallen short factually.

The Post is not compelled to knowingly publish falsehoods – but if it were, that would make it more, not less, expendable.

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Jake 03.24.09 at 5:30 pm

And I guess (3) that a newspaper is still a newspaper even if you’re reading it online. I thought that was obvious, but maybe not.

Depends on what you mean by “newspaper”, naturally, but I’d say this is more false than true. The product a newspaper sells is advertising, usually delivered to a large fraction of a city or metropolitan area. The attention of the readers is an input, obtained by reliably delivering the daily news.

Newspapers and websites have very different characteristics as advertising delivery mechanisms, and you may not be able to support a large general-purpose newsroom via web traffic.

87

Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 5:41 pm

I honestly think there is a disconnect that prevents people from identifying the actors in George Will’s mini-drama. He is an independent contractor with an agent. The Washington Post has a contract with the agent and Will. George Will is offering his opinion. That he cites published reports that he thinks support his point of view does not change the fact that it is his opinion. The Washington Post does cover climate change extensively, and offers a forum for advocates–far more space than is ever devoted to skeptics.

10 years down the road when liberal writers are offering opinion about public protest in China and using clandestine Chinese blogs as back-up, a new Republican administration will look to this event as a guideline on how easily they can suppress opinion.

And finally, if you honestly think the Post offers more space to climate skeptics than those who are concerned about warming, please share some of what you’re smoking.

88

Righteous Bubba 03.24.09 at 5:54 pm

I honestly think there is a disconnect that prevents people from identifying the actors in George Will’s mini-drama.

The disconnect here is in you not seeing that Will’s column contained falsehoods and that the Washington Post could have easily and quickly corrected them. That it’s an opinion column is neither here nor there: it is expected that when words in a newspaper reference facts the facts are as represented.

89

Colin Danby 03.24.09 at 5:57 pm

… and the fact that Will was recycling crap widely available on denialist websites does not exactly add weight to the case for the unique role of newspapers.

The rhetorical moves are familiar from anti-Darwinism, anti-MMR agitation, and the promotion of all kinds of pseudoscience: (1) deliberate obtuseness with regard to conceptual and evidentiary rigor, (2) conflation of rigorous skepticism (how could this be wrong) with undisciplined ontological relativism, (3) spurious appeal to protocols of debate appropriate for difficult questions. This covers both the woo artists and mere cowards like the WaPo ombud.

The deliberate confusions that Will and other denialists spread are net subtractions from informed debate, and harsh response seems more than appropriate.

90

bigcity 03.24.09 at 5:59 pm

Climate Science is particularly bad for this kind of thing. Some Aussiescientists have essentially given up on The Australian. Refute the nonsense and they publish it again.

91

Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 6:01 pm

Actually, I don’t think that is true, nor do I really think it should be true. I think that newspapers have an obligation to present opinions, especially contrary opinions, and that honest opinions can be based on things that are not ‘facts in the public domain,’ and that the Washington Post should be left out of your argument with George Will. Lord knows there are enough other reasons to criticize the Post.

I don’t agree with your characterization of Will’s citation as falsehoods. One was a slight exaggeration, implying a consensus of scientific opinion when it was actually exaggerated debate. The other was a six week time difference in measurements of the Arctic ice. This is common and accepted in opinion writing, and you’re exaggerating hugely to call it falsehood.

92

Barry 03.24.09 at 6:04 pm

Tom Fuller: “The Washington Post cannot force George Will to do anything.”

Probably true, but the WaPo can almost certainly not print a particular George Will column if it didn’t meet their standards.

93

onymous 03.24.09 at 6:06 pm

And finally, if you honestly think the Post offers more space to climate skeptics than those who are concerned about warming, please share some of what you’re smoking.

I, for one, never said that, because I haven’t done a careful digging through their archives to figure out if it’s true. What I said was that they offer far more space to climate “skeptics” than the fraction of the expert community that those skeptics occupy (which is more or less negligible; almost every “skeptic” I know of is a lying fraud).

94

Barry 03.24.09 at 6:11 pm

As to articles about global cooling in the 1970’s:

http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/nas-1975.html

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/the-global-cooling-myth/

In short, you don’t understand the difference between noise and signal. A few papers are one thing; thousands are another.

95

onymous 03.24.09 at 6:16 pm

As far as I can tell, everything Tom says could be equally well used to defend, say, WaPo printing an op-ed about the incredible healing powers of homeopathy. So let’s take that as an example, to decouple from the political aspects of global warming: if WaPo printed an op-ed citing spurious “science” to argue for homeopathy, Tom, would you not think they are compelled to either refuse to publish or issue some correction for the factual inaccuracies they have printed?

96

Righteous Bubba 03.24.09 at 6:16 pm

I think that newspapers have an obligation to present opinions, especially contrary opinions

I don’t believe you think this. Where’s David Icke’s column?

97

onymous 03.24.09 at 6:21 pm

Eh, this is a waste of time. I see from Tom Fuller’s link above that he approvingly links to Watt’s Up With That, which means he’s full-on drinking the denialist kool-aid. Experience shows such people have no interest in the facts.

98

Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 6:32 pm

Actually, I do have an interest in the facts, and link to Grist and Real Climate as well. But thanks for the guilt by association. Facts are where you find them. You actually find some on Watt’s Up With That, as Real Climate will tell you. I do think one of us has drunk some kool-aid…

When Prince Charles pontificates on the glories of homeopathy in the UK, amazingly enough people just read his opinions. It has not caused the collapse of the NHS, nor a huge increase in the use of practitioners. I don’t think exposure to error is particularly toxic in an age where it can be pointed out so quickly.

I think your beef is with George Will. Sadly, I don’t think he cares what you (or I) think. At the end of the day, I think we should just live with the fact that not everyone agrees with us, and use material we don’t think is true to justify their opinions. Happens all the time, on all sides of many issues.

99

Righteous Bubba 03.24.09 at 6:41 pm

Tom, your argument distills to “newspapers don’t have an obligation to present facts, but they do have an obligation to present fiction.”

100

Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 6:44 pm

No, it doesn’t. It distills to ‘there is a difference between news reporting and editorial opinion, and that it is in our best interests to encourage diversity of opinion, including opinions we violently disagree with, to insure that there is space for our opinion when it is not popular.’ I find it amazing that this is a) unclear from what I’ve written and b) at all controversial.

101

JM 03.24.09 at 6:54 pm

I don’t agree with your characterization of Will’s citation as falsehoods.

In two editorials, George Will has systematically changed references polar ice *surface area* to “sea ice levels,” even though the research he pretends to cite specifically refers to that cap as “younger” and “thinner” and says that ice volume is the relevant measure, for that very reason. This is how I know he’s lying.

In two editorials, George Will has used a 30+ year old popular press quote to pretend that there was a contrary scientific consensus. This is how I know he’s lying.

This reminds me of Will’s hack job on Wesley Clark back in 2004. Despite being told by several colleagues that he was wrong, Will insisted that Clark had written about a Canadian think tank that did not exist, meaning that Clark was paranoid.

Will is a lying sack of crap. That’s his profession. There’s nothing there to salvage.

102

JM 03.24.09 at 6:56 pm

Under the pretext of offering us his opinion, George Will has repeatedly lied about the facts. Given the history of US newspapers, there’s nothing unusual about this kind of hackery, but it’s not surprising that people might object to it.

And if the paper lets the disinformation stand, there’s nothing unreasonable with seeing the newspaper’s ownership and leadership as being politically invested in that disinformation.

103

Righteous Bubba 03.24.09 at 6:57 pm

No, it doesn’t.

Just for fun, then, I’ll modify the distillation of your argument: “Opinion pages don’t have an obligation to present facts, but they do have an obligation to present fiction.”

104

JM 03.24.09 at 7:02 pm

I look forward to George Will’s next piece on how the lack of Prussian Blue deposits on so-called “gas chambers” in Nazi camps proves that the holocaust is a myth, no matter how many times this similarly dishonest argument has been struck down by the facts surrounding the use of Zyklon B for gassing as opposed to delousing fabrics.

These facts are not generally known, even among educated people, which is why holocaust deniers use this George Willian tactic to confuse the issue.

Just another harmless opinion. The paper is free to publish it without consequence, yes?

105

MarkUp 03.24.09 at 7:02 pm

”I think that newspapers have an obligation to present opinions, especially contrary opinions”

That should read informed opinion, and one should be able to assume [foolish as that is nowadays] that the quality of [how well] informed should or does mirror the quality/status of the delivery mechanism. Of course will could care less what ‘we’ think so long as he gets a well paid forum to dispense from. One need only look back to the sound science that propelled Big Tobacco for so long; after there was no question of the science it shifted to rights of individuals to tax/black market issues. I wonder if we have the Will to quit?

106

Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 7:02 pm

No, it doesn’t. But thanks for the repetition.

I hold no brief for George Will. I believe he is a hack. As a ‘skeptic’ myself, I regret that the fools in town are on my side. But I’m not going to change sides because of that.

I think the Washington Post should carry his column. I think he is perfectly within his rights to be skeptical in print about global climate change. I don’t believe there is a contradiction, as I’ve pointed out above.

So where does the discussion go from here? We’ve started repeating ourselves.

107

JM 03.24.09 at 7:09 pm

As a ‘skeptic’ myself, I regret that the fools in town are on my side.

If you are an honest skeptic, more power to you. However, your coreligionists are about to give you more to cringe about.

I do not envy you.

108

politicalfootball 03.24.09 at 7:11 pm

Tom, the Washington Post isn’t obligated to print falsehoods. But if the Post does feel compelled to print falsehoods, the newspaper is properly held up to ridicule and scorn.

109

John Emerson 03.24.09 at 7:17 pm

The discussion will either continue to go nowhere, or it will stop.

But I’ll bet big money that George Will is an independent contractor and has a contract to write what he pleases for WaPo, who probably can only refuse to run a column, not edit it (except for typos and space)…..Yes, I understand that—but the contractual relationship between Will and the Post is really the driving force behind this dispute…..

If true, it was a bad contract. Especially because Will is not editorially independent, but is responsive to outside benefactors.

Anything less than a renunciation of Will’s column is too little, contract or no contract. Firing Will would be OK — he’s got a long list of various offenses. Not publishing erroneous columns would be fine too. The opinion/reporting distinction cannot be used to allow columnists to misrepresent facts. That distinction is inside baseball and people don’t read the paper that way.

As a GW skeptic Fuller would say what he’s saying.

110

Righteous Bubba 03.24.09 at 7:21 pm

Y’know, I believe Will is employed by the Post. Also:

The Washington Post is committed to correcting errors that appear in the newspaper. Those interested in contacting the paper for that purpose can send an e-mail to corrections@washpost.com or call the main number, 202-334-6000, and ask to be connected to the desk involved — National, Foreign, Metro, Style, Sports, Business or any of the weekly sections. In addition, the ombudsman’s number is 202-334-7582.

111

Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 7:42 pm

Hi all,

JM–thanks for that. Sigh. I put the skeptic in quotation marks for a reason… I don’t consider this a religious argument at all, despite the nature of the discourse on both sides.

Political football: I doubt very much if the Post felt compelled to print it. In all probability they printed it and when controversy started they spoke with Will, and he came out with a second piece two weeks later that didn’t resolve the issue–and then they offered a platform for Mooney to respond.

Mr. Emerson, I don’t see why you feel that you or we have the right to demand anything of the Post. Don’t buy it. Tell everyone you know you think it’s a rag. Don’t patronise the advertisers–and tell them why.

Righteous Bubba–again, distinction between news reporting and editorial. I don’t honestly know if Will is an employee or freelancer, but I still think the distinction is important.

112

tom bach 03.24.09 at 7:49 pm

Tom Fuller, and may I congratulate you on a great first name, the difference is between an honest account of the facts and a dishonest one not between reporting and opinionating. Will does this, elides and misrepresent the facts of the matter has his mendacity pointed and then repeats the original claim, all the time.

113

Righteous Bubba 03.24.09 at 7:51 pm

114

Righteous Bubba 03.24.09 at 7:56 pm

115

JoB 03.24.09 at 8:20 pm

pc-73,

Maybe an odd reading to you but not necessarily an odd reading (see e.g. lp 78) to all. I do not pretend to know a lot on this specific WaPo issue – but I do pretend to have read things here that overstretch the specific issue in ways that are detrimental to what I am guessing we all agree on: getting the facts out & allowing critical discussion.

Contra the implicit assumption that the internet blogosphere is better at that than, and even able to replace all of newspaper journalism, I have argued. If somebody here isn’t subscribing to that implicit assumption, no quarrels from me. If somebody believes it’s necessarily so that what I say implies that I hold the blogosphere has no added value, it doesn’t imply that (& my writing this here is testimony at least to my not holding it).

Journalism is a métier – one that requires more than what self-organization via internet is able to provide. Newspapers provide an organization that allows journalism, but that is not to say that newspapers are made up of only journalism. There are adds, there is a lot of entertainment, some comics, the TV-listings and there are, increasingly under an enormous pressure from the blogosphere, opinion pages.

The issue that gives rise to this discussion is about something that went wrong on some opinion page of some newspaper of some country – the type of wrongness is something is something that happens on many posts of many blogs in all countries. That’s just not a sufficient ground for throwing out the baby. It’s not even sufficient ground for strong criticism of newspaper opinion pages: their purpose is to have citizens know what kind of opinions there are, philosophically the fact of the opinion pages are the opinions & it would be really heinous if somebody misrepresented their opinion there.

PS: the strict response to the WaPo incident is that WaPo journalists investigate Will’s abuse of facts; if they don’t, another newspaper should — I know this is what happened recently over here: a newspaper journalist reporting on factual errors made by one of the same newspaper’s opinionators

116

Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 8:22 pm

Mr. Bach, may I point out that your first name is equally elegant and inspiring, however much I disagree with you. I submit that we do not want to impose factual conditions on opinion in the media. If George Will continues to abuse his privileged position at the podium, people will wander away from the lecture hall–as has largely happened, in fact. We desperately need opinion to remain opinion and not to demand factual proof of what is being expounded. And, speaking as a liberal Democrat in San Francisco, I further submit that ‘we’ need it far more than Republicans or conservatives, as our positions are reality-based–but difficult to submit evidence towards in many emerging cases.

117

John Emerson 03.24.09 at 8:45 pm

Mr. Emerson, I don’t see why you feel that you or we have the right to demand anything of the Post. Don’t buy it. Tell everyone you know you think it’s a rag. Don’t patronise the advertisers—and tell them why.

Words fail me. Your statement doesn’t make sense. I’m doing nothing other than what you told me to do. In what way am I “demanding” something, and what would “not demanding” be, and what is wrong with “demanding”, and why don’t I have the “right” to do it? That’s a heap of quibbles with no real meaning.

118

Tom Fuller 03.24.09 at 8:53 pm

Mr. Emerson, when you write

“Anything less than a renunciation of Will’s column is too little, contract or no contract. Firing Will would be OK —he’s got a long list of various offenses. Not publishing erroneous columns would be fine too. The opinion/reporting distinction cannot be used to allow columnists to misrepresent facts. That distinction is inside baseball and people don’t read the paper that way.”

it appears to me that you are demanding a course of action by WaPo. Certainly you have the right to do so. But when you write that the ‘distinction cannot be used to allow columnists to misrepresent facts’ that implies a call for action and a sanction. In fact, it can be used for such a purpose and always has in the past.

If you are stating that this is only your opinion, then fine–have at it. If you are calling for a course of action to be made mandatory, then I disagree. I am sorry any time I am not clear–I hope this is clearer.

119

politicalfootball 03.24.09 at 8:54 pm

We desperately need opinion to remain opinion and not to demand factual proof of what is being expounded.

Nobody is demanding that every opinion statement be backed by “factual proof.” What we’re saying is that it’s bad to knowingly publish demonstrably false information.

The standard Moynihan quote is: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

120

tom bach 03.24.09 at 8:55 pm

“We desperately need opinion to remain opinion and not to demand factual proof of what is being expounded.”

This seems to me to be wrong in that the purpose of opinion journalism is, on some level, to influence policies preferences. Will and his ilk do not write just to spew blather, although they usually do, but rather to make a series of interconnected points designed to prove a specific assertion if one allows them to do so without regard to the facts of the matter is to degrade discourse, no?

121

Colin Danby 03.24.09 at 9:26 pm

Well yeah, Tom B: you will have noticed that there is a terrible shortage of opinion.

122

JoB 03.24.09 at 10:15 pm

“opinion journalism”, that has to be so very much like unicorns ;-)

123

PG 03.24.09 at 11:19 pm

“The opinion/reporting distinction cannot be used to allow columnists to misrepresent facts. That distinction is inside baseball and people don’t read the paper that way.”

This seems to assume a pretty high level of stupidity and illiteracy of people who are reading newspapers. Will’s work is rather clearly labeled as Opinion. If someone doesn’t know what the word opinion means and that it is different from Facts/News, s/he probably ought to pick up a dictionary before a newspaper.

I can agree with every word Quiggin is saying about Will’s hackishness and still disagree completely that this kind of conflation:

The standard claim is that without reporters, we in the blogosphere would have no material to work on. But Will’s recycling of long-refuted Internet factoids (something very common among rightwing pundits in particular) shows that, in important respects, the opposite is true.

is appropriate. Will is not a reporter. He’s never been a reporter. He’s been a professor, a political staffer and an opinion columnist. If you want to go off on how useless reporters are, try attacking an actual reporter. Tell us how Jeffrey Gettleman’s work in the Congo — the kind of thing I’ve NEVER seen a blogger do — is not providing useful material for bloggers (and also for non-bloggers who nonetheless are interested in what’s happening to human beings outside their own neighborhoods).

124

Righteous Bubba 03.24.09 at 11:36 pm

Will’s work is rather clearly labeled as Opinion.

Well, if the Post’s corrected him before on the facts, clearly they think facts matter.

125

onymous 03.25.09 at 12:03 am

Opinion pieces in newspapers are not of the “I think chocolate ice cream is tasty!” variety, where one can’t contest the opinion-holder or the grounds on which the opinion is based. I think the word “opinion” is unfortunate here, because it’s leading people to reason really poorly about what’s going on. What newspaper opinion pieces tend to be is advocacy pieces. A good op-ed should be an argument in favor of some position, and like any good argument, it should be backed up by robust facts. That Will is using the op-ed to argue in favor of a position, rather than just report “objective” facts, is no excuse for him to distort the truth. If anything, I think one could make a case that it’s worse to deploy untruths in support of convincing people of substantive policy choices than it would be to report those untruths somewhere else in the newspaper, unlinked to any suggestions about how they should be acted on.

I’m well aware that most newspaper op-eds fall well short of substantive argument supported by robust facts, but I think it’s the criterion against which they must be judged.

126

Colin Danby 03.25.09 at 12:21 am

Well, onymous, I think we’ve discovered that some people think “opinion” means “license to make shit up.” Explains a lot.

127

John Emerson 03.25.09 at 12:34 am

This seems to assume a pretty high level of stupidity and illiteracy of people who are reading newspapers. Will’s work is rather clearly labeled as Opinion. If someone doesn’t know what the word opinion means and that it is different from Facts/News, s/he probably ought to pick up a dictionary before a newspaper.

Your statement is pretty fucking stupid itself. Most people do not think that “opinion” means “license to make up facts”. And they don’t think that major newspapers habitually publish opinion pieces full of misrepresentations. I know both these things, but it isn’t widely taught or common knowledge, and it’s completely counterintuitive to people who still have a misplaced faith in the US and its institutions.

Your contempt for newspaper readers less sophisticated than yourself is despicable, and I don’t really believe that you have the requisite level of cynicism about the state of the nation. Your cynicism is of an entirely different kind.

Will’s errors were not caused by a lack of reportorial ability. They were caused by his desire to push an agenda even at the cost of deliberately misleading his readers. And the Post allows this.

128

PG 03.25.09 at 12:50 am

John Emerson, always keeping it classy with the personal attacks.

“And they don’t think that major newspapers habitually publish opinion pieces full of misrepresentations.”

WHO don’t? You claim the fact that newspaper opinion pieces may contain factual inaccuracies isn’t known to “most people,” only enlightened folks like yourself. Yet every single conservative I know, without exception, can recite at least one factual inaccuracy that’s popped up in the NYTimes or another perceivedly liberal outlet. Every single American liberal I know, without exception, can recite at least one factual inaccuracy specifically from the WSJ (the Clintonian killing spree is favored among those over the age of 30). So there’s some narrow wedge of the middle that perhaps has never heard one of their liberal or conservative brethren mention these inaccuracies. Perhaps — I know some people who identify as neither conservative nor liberal, but they don’t think that everything in the newspaper’s news pages, much less its opinion pages, is necessarily true. So please enumerate who are these folks with the beautifully naive faith that Judith Miller got it right about WMDs, that George Will is an expert on climate change, and that a page labeled “Opinion” will have only the most objectively presented facts available. Because I don’t think there are teenagers on MySpace who are that gullible anymore.

onymous,

That Will is using the op-ed to argue in favor of a position, rather than just report “objective” facts, is no excuse for him to distort the truth. … I’m well aware that most newspaper op-eds fall well short of substantive argument supported by robust facts, but I think it’s the criterion against which they must be judged.

I completely agree. However, the point against I was arguing is not that Will and the WaPo lack an obligation to get the facts right; it’s Quiggin’s claim that Will’s hackery as an editorialist is a data point in favor of the uselessness of newspaper reporting.

129

Cryptic ned 03.25.09 at 12:51 am

127 is completely right. If your opinion is based on beliefs that are provably false, newspapers are not benefitting anyone by inflicting your opinion on them. However, one could argue that they serve a function by representing the voices of the community they serve when they print misguided letters by average joes.

But it’s totally indefensible if your “opinion” is based on “beliefs” that you yourself know are false but are representing because it’s your job to lie (e.g. the spokesman for Monsanto, George Will, the lawyers for John Gotti), and the newspaper assists you in A) promulgating your “opinion”
B) acting as if your “opinion” is actually something you believe and not just propaganda
C) acting as if you are someone who should be listened to in the first place.

130

PG 03.25.09 at 12:55 am

cryptic ned,

I may have missed something in this — has Will acknowledged that he has known all along that the facts were not as he stated them? I recently went off on a rant about this article that claims Congress is to blame for the AIG bonuses, but I assumed that the writer was authentically ignorant about IRC 162(m) (as most people blessedly are).

131

John Quiggin 03.25.09 at 1:01 am

“Quiggin’s claim that Will’s hackery as an editorialist is a data point in favor of the uselessness of newspaper reporting.” (emphasis in original).

Just to point out that I made no such claim. I said it was a data point against the net usefulness of newspapers, and I maintain that view

I implied that unwillingness to require truth in this case was part of a more general problem which affects reporting as well, particularly the kind of reporting based on presenting (and not fact-checking) the views of anonymous sources. If you disagree with that, maybe you should tackle the point directly.

132

John Emerson 03.25.09 at 1:27 am

Your selected ideologue friends are hardly typical of the general newspaper-reading population, which runs in the millions.

Conservatives know of thousands of inaccuracies in the Times, even though they don’t read it. These inaccuracies are made up at the same place where Will gets his facts. Conservatives are not complaining about the Will piece, though.

(Cue: “If both sides criticize us, we must do something right!”)

People whose primary source of information is the Times or the Post or any other mainstream publication do not know how corrupt their source is. So yes, there are lots of non-stupid people who are not completely cynical about the press, and who cares if you don’t know any of them.

Bush is an operative and has not admitted anything, and won’t. The judgment that he’s a liar is not based on a confession.

Quit flopping, PG, you whiny bastard. Boo hoo, someone said a bad word, mommy. Where are the police?

133

John Emerson 03.25.09 at 1:39 am

Bush = Will. Honkies all look alike.

134

Joe 03.25.09 at 2:00 am

I am reminded of an old saying, “Figures don’t lie, by liars can figure.” That seems to be the best explanation of what George Will was doing. His facts are fine- they just offer weak support for his argument. In any case I continue to suggest more people read about ocean acidification. It was featured in PNAS a month ago. Henry’s law is a simple vapor liquid equilbirium relationship that underpins promising results. Emsissions end up dissolved in the ocean and may cause more problems there.

135

Tom Fuller 03.25.09 at 3:29 am

Mr. Emerson, you are a piece of work. For someone who is perfectly willing to characterise ‘most people,’ it doesn’t seem you know too much about them, either in aggregate or in selected correspondence. I feel much better about disagreeing with you on, oh, just about everything.

136

John Emerson 03.25.09 at 3:57 am

What a weird thing to say, Fuller. What set that off? To what are you responding?

137

PG 03.25.09 at 4:07 am

Mr. Quiggin,

Your exact words, which I quoted in my first comment on this thread:
“The standard claim is that without reporters, we in the blogosphere would have no material to work on. But Will’s recycling of long-refuted Internet factoids (something very common among rightwing pundits in particular) shows that, in important respects, the opposite is true.”

I assumed that the “But” was meant to conjoin the two sentences in this paragraph in some way, and that therefore there was some relationship between reporters and George Will (an opinion columnist). I thought you were saying that the columnist’s recycling of rightwing falsehoods shows that it’s untrue that reporters provide factual material on which bloggers can expand. Apologies if this was a misplaced assumption on my part.

John Emerson,

So you don’t know any of these “most people” to whom you feel so superior in your knowledge that newspapers are imperfect? No names? You just know they’re out there in anonymous masses, a proletariat whom you must protect in their naivete from the corruption of the MSM?

138

Anonymous 03.25.09 at 4:29 am

Emerson is right about the naivete of some intelligent newspaper readers. Coincidentally, I just talked to some friends who will serve as good examples of this. They’re not dumb, or no dumber than me, anyway, but they admire columnists such as David Brooks and Tom Friedman.

Tom Friedman in particular is a best selling author and it can’t be that everyone buying his books does so because they want a good laugh at his expense. There are plenty of people out there who value his insights into the global economy and America’s role in the Middle East, insights which include his praise of the wisdom of the financial markets, his swooning over the Bush Administration’s toughness in Iraq, and his praise for Israel’s education through high explosives of the Palestinians in Gaza. Snark aside, liberals who like Friedman somehow miss the uglier portions of his record and only hear him talking in favor of education, peace, and saving the environment. So it’s not hard to see why they might think he’s a good guy, if they haven’t heard some of his really stupid or downright odious remarks.

139

John Quiggin 03.25.09 at 10:43 am

PG, I missed your earlier comment and misread you as referring to my opening para. Sorry about that.

What I meant to say, but didn’t argue properly in the passage you refer to is that climate is an area where much of the raw material (particularly on the delusionist side, but also on the scientific side) is appearing in blogs and similar media, and only later being picked up by mainstream reporters and pundits.

140

JoB 03.25.09 at 11:11 am

John Q-131/139,

Most of us getting cursed on your thread, NOT by you, have shown to have no issue saying that journalism & newspapers could improve nor that the blogosphere can be positive. You realize a bit belatedly that what we were getting at was that you didn’t argue properly in 139. In 131 however you are moving around freely in argument space to go from an editorialist to – no definite article – newspapers to – no definite article – reporting (and hence supposely to all of the reporters).

To date either your claim is that something went wrong with WaPo (and I guess most grant that) or that a lot is wrong ranging over newspapers, reporting globally (and your data point does not support any of it).

If newspapers are useless than newspaper reporters are useless because although reporting isn’t all there is to newspapers it is a necessary thing to newspapers, & the only thing that can make a newspaper entirely useless. To accuse reporters indiscriminately of something based on a non-reporter saying something in one US newspaper is …

Anyway, your point in 139 isn’t correct either: the raw material for climate change comes from the scientists. Blogs may have less economical issues in publishing more of it but the source isn’t at all blogs, the source is science. Science can do this because science gets funded in a way that – non-idally but still – allows them to investigate independently. The exact analogy for your point is that science institutes should be abolished in favour of bloggers because one scientist fiddled with his research data in support of the claim he or she had been making for a long time. But the result would be: no science because individuals looking for their own funding will never ever be able to remain independent and amass the right level of funds to do their jobs.

141

politicalfootball 03.25.09 at 1:42 pm

Emerson says:

People whose primary source of information is the Times or the Post or any other mainstream publication do not know how corrupt their source is.

This is true, but it’s also indicative of the odd turn this conversation has taken. I suppose it mitigates the damage done by the Post if everyone understands that the Post is dishonest; but it doesn’t excuse the Post’s dishonesty, nor does it make the Post a more useful source of information.

Joe says:

His facts are fine- they just offer weak support for his argument.

This is an error. The key distinction is not that Will is a hack who supports his conclusions poorly; it’s that Will makes demonstrably false factual claims. I don’t think that the Post is right in publishing people who make careless arguments, but I can understand how it happens. However, the Post is rightly reviled for publishing falsehoods and refusing to correct them.

Anonymous accurately points out the shortcomings of Thomas Friedman, but by-and-large Friedman is a nitwit who is applying a limited intellect and a gift for bullshit to the problems of the day – he’s not a fabulist in the vein of Jayson Blair or George Will. Friedman is vile for different reasons. I think a newspaper crosses an extremely important line when decides consciously to transmit false information.

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politicalfootball 03.25.09 at 1:46 pm

The exact analogy for your point is that science institutes should be abolished in favour of bloggers because one scientist fiddled with his research data in support of the claim he or she had been making for a long time.

The problem with the Post is not merely that it published Will’s falsehoods. It’s that the Post says it plans to continue doing so, and that, in fact, the publication of falsehoods is part of its mission. Any scientific institution that did this should be shut down.

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politicalfootball 03.25.09 at 2:03 pm

And in case anyone doubts that Fred Hiatt is defending the publication of falsehoods, please note the letter sent by environmentalists to the Post:

“George Will is entitled to his own opinions, but he is not entitled to his own facts,” the letter concluded.

And Hiatt’s response:

“We looked into these allegations, and I have a different interpretation than [those who signed the letter] about what George Will is and is not entitled to,” said the paper’s editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt.

Hiatt then refuses to give one example of a thing that Will is not entitled to, and completely ignores the accusation that Will has presented incorrect information. Hiatt says falsely that the issue is whether Will should be permitted to draw “inferences” from correct information.

Yglesias had a nice post on it at the time that highlighted the damage done to the Post as an institution.

144

JoB 03.25.09 at 3:33 pm

Nice post indeed, much more balanced than some of the claims made over here.

145

Tom Fuller 03.25.09 at 3:50 pm

I don’t know if anyone is still following this thread, but a couple of other points. The business model of newspapers needs to be changed, obviously. It would be nice to say that this is because weblogs in particular are making the opinion pages obsolete, but there is no evidence for that–in reader surveys, opinion of all types is still regarded as important. It is the local power of the web that is killing newspapers, not the global, as other websites prove more effective at stimulating local action in readers, replacing classified advertising, etc.

The endgame for this will probably be a double handful of national titles with clearly expressed political philosophies, as in the UK. The Washington Post is almost certainly going to be one of these papers. Moving their business model regarding opinion should not be overwhelmingly difficult. People are already pushing against the homogenised composition of their columnists, noting how few people of color and females are part of the Pantheon. The smart response for WaPo is to bulk up their OpEd contributor list and rotate through for the print edition on a more regular basis. This would obviously work well with any of the other titles with the potential to distribute nationally.

I remember when conservative columnists truly dominated, with Safire, Buckley, Will and Krauthammer owning print, with Novak impatiently waiting for Anderson to hang ‘em up. It’s a lot different now.

At the end of the day, I still do not believe we should dictate the work rules for editorial writers and that we should not impose the same standards of factual accuracy on them as we do to reporters. But I also think that we should wait and see which business model survives before we waste any more energy on this topic.

Finally, George Will pontificates just as loosely on a number of topics, but the firestorm was reserved for his column on global warming. I will never understand that as a rational allocation of your resources. With all of the topics Will is wrong about, why rage on this one? Every time I comment substantively (in my mind, at least) on global warming issues on other blogs, there are one or two commenters who so obviously cut and paste pre-prepared diatribes about anyone who does not think that global warming is killing us all that it looks a bit silly. One fellow pasted in a comment that the organisation I referred to was a Japanese think tank funded by energy sources. I was referring to JSTOR. Is this a real issue or a manufactured one?

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PG 03.25.09 at 4:06 pm

Mr. Quiggin,

I see, that makes much more sense! I didn’t realize the substance of your argument was that in the area of climate change, bloggers (particularly people with background in the field) were assessing the science first and reporters were coming later to it and in some cases just picking up what the bloggers were arguing without doing their own analysis, thus making the reporters no value add to the process. I think this is often true and something that occurs not only in climate change but indeed in many areas where most journalists won’t have the background to make a good assessment of claims: empirical studies, surveys, law, etc.

147

John Emerson 03.25.09 at 4:23 pm

So you don’t know any of these “most people” to whom you feel so superior in your knowledge that newspapers are imperfect? No names? You just know they’re out there in anonymous masses, a proletariat whom you must protect in their naivete from the corruption of the MSM?

WTF, you want me to a door-to-door poll and collect names? For Christ’s sake,I know people who take Fox News seriously(alas) — they’re 20-40% of the population. I’m assuming that there are people too smart to take Fox seriously, but not smart enough to discount Will. I’ve met a fair number of them, but I didn’t take down their names and it wasn’t part of a controlled study. Do you actually believe that such people don’t exist? What a sheltered life you have led!

Do I “feel superior” to these people the way you feel superior to the seemingly very rare idiots who fail to understand that lying is OK in major-media opinion pages? Not really, but I do acknowledge their existence and recognize them as a negative factor in American political culture, and as victims of the Post and Times.

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John Emerson 03.25.09 at 4:29 pm

Finally, George Will pontificates just as loosely on a number of topics, but the firestorm was reserved for his column on global warming. I will never understand that as a rational allocation of your resources.

GW is a theme here at CT. If they denounced Will for every stupid hackish lying thing he ever said, they wouldn’t have time for anything else, not even their families.

149

Tom Fuller 03.25.09 at 6:17 pm

I guess better Will than me… although I’m sure my turn is just around the corner.

150

JoB 03.25.09 at 8:57 pm

John Q, I read your update only now. Probably you don’t care but: fair enough, there’s a lot the modern press (not only newspapers) needs to watch out for & luckily there are blogs that can give some alternative pressure – the interaction between these two might turn out to be the best for both.

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John Quiggin 03.25.09 at 9:10 pm

Thanks for this, JoB.

152

PG 03.25.09 at 11:44 pm

“For Christ’s sake,I know people who take Fox News seriously(alas) —they’re 20-40% of the population.”

Sure, my in-laws do. However, my in-laws are way more skeptical of CNN, BBC, NYTimes, etc. In other words, I’m telling you that there’s no adult American with an IQ over 100 who categorically believes everything he sees in the MSM. Instead, people are biased to believe in the media that agrees with them, and to disbelieve in the media that disagrees with them. No one is the naive fool you claim who takes everything he sees or reads to be God’s Honest Truth (TM). As I said in my first comment, people understand that not only is Opinion different from News, but also that even the News might be inaccurate. People are inclined to assume accuracy in both Opinion and News that fits with their own existing worldview, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re skeptical of what doesn’t fit. People who believed George Will about global warming believed him because it fit with their biases, just as people conditioned to assume Will is a liar disbelieved him because it fit with their biases even if they don’t know squat about global warming.

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John Emerson 03.26.09 at 12:06 am

Have I argued with you before, at EOTAW? Is there a super-duper new book or academic paper out arguing what you’re saying? I’ve heard this before, that’s for sure.

154

John Emerson 03.26.09 at 12:24 am

To go on, your proof People are not gullible idiots because they believe everything that fits their prejudices (rather than everything that authoritative sources print) seems flawed to me. Likewise, it doesn’t seem to me that you showed that People can tell the difference between opinion and news. It seems to me that what you showed is that “People” (the people in your alleged controlled study, which you think should override everything else I know — because, you know, studies are Scientific) believe that everything is opinion, and that there’s no such things as news. And in fact, you seem to be saying that People’s conclusions are carved in stone, and cannot be changed by new information. And apparently, you think that you’re defending them against my arrogance by saying that.

And as I understand from what you’ve written, there are only homogenized People, who conform to the median result of the study. My opinion is that there’s a subset of People who mistakenly believe authoritative sources and don’t realize that the Post and Times are liars, and another subset of People who don’t realize that opinion columnists are allowed to lie as much as they want and need not fear correction.

155

John Emerson 03.26.09 at 12:30 am

People conditioned to assume Will is a liar disbelieved him because it fit with their biases even if they don’t know squat about global warming

Absolutely true!

What you left out: the more they know about global warming, the more likely they are to believe that Will is a liar.

You’re looking worse and worse, Mr./Ms. Anonymous Blog Commenter from Permission Denied Blog.

156

PG 03.26.09 at 5:07 pm

I had to Google EOTAW, which has been recommended to me many times but I haven’t started reading yet. So no, we’ve never debated there.

“your proof People are not gullible idiots”

I didn’t say that people aren’t gullible idiots in some way, I merely disagree that people are gullible idiots in the way you claim, i.e. that they automatically believe what shows up in the NYT, WaPo and other MSM and especially that they don’t know the difference between the News and Opinion sections.

Someone who is liberal and unskeptical about the massive resources of the global warming disbelievers reads the Guardian’s news article saying, “The Centre for Public Integrity said in a report last month that the lobby opposing climate change action gave work to 2,430 Washington lobbyists in 2008. The report estimated that about 15% of Washington’s lobbyists were now working to try to stop Congress from passing a law putting a cap on carbon.” and nods along thinking, Sure.

The conservative and the skeptic (liberal or otherwise) check the actual report, which says that 15% of lobbyists spent some time on the climate change issue — including lobbying for legislation to ameliorate climate change.

“Mr./Ms. Anonymous Blog Commenter from Permission Denied Blog.”

If the necessity of sending me your email address in order to read my blog is troubling you, try my defunct blog, De Novo.

157

John Emerson 03.26.09 at 5:47 pm

OK, I never claimed what you said I claimed. And your revised statement hardly meshes with your accusation that I’m wrongly contemptuous of the average newpaper reader; you seem to believe that the average newspaper reader is not gullible, but a f anatic impervious to reason.

In any case, I think that the idea that media do not influence people’s political ideas is bogus and silly. It pops up here and there as a kind of new scientific discovery, and I’d be happy to be told where it comes from.

Likewise your equivalence assumption is wrong. The two sides are not equally dishonest and equally thoughtless.

What’s in question:
1. Was Will’s first column dishonest? His followup?
2. Was the Post’s response to critics adequate?
3. Should the Post correct factual misrepresentations in opinion columns? Does the label “Opinion” allow unchallenged misrepresentation of facts?
4. Do factual misrepresentations in the media have a harmful effect on the political discourse? Do even the best American newspapers do too much of that?

Yes, yes, no, yes, no, yes, yes.

5. Should the newspapers all be abolished and destroyed forthwith?

No, but I don’t think that that was ever on the table.

158

Tom Fuller 03.26.09 at 7:27 pm

Mr. Emerson, let me take a swing at this.

1. I’ll take the contrarian view and say no. I’ll bet George Will found what he thought was adequate back-up for views he already held. Since he’s not a scientist and not a reporter, he quite probably thought he’d gone over and above the call of duty.
2. No. But I’ll bet that’s a business model issue more than stubborn protection of privilege. They could have convened a blog debate in hours, but they just didn’t think of it.
3. I’ve made my opinion on this clear above. No, they should not correct factual misrepresentations, unless they commission a reporter to do a straight story on the issue. Yes, Opinion does (and should, in my opinion) allow license to speak wrongly on issues of fact.
4. No. A minority of people read newspapers, and most people judge political issues based on perceived character, not on specific stances on specific issues. American newspapers are fairly inert on this, preferring the he said/she said approach to any controversy. It’s not that there is too much George Will out there–there isn’t enough, and specifically not enough of a counterbalance.
5. No action required on this issue–fate will decide.

159

John Emerson 03.26.09 at 7:37 pm

Well, we’ve had the frank exchange of views. You are absolutely welcome to your load of assertions, which range from wrong-headedly contrarian to unintelligible. But then, you have your academic schtick (“paradigm”), and you have to capitalize on it somehow.

160

Tom Fuller 03.26.09 at 7:54 pm

As a high school graduate, I don’t know how to react to either the academic or the schtick characterization. As for unintelligible, I could reduce the syllabic count somewhat, I guess, but it seems pretty clear to me. As for paradigm, brother can you spare one?

Let’s try and advance the discussion a bit. My problem with Will is that he’s a lazy hack. He would probably think he’s on my side of this particular issue (he would be wrong). If he fills his word count and people respond and he gets paid, he thinks he’s done his job. At a larger level, the same complaint applies to the Washington Post. But my cure for each would be better quality participants, not new rules.

Since you don’t go into specifics on which points of mine were wrong-headedly contrarian (is there a right-headedly contrarian to counter-balance?) and which were unintelligible, I feel unable to truly clarify. But I doubt if that’s really what you’re looking for.

If it’s just a matter of being the last commenter on a thread, let me know and I’ll quit responding.

161

John Emerson 03.26.09 at 7:57 pm

Sorry, I mistook you for Steve Fuller, an academic with a similar troll. I thought he was diversifying into other contrarian areas.

162

Righteous Bubba 03.26.09 at 7:58 pm

But my cure for each would be better quality participants, not new rules.

Tom, the rules are OLD and not unknown at the Post.

163

John Emerson 03.26.09 at 8:02 pm

Will is neither lazy nor ignorant. He’s a malicious and very effective Republican operative. At times he enjoys pissing people off just because he can do it. For all I know, he enjoys making the WaPo look bad, because he knows they can’t touch him. But then, maybe the WaPo enjoys pissing people of too.

This isn’t carelessness or incompetence of anyone’s part. It’s recklessness at best, and most likely malice.

Will’s been around for awhile and has a long track record.

164

politicalfootball 03.26.09 at 8:07 pm

Tom F, I’ve aborted a couple of comments here because, in each one, I found myself attributing your 3 and 4 to people, including you. I assumed that I must be misunderstanding your argument, and I resisted the temptation to debate what seemed to me to be a straw man argument.

But okay, there it is: Journalistic outlets, in the course of printing opinion pieces, should not trouble themselves about the factual accuracy of matters discussed; and factual misrepresentations are entirely acceptable – even desirable in some cases.

Wow. The Washington Post itself professes to find your view on this reprehensible. But hey, I guess when the Post makes that claim, the newspaper is only expressing an opinion and therefore it’s okay if they lie about it.

I think Emerson frames the question correctly. I’ll take a crack, too:

1. Irrelevant. The question of dishonesty speaks to Will’s intent, and people can brainwash themselves in any number of ways. I would argue, therefore, that whether Will was being dishonest isn’t relevant (to this discussion, which I take to be about the Post and about the proper professional values of journalism). The relevant fact is that Will got it wrong both times.
2. No. I’m trying to figure out why the Post’s “business model” (per Tom) should matter in this discussion. If Tom is saying that honest newspapers aren’t economically possible, then that seems like a good reason to not lament the loss of newspapers.
3. Yes (part 1) and no (part 2). This is the Post’s own stated policy, though as everyone seems to agree, they don’t follow that policy.
4. Of course and of course. These seem axiomatic.
5. This was only ever raised as a straw man.

165

Tom Fuller 03.26.09 at 8:12 pm

I can’t remember the name of the movie, but this reminds me of Timothy Hutton obsessing about John Houseman’s opinion of him during law school, only to find out Houseman didn’t really even know his name. The WaPo uses Will to sell papers. Will uses the WaPo to maintain his visibility. It’s really easy to assume malice, but the fact is, he’s just on the other side. Will does have a track record. It’s not a good one. But assuming evil just ‘denies agency’ to us–it means instead of making a better case, and by god on global climate change you need to make a better case, you can complain about the evil ones. Who gives a rat’s *** what his motivation is? If I were Will, I wouldn’t be laughing at my readers–I’d be laughing at my critics. Is this the best you (we) can do?

166

Tom Fuller 03.26.09 at 8:20 pm

Hi Politcal football,

Your comment snuck in ahead of mine–I was addressing Mr. Emerson. I don’t know when I ever hinted or said that I thought factual misrepresentation was desirable, but otherwise I think you know where I stand on this. I really do believe it. And to repeat what I said much earlier, I think that the principle, and it is a principle (and a principled principle…) serves Democrats for more than Republicans. I cited one hypothetical instance above, and I think it would be easy to find many more.

167

Tom Fuller 03.26.09 at 8:25 pm

It was the Paper Chase!

168

politicalfootball 03.26.09 at 9:06 pm

I don’t know when I ever hinted or said that I thought factual misrepresentation was desirable

Yeah, see, I have a tough time restating your arguments in a way that makes them sound non-preposterous, but here’s what you said regarding the correction of factual errors in opinion columns:

No, they should not correct factual misrepresentations

And in response to Emerson’s query on whether factual misrepresentations have a harmful effect on political discourse, you say:

It’s not that there is too much George Will out there—there isn’t enough, and specifically not enough of a counterbalance.

So a little more dishonesty is what we need, as counterbalance, right? Anyway, here’s how I represented your view:

factual misrepresentations are entirely acceptable – even desirable in some cases.

What part of that do you object to?

169

PG 03.26.09 at 9:13 pm

I never claimed what you said I claimed.

“The opinion/reporting distinction cannot be used to allow columnists to misrepresent facts. That distinction is inside baseball and people don’t read the paper that way.”
=/=
“they don’t know the difference between the News and Opinion sections”
?

Evidently I didn’t understand what you meant by “inside baseball” and “people don’t read the paper that way.” I thought the idiomatic phrase “inside baseball” referred to things unknown to most spectators but understood by the players in the game. Are you saying that actually the distinction between news and opinion IS known to most newspaper readers?

you seem to believe that the average newspaper reader is not gullible, but a f anatic impervious to reason.

Why not try engaging what I’ve actually said (quotes are helpful!) instead of what I “seem to believe”? You’ve assembled an excellent track record thus far of inaccurately assessing what I believe. For starters, there’s a big difference between suspending skepticism for one’s team and heightening it for the opposing team (what most partisans do) and being “impervious to reason.”

I just provided you with an example, regarding the Guardian’s claim about lobbyists and climate change, of the skepticism differential: if it fits with your worldview, you accept it and move on; if it doesn’t, you check the source and discover that the claim is wrong. That doesn’t mean that you’re impervious to reason: the person who accepted the claim uncritically, if confronted with the source, will probably revoke acceptance of the claim. But given the echo-chamber nature of media consumption, the kind of person who uncritically accepts the Guardian’s claims about the vast power of climate-change-deniers never will encounter someone pointing out that the Guardian was wrong.

170

Tom Fuller 03.26.09 at 9:20 pm

Hi Political Football,

Why do you feel the need to restate my arguments? I don’t think newspapers should be required to correct statements in opinion columns. I think we sorely need a counterbalance to George Will, but I didn’t ever really think that this counterbalance needed to be dishonest… what did I say that led you to believe that?

So, I guess the part I object to is where you make stuff up.

171

John Emerson 03.26.09 at 9:45 pm

Tom, supposing that the Washington Post were to correct a factual statement made by George Will, would he have an actionable legal case against them, or would they just be moral lepers to be shunned by all decent people? Would it be wrong of us not to form a support group for Will if he were treated in such a fashion. If we were to just look on silently and do nothing, could we be forgiven? Would the Washington post be guilty of a a mere offense against contract law and worker’s rights if it did such a thing, or would it be journalistically unprofessional , or would it be a crime against humanity? Should a law be passed against this sort of offense, or is one already on the books which just needs to be enforce?

I think that the problem that PF and I are having is mostly in trying to figure out what makes you tick and what you’re getting at, and what you possibly could mean by the things you’re asserting with such confidence and conviction. Frankly, I’m coming up empty; we seem to be in the uncanny valley. The best I can come up with is Broderism presented with Lyndon LaRouche’s brilliant self-assurance and down-to-earth common sense, but that can’t be right.

172

politicalfootball 03.26.09 at 9:51 pm

Why do you feel the need to restate my arguments?

To convey what I’m hearing you say, so that you can understand what I’m responding to. Also to make sure that you really mean what you are saying. To recap:

Emerson asked, in his question 4, whether you thought factual misrepresentations have a harmful effect on political discourse. You said “No” and continued to say “It’s not that there is too much George Will out there—there isn’t enough, and specifically not enough of a counterbalance.”

I don’t know how else to read that, except to say that the problem with Will isn’t that he conveys false information, but that he isn’t counterbalanced. Since you don’t object to publishing Will’s falsehoods, it seems perverse to suppose that you would object to publishing falsehoods in response to Will.

Given your stated view in favor of counterbalance, and your stated indifference to factuality in opinion pieces, wouldn’t the situation be improved from the current state if the Post published falsehoods to counterbalance to Will? Why not?

173

politicalfootball 03.26.09 at 10:04 pm

I just provided you with an example, regarding the Guardian’s claim about lobbyists and climate change

PG, I’m a little puzzled about what you’re going for with the Guardian thing. Are you trying to say that the Guardian is behaving appropriately or inappropriately in presenting false information? Do you think the Guardian should publish a correction? Do you think the Guardian should try not to publish false information, or that the Guardian should be indifferent to the truth or falsity of its news columns? Or what?

Here’s Emerson:

“The opinion/reporting distinction cannot be used to allow columnists to misrepresent facts. That distinction is inside baseball and people don’t read the paper that way.”

And here’s PG’s restatement of Emerson;

“they don’t know the difference between the News and Opinion sections”

I think this may be one place where the conversation went astray. PG believes that the distinction between News and Opinion is that in Opinion, direct factual falsehood is acceptable, where it is not in news. (I say this pending PG’s explanation of his Guardian example, which seems to suggest that misrepresentation is okay in news, too.)

But PG’s presentation of Emerson’s view begs the question. Emerson is saying (or should be saying) that, regarding factuality, there is no difference between Opinion and News. And if Emerson’s not saying that, I am. And so is the Post, which, as Righteous B points out, has a policy of issuing corrections on opinion columns.

174

Tom Fuller 03.26.09 at 10:13 pm

No, it can’t be right.

175

onymous 03.26.09 at 10:16 pm

Yes, Opinion does (and should, in my opinion) allow license to speak wrongly on issues of fact.

Well, that’s just wrong.

176

John Emerson 03.26.09 at 11:13 pm

The Guardian example is indeed out of place, because liberals and radicals give the Guardian shit all the time.

177

Tom Fuller 03.26.09 at 11:18 pm

Amazing what people will do when they grab on to the losing side of a discussion.

178

PG 03.26.09 at 11:22 pm

politicalfootball,

Again, this all works much better if you quote me instead of inaccurately paraphrasing me.

The point I was making with the Guardian example is that people tend to be more skeptical of claims that don’t fit with their worldview, and accepting of claims that do fit with their worldview. Since people always will run into SOME claims in the MSM that don’t fit with their worldview, they always will apply skepticism to some claims (those that don’t fit with their worldview) and fail to apply skepticism to other claims (those that fit precisely with their worldview).

Given this skepticism, people will have encountered Opinion pieces very often that don’t fit their worldview and of which they therefore are skeptical. They less often will encounter News pieces that don’t fit their worldview and of which they therefore are skeptical. Therefore, the idea that people are innocent of the knowledge that Opinion pieces often, and News pieces occasionally, contain factual inaccuracies seems improbable.

179

PG 03.26.09 at 11:26 pm

“PG believes that the distinction between News and Opinion is that in Opinion, direct factual falsehood is acceptable, where it is not in news.”

This is a particularly striking example of how badly astray one goes in relying wholly on paraphrase and never directly quoting anyone. WHERE did I say that I believed this? I don’t believe it. I think direct factual falsehoods are bad, categorically, where’er they may be, yea even when assuring one’s wife that bright orange doesn’t make her butt look bigger than black does.

What I have said consistently throughout this discussion is that people who read newspapers are aware of the distinction between News and Opinion, such that Opinion is more likely to have facts that are misstated, twisted, turned to fit the writer’s advocacy, while News is less likely to do so because news writers are not supposed to engage in advocacy.

180

Tom Fuller 03.26.09 at 11:54 pm

PG, at this point I think you have to assume that political football and Mr. Emerson are jerking us around to see how long we stay on the line.

181

salient 03.26.09 at 11:57 pm

Opinion is more likely to have facts that are misstated, twisted, turned to fit the writer’s advocacy

…so, let the buyer beware? Some people have gone so far as to state, explicitly, they no longer trust anything in the Washington Post. These people have been widely ridiculed for overreacting. Since the Post’s (publicly available) policy on correction of articles does not distinguish between their News and Opinion sections, a “let the buyer beware” attitude translates fairly reasonably to “the buyer should trust neither News nor Opinion sections from the Washington Post.”

If the Post clearly stated, “we do not verify factual claims or correct verifiable false claims made in our Opinion page articles, but will continue to correct verifiable false claims made in articles in all other sections,” and/or if the Post published a caveat at the top of the Opinion section reiterating “we do not verify factual claims or correct false claims of articles on this page,” then perhaps PG and Tom would have a stronger point.

182

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 12:00 am

177: Tom, how have you decided which is the losing side here? In 157 I framed the discussion and gave my answers to my own questions. In 158 you asserted opposite answers on all of my 5+ questions, with thin and weakly attested arguments. I can’t see how that’s a victory.

At this point I especially like to see a sourcefor the idea that the national newspapers and their opinion pages play only a small role in the formation of public opinion, which I’ve had thrown at me twice recently as a truism (grounded on unnamed “studies” in one case). It certainly isn’t well-accepted enough to just be thrown out there to win an argument, and the two sketch summaries I’ve seen of the idea seemed very weak and unconvincing.

I also wonder what it it is you are objecting to so stubbornly. I don’t remember anyone here suggesting any kind of action; we’re all just saying that our respect for the Post, and derivatively most other American newspapers, has fallen another notch. (Again, Will has a three decade track record and the “incompetence and laziness” explanation doesn’t fit what I know of him, and this present uproar against the Post is part of a larger argument that goes back at least five years. I’m not sure that you know that).

As for your hypothetical that sometime in the future any correction made of Will’s work might sometime in the future set an example which will liberals strikes me as too thin and opportunistic a speculation to put any weight on.

183

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 12:03 am

PG, at this point I think you have to assume that political football and Mr. Emerson are jerking us around to see how long we stay on the line.

Awesome.

184

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 12:10 am

Fuller’s capacity for assertion is amazing.

Tom, could you summarize the argument you think that you’ve won, and why you claim you’ve won it? There are a lot of players saying a lot of different things about a lot of different questions grouped into two rough teams, neither of which is unanimous (PGD disagrees with me on one or two points). I’ll stand by my statement in #157 and don’t see that you’ve won any argument about any of those points — to me your disagreement with point 157.4 is the most interestingly problematic.

185

salient 03.27.09 at 12:12 am

Tom, it’s just weird to try and understand what you are defending. It seems to me that you and PG are defending the right of newspapers to publish wrong facts and not correct them, without getting criticized by us for it. Sure, you’re going on and on and on and on and on about the difference between News and Opinion. We are aware of the difference between News and Opinion, thank you. We are aware that facts may presented selectively by an Opinion piece writer, thank you. We are also aware that people with agendas may write an Opinion piece that distorts reasonable interpretation of an event or idea by reporting extremely selectively chosen facts about that event or idea. Thank you.

However, up until a little while ago, I was not aware that the Post had ceased its longtime policy of correcting verifiable factual errors in its Opinion pages. Many people were not aware of this sudden, unannounced, and yet-to-be-codified change in editorial policy. So there was outcry. There still is outcry, as people (sensibly) point out just how stupid this change in policy is.

So, many of us have been critical of the Washington Post. You seem to be arguing that we were wrong to be critical. Let’s presume we all agree that every person should take a fully skeptical “let the buyer beware” attitude about everything, individually speaking. Stay safe in a rough world, be street smart, all that. OK.

Socially speaking, it’s necessary to speak up when there’s something we all should be wary of. Like a newspaper that has suddenly started to publish verifiable false statements, without verification or subsequent correction, in its Opinion pages despite having an explicit, publicly available policy to the contrary.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 12:14 am

Tom, it’s just weird to try and understand what you are defending.

Indeed.

Has he taken his football and gone home?

187

salient 03.27.09 at 12:22 am

Has he taken his football and gone home?

Well, who knows. At least I’m happy because this afforded me the opportunity to clarify (also in my own mind) what really bothered me about the “controversy” over Will’s article. If the Washington Post issued a revision to its editorial policy about Opinion pages that makes it clear they’re no longer going to verify factual claims or correct falsehoods, I would feel completely satisfied. I would never bother to read a Washington Post editorial again, but I’d feel the Post was commendable for their editors’ honesty.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 12:32 am

Damn, these mystery trolls are a real challenge.

Do you think that CT hired Ari-Fleischer-trained supertrolls to attack me? They pushed me to the limit.

The uncanny valley aspect makes it really hard to plot a strategy. “Who ARE those guys?”

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onymous 03.27.09 at 12:48 am

For more fun, we can debate the ethics of the NYTimes printing this article about Freeman Dyson that gives him a platform for bashing the work of climate scientists, despite his lack of expertise in the field. (Dyson, unlike Will, is a liberal, and seems to get to his opinion about climate change by thinking that it’s better for the poor to suffer the effects of global warming than to be denied unlimited use of fossil fuels.) He’s more slippery, since he doesn’t make false statements so much as just imply that all climate scientists are incompetent and should bow to his superior intellect.

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onymous 03.27.09 at 12:51 am

Not just climate scientists, I suppose, but agricultural experts who think global warming is bad for agriculture. Dyson seems to be stuck on a simple-minded “but plants eat CO2!” objection.

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PG 03.27.09 at 1:19 am

salient,

“It seems to me that you and PG are defending the right of newspapers to publish wrong facts and not correct them, without getting criticized by us for it.”

Nope. Still having problems when you “seem” instead of quote or at least specify to which comments you are referring. I have made two assertions, beginning with my first comment @ 123:

1) Newspaper readers know the difference between News and Opinion. I added in subsequent comments that newspaper readers also know that Opinion writers often shape facts to fit their advocacy, while News writers for unknown reasons sometimes misstate the facts. Newspaper readers tend to notice the fact-shaping more when it’s done to fit advocacy that goes against the reader’s own biases, and not so much when it’s done in the News section and/or for advocacy that aligns with the reader’s biases.

2) One cannot logically base an argument about the usefulness of newspaper reporters on the truthfulness of newspaper editorialists. After I said this a couple of times, Quiggin @ 139 acknowledged that he had left a rather crucial point out of his argument, which is that with regard to climate change, reporters generally fail to do any real analysis of the science and end up relying on bloggers and other people who are engaged in advocacy. Once he stated this, I at @ 1456 said he probably was right and that this phenomenon often extends into other fields.

onymous,

“it’s better for the poor to suffer the effects of global warming than to be denied unlimited use of fossil fuels”

This sounds like a retread of Lomberg’s proposal that instead of spending money avoiding the melting of Antarctica and the further desertification of heretofore arable land, let’s spend money relocating people from the areas that will suffer from global warming to the ones that supposedly will benefit. (I hear the British wine industry is set to revive.)

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salient 03.27.09 at 1:25 am

Opinion writers often shape facts to fit their advocacy

Please step back from this for a second and read that statement. Many of us are arguing that is true, and a bad thing. So we agree about what is “true.” If you also agree with the second clause there, then I don’t understand what is the substantive disagreement between us. If you instead would like to argue that this “shaping” of facts is a good thing, or at least something unworthy of our criticisms… please do so argue. You haven’t yet, at least so far as I can tell.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 1:32 am

No one has explained yet why anyone objected to the idea that opinion writers who misstate facts should be corrected, and that the Post was remiss in not doing so. This was one of the big issues here, but we’ve been led on this incredible wild goose chase.

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salient 03.27.09 at 1:46 am

I guess what I’m trying to say, PG, is that your ongoing factual point about the difference in reader expectation between News and Opinion has been made already.

Due to cautious language, you haven’t literally said all that much (from post 152 on). You also haven’t really said anything new (from post 152 on). What you have done is respond negatively to different people who have offered criticism of the Washington Post, followed by general statements about how readers are savvy–

Well, I’m not sure I would agree. Generally, if someone in the Opinion page writes, “Institution X released a report that says Y,” I expect this to be the factual truth. Sure, Opinion writers will select reports to share that support their views. But I don’t expect out-and-out lying, frankly, or I would have no use for reading the opinion.

Maybe I’m dumber and more gulliable than the average Post reader. I don’t know. Your comments about reader savvy imply, to me, that you are calling me (and readers like me) exceptionally incompetent for placing some basic trust in the factual accuracy of verifiable claims made in editorials. I trust that I shouldn’t have to go look up whether the author is explicitly and unambiguously lying to me.

So I disagree with your point about savvy readers. And I reserve the right, frankly, to protest and whine when I’ve learned of especially obvious cases where my basic trust was misplaced.

So, I guess I should ask explicitly: Are you criticizing people for criticizing the Washington Post? If so, why?

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salient 03.27.09 at 2:01 am

For more fun, we can debate the ethics of the NYTimes printing this article about Freeman Dyson that gives him a platform for bashing the work of climate scientists, despite his lack of expertise in the field.

I don’t know. The part about Supertrees was completely fun. And there’s this:

In “roughly 50 years,” he predicts, solar energy will become cheap and abundant, and “there are many good reasons for preferring it to coal.”

So, eh. If I believed the world would largely run on solar energy within my lifetime, I wouldn’t be nearly so worried about climate change. I think this is the key point of disagreement or at least consternation: what will make solar energy cheap and abundant? Why is he so confident about these developments?

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PG 03.27.09 at 2:24 am

“If you instead would like to argue that this “shaping” of facts is a good thing, or at least something unworthy of our criticisms… please do so argue. You haven’t yet, at least so far as I can tell.”

Yay! Finally, an acknowledgment that I’m not setting up the particular strawman you feel like beating today.

“So, I guess I should ask explicitly: Are you criticizing people for criticizing the Washington Post? If so, why?”

I am criticizing people (specifically, John Emerson @ 109, though I’m not a fan of John Emerson @ other numbers either) who think that other readers aren’t aware of the distinction between Opinion and News, in terms of whether the writer can be expected to cherry pick and twist facts to suit himself. I think most readers are in fact aware of that distinction, though when they’ll perceive that the writer has done such twisting probably tracks with their own biases and knowledge base.

I do think that if you automatically assume someone to paraphrase Institution X’s report accurately when it’s in their interest to paraphrase it inaccurately, you are naive.

The Guardian example, though coming from the News section, fits well here: The Guardian said, “The Centre for Public Integrity said in a report last month that the lobby opposing climate change action gave work to 2,430 Washington lobbyists in 2008. The report estimated that about 15% of Washington’s lobbyists were now working to try to stop Congress from passing a law putting a cap on carbon.”

In fact, the CPI summarized their own report as saying, “It also means that 15 percent of all Washington lobbyists spent at least some of their time on global warming in 2008, based on a tally of the total number of influence-peddlers on Capitol Hill by the Center for Responsive Politics.” Lobbyists spending time on global warming of course includes lobbyists FOR legislation to prevent it.

To me, although perhaps not to folks who think that no one can be expected to recognize a distinction between News and Opinion, it is *worse* to have uncorrected inaccuracies in the news reporting than in the editorializing. If George Will says that so-and-so says X, unless it’s a direct quote I’m not going to assume that he is paraphrasing accurately. (And even if it’s a direct quote, I’m going to check if the quote doesn’t fit with what I know about so-and-so. When there’s an obvious mis-fit between the quote and the person being quoted, I’ll also suspect a bit of hackery by people with whom I’m predisposed to disagree.) If the news page says Eric Cantor had a fundraiser at a Britney Spears concert, I’ll assume they’re correct.

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 2:37 am

Sorry for being out of the room while so much fun was going on. Let’s see:

I don’t mind you criticizing Will or the Post for his inaccuracy. My point depends on it. It’s when you demand that action be taken to insure it doesn’t happen again that I think you’ve lost touch with reality.

I’m happy for the Post to correct errors when they see fit. Or not.

The fact that you people see fit to criticize Freeman Dyson because he has views on climate change… well, you amaze me. Do you all just hate science? I thought academics hung out here… But then I had some troll come after me when I pointed out that Nobel Prize Winner for Physics, Ivar Giaever said he was a skeptic and that global warming had become a new religion. He said that Giaever had never published on climate change and hence couldn’t comment on computer models.

But back to the subject. You didn’t like my hypothetical about a liberal opinion writer ending up in some court some day because he relied on illegal weblogs. What would satisfy you that freedom of opinion is more important to Dems than Reps? Give me some ground rules and I’ll give you a hypothesis.

Mr. Emerson, Ari Fleischner probably doesn’t know who you are. We super trolls get our marching orders from a much higher authority…

Salient, since I think you weren’t around for the sloppy part of this, no, we are not criticizing you for criticizing the Post. Or Will. But some of the participants here said up above that they demanded the Post do this and that and issue retractions and hang George Will–I exaggerate a bit–and that if somebody said something in an editorial that turned out to be inaccurate that the Post had an obligation to do something–retract, publish the truth, wear sackloth and ashes.

I seem to be somewhat out of favor because I hold the wrong opinion. That’s fine–I hold the wrong opinion (apparently) on global climate change, too. But I find it hard to understand that people don’t understand what I’m saying, which is that opinion is different from news reporting, and that it calls for different standards. Bad opinion, when it cannot be laughed at (which was probably the proper response in this case), and it cannot be ignored (which would have been a close second), should be responded to in appropriate fora such as this. Holding a gun to WaPo’s head and demanding change is absolutely over the top and would come back to haunt us in the long run.

You can disagree, think I’m facile… but how can this be hard to understand?

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 2:44 am

Just for grins, how many of you who are taking issue with me have already written the WaPo ombudsperson, commented on one of their blogs, or written the editors regarding this?

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 2:53 am

I am criticizing people …. who think that other readers aren’t aware of the distinction between Opinion and News, in terms of whether the writer can be expected to cherry pick and twist facts to suit himself. I think most readers are in fact aware of that distinction, though when they’ll perceive that the writer has done such twisting probably tracks with their own biases and knowledge base.

I disagree with PG about the degree to which factual deception should be allowed on opinion pages. “Making a case” (which ipinionators do) is one thing, and misrepresentations of fact are an entirely different thing.

I disagree about the degree to which ordinary newspaper readers actually do know how much deception is allowed in opinion pieces, and especially as to whether those who don’t understand this are somehow to be blamed. I really hate sharp cookies who sneer at the victims and chumps.

If PG is one of those who deny that the Post should publicly correct Will, I disagree with him* on that.

I’m not sure I know exactly what he thinks about the influence of newspaper opinion writers on public opinion, but I suspect that he’s far wrong. I still would like to see some documentation of the now-common truism that this influence is slight.

I suspect that PG is unaware of the fact that the Post and George Will have been under criticism for performing badly for many years in the first case, and for decades in the second, and that these criticisms are valid, and that this post was something like Part LXXXI of a series, adding more evidence and reaching a conclusion supported by far too much evidence already. If he is aware of this, he probably thinks of it just means that people are biased. He also seems unaware of, or in denial about, the state of global warming science, journalism, and politics).

His iterated mentions of the Guardian misrepresentation (or not) is a triple red herring. First, because of the seeming parity claim, which is false; second, because of the implied claim that liberals and radicals do not criticize the Guardians, which is egregiously and laughably false; and third, just because it’s irrelevant.

*If the elusive PG / Bertrand Russell dot com person is a lady and I have been assuming wrongly, she has my abject apologies.

And hey, where’s Tom? (I confess that I mistook Tom for PG a few times, and vice versa.)

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 2:54 am

Mr. Emerson was calling for some statistics, so in the interest of fair play here are results from two surveys which almost contradict each other, unless you think that Brits have a dispositive reason for trusting newspapers less (having lived in the UK for six years, I might believe it…)

From the UK:

“The Trust, about which I will declare an interest below, thinks we should fear for the quality of news. It worries the public is losing faith in what it reads and hears. Only 7% of people say they trust newspapers to act responsibly – a lower percentage than banks, according to the Trust. The Trust says that’s bad for democracy.” (http://news.uk.msn.com/features/article.aspx?cp-documentid=13938381)

And, from the U.S.:

“Asked to score each medium’s credibility on a scale of one to 10, consumers gave television a 6.6 and daily newspapers a 6.3, according to the survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation’s CARAVAN Services on behalf of ARAnet.

Radio, online sources and weekly community newspapers ranked in the middle of the list for credibility, with free weekly shoppers at the bottom scoring just 3.5.”
(http://www.ventureowl.com/show_article.php?title=Survey:+Americans+Still+Trust+TV,+Newspapers+for+Credible+Information&AID=5096&CId=2&MEMBERID=8506&ArticleId=5096)

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 3:00 am

Mr. Emerson–may I call you John?–I have indeed come back from other chores. Let’s talk briefly about the real world. Most people get what news they consume from television, and in this segmented age are probably stuck on Hannity/O’Reilly or Maddow/Olberman for what passes for opinion. Those who read the news are probably focused on the latest outrage or tragedy. Those who have a preference for opinion columns are a) old–about as old as I am, I imagine, b) set in their (our?) ways, and unlikely to faint if we see George Will in error. I think the population you describe and seem to want to defend from dastardly truthbreakers is heartbreakingly small.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 3:11 am

Tom!

Ari Fleischer is a mercenary picking up spare change these days, Tom. He doesn’t need to know me. It’s the CT people who I suspect of hiring a Fleischer-trained apprentice. They have named an entire Effect after me, you know.

WTF difference does it make whether we wrote letters to the Post? Red herrings R Tom, I guess.

I fail to see what’s wrong with asking for retractions, which seems to be the issue here. I’ve seen a hypothetical or two from Fuller, but the scare stories he pulls out are too weak to motivate the energy he’s putting in here, much less convince anyone, especially because he puts them in the future. During the last decades liberals have already been subjected to worse treatment than anyone here has asked Will receive. IOKIYAR, I guess.

Holding a gun to WaPo’s head and demanding change is absolutely over the top and would come back to haunt us in the long run.

WTF does this mean? There’s no gun. There’s nothing like a gun. How will [whatever it is] haunt us? How is [whatever the gun stands for] absolutely over the top? Where is the problem that you’re worrying so much about? WTF are you talking about?

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Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 3:12 am

WTF are you talking about?

This, I think, is kinda the deal with Tom.

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 3:17 am

Let’s talk about the past, if the future doesn’t interest you. Specifically about the decision to invade Iraq. Writers, both online and print, have said specifically that they hesitated to voice objections to the upcoming invasion because they didn’t have rock-hard facts to point to. There was no clarion call from the Left to stop the madness and reflect a bit, because we couldn’t point to a line item on a report. Colin Powell had his baggie and his PowerPoint presentation. We had the right position. But we kept our flippin’ mouths shut because we didn’t have evidence we could point to, and nobody trusted Scott Ritter and that ‘funny little non-white’ guy from the IAEA.

Opinions should not be judged on the same standards as straight journalism. They should be criticized after they are published.

205

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 3:18 am

WTF once more.

206

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 3:21 am

Here’s Glaiever:

I am unfortunately becoming an old man. We have heard many similar warnings about the acid rain 30 years ago and the ozone hole 10 years ago or deforestation but the humanity is still around. The ozone hole width has peaked in 1993.

The guy may have been smart once, but this is bone dumb. The ozone hole peaked because steps were taken to remedy the situation. He treats a success as a failure, which is common among deniers. Acid rain did damage a lot of forests; I am unaware of the degree to which progress was made in reducing it. Deforestation is a real problem and I’m not at all sure of its present status.

This is like a moron at a lunchcounter grumbling because he’s been inconvenienced somehow. There’s no content at all. There’s no argument, not even the sketch of an argument.

For Christ’s sake. Smart people say dumb things. Scientists are not good in areas they haven’t studied (it’s not like **SCIENCE** is a magic wand or a kind of telepathy).

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 3:24 am

Oh, fine. People who worry about global warming are like the people who failed to oppose the Iraq War. WTF squared.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 3:25 am

Tom, might you kindly respond to 184?

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 3:30 am

Googling Glaiever + “global warming” gets dozens or hundreds of iterations of the same two or three articles.

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 3:39 am

Oh–sorry, WTF’ers. I’m referring back to 118, where I believe Mr. Emerson called for sanction and forcing the Post to retract.

I’ve actually re-read all of the comments here now, and they are much less vitriolic than my first reading suggested. I had thought that there were calls for much stronger action against WaPo than there actually were. So perhaps WTF is the proper response, Righteous Bubba.

If you believe that just yelling at the Post is the proper response, then I agree. Although I think a letter to the editor would be better…

211

Walt 03.27.09 at 3:41 am

I’m guessing that even though the entire population of the Soviet Union knew that Pravda was a lie, that it still served as an effective propaganda tool. People forget where they heard things, so an oft repeated lie is easily mistaken for the truth.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 3:45 am

For me, Tom’s Christlike indifferent to abuse is the real uncanny valley, “WTF?” part. He just rolls smoothly on, completely imperturbable.

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 3:48 am

Okay:
John, does your characterisation of Glaiever also extend to Mann and Hansen? How about Al Gore? Hansen’s an honest scientist, but he was as wrong as a human could be in his testimony before Congress in 1988. Look at his charts. Mann is a number-changing hack and people still point at his charts. Has Al Gore been right about anything since he began talking about climate change? He’s as bad as George Will. Since I agree with Glaiever, I doubt if I’d be objective in characterising his remarks, but I like his Nobel better than Gore’s.

As for your conflation of those worried about global warming with those who failed to oppose the Iraq war, don’t… you… think… you… missed… the… point?

As for comment 184, I’ve said several times that I think public criticism of Will’s idiocy is exactly the correct response. I think it’s for the Post to decide if they want to publish a correction, but I think offering Mooney space to respond was certainly adequate.

Did I miss anything?

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 3:49 am

Christlike… wow. I’m a regular WTF zenmaster now.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 3:52 am

What I said was that firing Will would be fine. That is my crime.

Is Mr. Fuller not aware that many, many liberals, columnists but also reporters, have been let go over the last several decades, often for accurate reporting? There’s a whole literature on that. The unfortunate precedent he so terribly fears is a standing operating procedure. The precedent is already there. It’s been set.

But precedents don’t apply to Republicans, especially when they’re employed by Republicans.

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 3:54 am

Actually, Mr. Emerson, you might look at the work of Pielke the Elder regarding deforestation. He’s of the opinion that land-use policy is a much bigger threat than CO2 (but he’s not a holocaust denier, be clear on that–you can visit his site without being contaminated. His blog is called Prometheus, but beware his son…)

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 3:56 am

I’m actually quite aware of the firing practices in journalism, which is why I think opinion writers should not be fired for saying what they think (or even what they want other people to think that they think).

218

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 4:00 am

Tom, you were putting up Glaiever as a white shining knight, but according to a sympathetic report (I could find nothing critical), he did it by the seat of his pants based on a quick google search, and was motivated by the imbecile arguments I just cited.

Physicists believe that they’re so smart that they can refute an entire lesser discipline with an afternoon’s Googling, but no one should believe them. They also believed that they could predict the stock market, and look where that got us. And they’ve done crappy work in linguistics too.

I’m not going to knock down your arguments one by one. We have specialists in this, and I suggest that you contact Daniel Davies at dsquared@danieldavies.com.

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onymous 03.27.09 at 4:13 am

The fact that you people see fit to criticize Freeman Dyson because he has views on climate change… well, you amaze me. Do you all just hate science?

I guess I am “you people” here, and yes, I see fit to criticize Freeman Dyson because he sees fit to criticize Jim Hansen on subjects that Hansen knows infinitely more about than Dyson does, and doesn’t even seem to appreciate the basic issues involved.

As for “hate science”, ha! I actually work in the field Dyson made his biggest contributions in, so I assure you I have the greatest respect for the highlights of his scientific career. (Would you like to hear my really enthusiastic and detailed explanation of Dyson’s argument that perturbation series are asymptotic, not convergent, and how it links into all sorts of fascinating stuff like renormalons and nonperturbative corrections in QCD? No, you wouldn’t, but I assure you, it would be very enthusiastic and full of respect for Dyson’s insight.) That’s no excuse for him to bash the work of other scientists that he doesn’t understand.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 4:14 am

God damn you, Crooked Timber. This asshole is stinking up the place, and I can’t comment.

If you see this comment, don’t read it.

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 4:15 am

What Dyson criticised was Hansen’s work in advising Gore on an Inconvenient Truth. As that film emerged riddled with errors, Dyson’s pointed criticism of Hansen on this was apropos.

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onymous 03.27.09 at 4:23 am

Hansen’s an honest scientist, but he was as wrong as a human could be in his testimony before Congress in 1988.

“Wrong as a human could be?” Um… if by “wrong”, you mean “right”? (Hansen presented a few scenarios, one of which proved to be quite close to what actually happened.)

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 4:24 am

I have three versions of one comment in moderation, but “asshole” is the magic word, I guess.

The gist: what Glaiever says is based on an afternoon’s googling which dredged up all the contrarian stuff.

Physicists aren’t as smart as they think. You can’t refute a life work by Googling.

Physicists have effed up econ and done their best to eff up linguisitics. They should stay out of climatology, (unless they actually want to study it).

On all further questions I refer you to Dsquared.

Tom, if you’re aware of hiring and firing practices, why did you refer to the present standard practice as a terrible problem that might be unleashed on us if anything mean were done to George Will?

The “hate science” slur was especially “WTF?” Thanks Onymous.

Tom, you don’t happen to be a LaRouchie or Scientologist, do you? I ask merely for information. Your unflappability is awesome. I could not do that.

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onymous 03.27.09 at 4:29 am

Giaever shared the Nobel Prize with Josephson, who at least is so crazy that no one would ever think of citing him as an authority on anything.

225

onymous 03.27.09 at 4:32 am

I would go into more detail about the 1988 Hansen projections, but since they’re a standard denialist talking point (they cherry-pick Hansen’s “worst-case” curve and ignore the fact that there was a big volcanic eruption which led to temperatures basically following Hansen’s projection for what would happen if there is a big volcanic eruption), it looks like I nailed this back in 97 with “full-on drinking the denialist kool-aid”.

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onymous 03.27.09 at 4:34 am

Physicists aren’t as smart as they think.

Dammit, John, I’m on your side this time.

(This is where an emoticon would help to signal I’m not actually taking offense, were emoticons not deprecated.)

227

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 4:47 am

I checked out Pielke, and he looks extremely unpromising.

228

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 4:48 am

Let’s see. No to LaRouche-ianism, no to Scientology, still no to drinking Kool-aid (onymous, you still do not know what I think about global climate change–honest. Cross my heart.) Unflappability is assumed, but appreciated. Given the importance of general circulation models to the underpinnings of climate science, the idea that either Gliaever or Dyson don’t have anything useful to say on the subject is absurd–and yes, anti-science.

The physicists I know don’t think they are particularly smart–more that they are obsessed, monomaniacal and occasionally useful. As an ex-journo, I have opinions about both hiring and firing practices.

Hansen was out by a degree in 1988, even though CO2 emissions were higher than he postulated.

229

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 4:50 am

Did you get Roger Sr? He’s a very reputable scientist–he doesn’t dispute CO2 as global greenhouse gas, contributor to global warming. His son is a bit further out (although still not bad)–are you sure you didn’t get him by mistake?

230

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 4:50 am

C.S. Lewis, Tom. A big fan?

I ask merely for information.

231

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 4:56 am

No, I preferred Forrester for my CS. Does it ever strike you as strange that Lewis and Tolkien were essentially making up their own fairy tales in the same place at the same time and Tolkien had Grima Womtongue while Lewis had Wormwood proposing a toast? Just asking.

232

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 5:01 am

Given the importance of general circulation models to the underpinnings of climate science, the idea that either Gliaever or Dyson don’t have anything useful to say on the subject is absurd—and yes, anti-science.

Don’t know about Dyson, but it seemed pretty clear from his supporters’ sites that Glaiever was winging it by the seat of his pants. It doesn’t make any difference whether he could have done the science if he’d bothered, or whether work he had done was contributory to the problem being studied, he apparently just didn’t bother. (In short, Jesus, you’re full of shit.)

If a physicist learns enough about climatology to make contributions to the field, he becomes a climatologist. That’s the only way to do it. As far as I know, neither Dyson nor Glaiever has come close to that.

As I said, **SCIENCE** is not magic. You do the work and you get the knowledge. And you can’t drop down from a higher science and immediately become an expert on a lower science.

233

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 5:05 am

Roger Sr is hard to find, even on Prometheus.

234

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 5:05 am

Jesus is full of shit? I hope he’s as unflappable as I am. The technology of computer models is amenable to comprehension of quite a few mortals, even, dare I say it, those such as C.S. Lewis fans, wherever they may be. Do they shout Perelandra at odd and uncontrollable moments? I ask purely for information.

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onymous 03.27.09 at 5:07 am

Hansen was out by a degree in 1988, even though CO2 emissions were higher than he postulated.

Or not: scenario B slightly overestimated forcings, and had a trend consistent with observations. Notice that error bars on all of the numbers are pretty large, but it’s clearly getting the right trend within a reasonable uncertainty band.

At any rate, very little of the case for anthropogenic global warming and estimates of its severity actually depends on general circulation models, although they are useful.

I don’t see much point in arguing further; you seem to be repeating talking points, I’m citing RealClimate for responses. Neither of us are expert enough to have a very serious discussion (I’ve been making a semi-serious effort to build up real expertise on climate, but I’m still far better off just pointing people to RealClimate). But what’s clear is that Hansen has been doing solid science for decades, with an impressive track record of matching theory to data. Dyson has no comparable track record on climate.

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 5:07 am

Sorry Mr. Emerson–I think Prometheus is his son’s blog. Senior is here: http://climatesci.org/

237

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 5:10 am

I will resign also, though if Tom wants to respond to 184/208 I’d be happy to read his response.

238

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 5:10 am

Onymous, I’ve said before that I have a lot of respect for Hansen. I just disagree with him. I think he overstated his case in 1988 and has had to jump through a lot of hoops to catch up with what he said. I don’t doubt his intelligence or his sincerity. I just don’t think he’s right on the science. As you probably haven’t forced yourself to page through the skeptic blogs, you may not know that Hansen has been quite forthcoming in furnishing his raw data to some of the skeptics, and has even earned their grudging respect. But you still don’t know what I think on the issue.

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 5:13 am

Mr. Emerson, good night. I replied to 184 at 213, and you responded to it.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 5:45 am

That was a response? My question was about #180, where you claimed victory in a memorably implausible fashion. Seriously, dude.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 5:47 am

God forbid we ever know what Tom thinks about the issue. Only H.P. Lovecraft could imagine that.

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 2:37 pm

Didn’t claim victory–don’t claim victory–just said you had the losing end. Your number writing ability is as suspect as other elements of your writing style. Are you a numerologist, perhaps?

Hilariously, I didn’t write about my opinions on global climate change because I thought it would be a distraction from writing about Journalism 101, ethics and lack thereof. Just tried to gently remind onymous that he/she should not characterize my opinions, lest he/she looks as foolish as some other commenters here.

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Jesus 03.27.09 at 2:47 pm

In short, Jesus, you’re full of shit.

Oh screw you John.

244

salient 03.27.09 at 3:27 pm

I would like to suggest that repeatedly stating that one hasn’t shared one’s opinion, and then mocking others for trying to decipher one’s opinion, is possibly the most aggravation-inducing approach to blog commenting I’ve seen.

If you believe that just yelling at the Post is the proper response, then I agree.

This is what we have been doing. Calling for the Post to issue a correction. Or (in the more extreme opinions) to fire George Will. You (in the same comment) allege that John Emerson is calling for the Post to be “forced” to issue a correction. Forced by whom? I don’t know what your idea of “forced” is. It does not make sense to me. And you’ve done nothing since to justify your introduction of the idea of “forced” as a characterization of the criticism in these comments.

If you are calling for a course of action to be made mandatory, then I disagree. I am sorry any time I am not clear—I hope this is clearer.

Mandatory from whose standpoint? I do indeed believe that editors-in-chief should make it mandatory, at their papers, that factual information in an opinion article is verified, and corrected after-the-fact when wrong. I suspect that JE is sympathetic to this belief.

But your #158 goes much further. Here is what you said:

Should the Post correct factual misrepresentations in opinion columns? No… Opinion does (and should, in my opinion) allow license to speak wrongly on issues of fact.

Do factual misrepresentations in the media have a harmful effect on the political discourse? No.

Then, much more as we try to understand what your “No” responses mean, precisely. “Speak wrongly about issues of fact” = Lie, I think? The rest of it’s not so clear.

Shorter JE: It is inappropriate for opinion section editors to allow their writers to lie about factual information.
Shorter your response: JE, you’re wrong; I don’t think this should be mandatory; Opinion writers should be allowed to lie; lies in the media don’t have a harmful effect on political discourse.
Shorter the response to your response: Wrong about what? Are you trying to say that allowing writers to lie in opinion pieces is a good thing?

It’s been very confusing. You clearly voiced your opinions in 158 and we’re interested in hearing a more thorough justification of those opinions. (At least I am; that’s why I’m still here.)

245

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 4:13 pm

Hi Salient
Thank you for your patience, at the very least. I reacted strongly to Mr. Emerson’s call for Will to be fired. I think this would be dangerous. As he points out, it has been used in the past to devastating effect against liberal journalists.

It should be fairly obvious that I do not advocate dishonesty on the part of writers in any forum. This includes the Washington Post. To claim that I do is just playing games. I believe that reputational risk is adequate incentive to move senior management at newspapers to push for corrective measures.

Case in point: It seems to be commonly held here that Hiatt and other senior management types at WaPo are conservative hacks–or worse (please tell me if I am unfairly characterising the comments and indeed, Mr. Quiggin’s original post). And yet, in one month they managed to convince Mr. Will to write a follow-up article, and when that threw gasoline on the flames, they offered Mr. Mooney space to respond. What further corrective action is appropriate? What is broken here?

246

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 4:26 pm

I guess there’s another thing I don’t understand here. You believe (and again, please tell me if you don’t actually believe this) that Fred Hiatt and his minions should make a definitive finding of fact regarding global climate change and make that part of the WaPo style guide for both reporters and opinion columnists. I understand why you want this to happen.

But given your opinion of Hiatt et al, I find it passing strange that the right to make such a call should be given to Hiatt when you refuse to admit opinions from Freeman Dyson or Gliaever.

247

PG 03.27.09 at 5:01 pm

John Emerson @ 199,

I can’t debate someone who even after repeated requests that he quote my actual words instead of paraphrasing, continues to make arguments based on what it “seems” I think and what “implied” claims I’ve made. It’s absolutely futile to keep saying over and over But I didn’t say that and don’t think that, and indicative of a lack of good faith on your part, as well as that of political football and salient, that you’ve necessitated my saying that over and over. It would be one thing if you were quoting me (as I have done when I criticize) and I realized that what I’ve written is easily misinterpreted or misunderstood (as Quiggin acknowledged), but that’s not what’s happened.

So yay, you win!

248

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 5:19 pm

It’s not that they win, it’s more that they are left in possession of the field of battle. Which can often be true of corpses.

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John Emerson 03.27.09 at 5:53 pm

I did not call for Will to be fired. What I said was “Firing Will would be OK —he’s got a long list of various offenses. ” And that set you off.

People get fired all the time. Kristol just now, and lots of better people than Will or Kristol. Will has conflicts of interests sufficient to justify firing and has always had a weak appreciation of journalistic ethics. He was a political operative when hired and I don’t think he’s ever stopped being one. This isn’t the first time he’s misrepresented facts.

What is broken here?

It’s still at the “He said, she said — opinions on the shape of the earth differ” level. Various steps were taken, but there was no correction issued.

I would like to suggest that repeatedly stating that one hasn’t shared one’s opinion, and then mocking others for trying to decipher one’s opinion, is possibly the most aggravation-inducing approach to blog commenting I’ve seen.

No shit. Sympathy with global warming is the only motivation I can see for Tom’s uncanny-valley argumentation. Everything else he says is too lightweight and peripheral. Without the premise that Will is just plain wrong, which Tom does not accept (or is on plausible-deniability deep cover about), most of what people other than Tom and the mysterious PG have said on this thread makes no sense.

Your number writing ability is as suspect as other elements of your writing style. Are you a numerologist, perhaps?…..It’s not that they win, it’s more that they are left in possession of the field of battle. Which can often be true of corpses.

At last we got a non-oily human, nearly- response out of the little shit. Tetchy, Tetchy, Tom.

The relentless, weaselly argumentative style does remind me of C.S. Lewis’s ingenious, evasive, unbearable apologetics and polemics.

Kieran Healey has to be cackling. I have been outtrolled. I am no longer the Alpha Troll. **sniff**

250

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 6:07 pm

Hi all,

Well, let’s see. Not a LaRouchean, not a Scientologist, not a fan of C.S. Lewis, perhaps I can add not a troll to the list. Is this 20 questions? I came here to talk about ethics in journalism, not global climate change. As I mentioned above, that’s why I didn’t get into my opinion on GCC. For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the British have a court verdict that is perfect–Not Proven. There is no question, thanks to Arrhenius, that greenhouse gases exist, that CO2 is among them, that more CO2 will tend to push trend temperatures upwards. Its implications for the future are serious and worthy of much more study. The theory that increased CO2 will trigger a positive feedback cycle in other temperature forcing mechanisms is interesting, but there is little to no evidence of this actually taking place. Given its potential, however, it should be studied more. Lastly, the claims for catastrophe absent immediate and drastic action do not seem to have any scientific basis whatsoever. I believe this to be a field of study that requires improved data collection, more light, and (forgive me) less heat. As for little shit, I refer you to Jack Palance in the time-honored classic City Slicker. I crap bigger than you, Mr. Emerson.

251

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 6:12 pm

I came here to talk about ethics in journalism

Not to praise, but to bury.

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 6:14 pm

Hi Righteous Bubba, how’s it hanging?

253

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 6:15 pm

A little to the left.

254

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 6:16 pm

Oh, and Mr. Emerson, I don’t know how many times I have to repeat that Will was wrong, that he’s a hack and that I despise him for you to get the message. Rough night?

255

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 6:22 pm

Let’s imagine John Quiggin is writing for a major newspaper. He typically writes editorial comment, but dabbles in investigative journalism. In 2016 a Republican administration takes over and restarts many of the illegal, immoral and fatuous policies of Bush the Younger. Specifically, the administration requires the EPA to take their hands off CO2 as a pollutant. Imagine further that you are all absolutely correct about global climate change and that I am sadly mistaken. Quiggin writes a week’s worth of columns detailing brilliantly the error of the administration. Unfortunately, most of his sources are anonymous employees of the EPA and other government offices that post on little know blogs. The administration goes directly to the senior editor of the newspaper and demands a retraction and front page publication of their official data, which is at odds with what Quiggin reports. Who wins this fight? At what point do they begin to reference this kerfuffle as justification?

256

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 6:26 pm

Who wins this fight?

A unicorn.

257

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 6:46 pm

Tom, most of what you say makes little sense to anyone who’s not a global warming skeptic. I just can’t believe that for you this is all about journalistic ethics and freedom of opinion, because the argument you have concocted is too flimsy.

Why do you invent a 2016 future hypothetical to exemplify a situation which is actual now and has been indefinitely? Liberals get fired for being wrong already, and sometimes for being right too, whereas conservatives don’t. You have inflated a hypothetical firing which I have stated would be OK with me (and have not demanded) into a world-changing event, which it would be only in the sense that a conservative was being held to the same rules as a liberal. And you’ve gotten nearly hysterical about it, representing my opinion as worse than it actually was and also assuming that lots of people were saying what I said. The vehemence and intensity behind your arguments is still hard for me to figure.

You have also elevated an invulnerable Republican operative planted on the WaPo editorial page into the goldmine canary of free speech, which is laughable. My guess is that because of outside connection Will is bigger than Hiatt now, accounting for the feeble institutional response.

Well, at least the oily publicist has been replaced by the Jack Palance simulacrum tough guy.

258

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 6:54 pm

Well, Mr. Emerson, it obviously doesn’t make sense to you, given the drivel you write in response. Call back when you’re ready to write in English.

259

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 6:58 pm

Tetchy, tetchy.

260

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 7:08 pm

George Will, as played by Mr. Bean. He’s bad. He’s mean. He’s an…invulnerable… Republican… operative. Coming soon to a theater near you. He’s bigger than Hiatt. He’s bigger than Jack Palance. He’s bigger than Pennsylvania. And he wants to eat you up.

261

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 7:15 pm

Tom, what most people proposed was a correction, a relatively small thing in itself with prior precedent, and which the paper encourages you to think is possible and reasonable.

Your mania seems to inflate this into some catastrophic situation. It makes you look nuts.

Following along though, it’s fun wondering what you think a firing offense for an opinion journalist might be.

262

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 7:16 pm

Ask Kristol. Being boring.

263

onymous 03.27.09 at 7:18 pm

This is the thread that never ends, isn’t it?

There is no question, thanks to Arrhenius, that greenhouse gases exist, that CO2 is among them, that more CO2 will tend to push trend temperatures upwards. Its implications for the future are serious and worthy of much more study.

That’s a good start….

The theory that increased CO2 will trigger a positive feedback cycle in other temperature forcing mechanisms is interesting, but there is little to no evidence of this actually taking place.

On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence. Would you like me to dig up references from paleoclimate data, to start?

264

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 7:22 pm

Do you want to include those references that show CO2 lagging temperature change? It has been warmer and cooler in the past. There has been more and less CO2 in the atmosphere in the past. The seas have been higher and lower in the past. But sure, throw some references at me. We could play Trantor Trial, where we trade citations back and forth and the best cites win…

265

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 7:25 pm

This is the thread that never ends, isn’t it?

It’s entertaining and full of irony:

“Even some journalists sympathetic to Kristol say his Times writing was often predictable and not his best work, and noted that he had to correct three factual errors,” observed The Washington Post in a story that also announced the paper would begin publishing monthly columns by Kristol.

266

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 7:27 pm

That’s absolutely the funniest thing I’ve seen all day. Thanks, RB.

267

onymous 03.27.09 at 7:28 pm

Do you want to include those references that show CO2 lagging temperature change?

Definitely! It’s an example of the positive feedback effect. You already admitted that CO2 makes temperatures increase. The fact that CO2 increases tend to follow temperature increases shows that increased temperatures lead to more CO2 in the atmosphere (e.g. emerging from the oceans, where the solubility of CO2 changes in response to temperature changes), and that increased CO2 in turn drives temperatures up further.

268

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 7:29 pm

Yes, I’m aware of all that. Proceed.

269

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 7:32 pm

That’s absolutely the funniest thing I’ve seen all day. Thanks, RB.

It’d be funnier if I could link properly. The source, if anyone cares:

http://newmexicoindependent.com/21397/nyt-hires-youngest-ever-conservative-columnist

270

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 7:37 pm

Oh, Douthat. When I saw the headline I thought it might be that 14-year-old. Too bad.

271

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 8:23 pm

Knock down clown, onymous.

272

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 8:25 pm

You subbin’ out your light work, Emerson?

273

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 8:34 pm

LAst time Onymous and I met, he hated me. But a greater threat has arisen.

274

salient 03.27.09 at 8:34 pm

I’m going to respond to this quote from you, PG, and I’m going to very carefully eschew talking about what it “seems” you say. Perhaps this will be an improvement, in your eyes. Here’s the quote:

I just provided you with an example, regarding the Guardian’s claim about lobbyists and climate change, of the skepticism differential: if it fits with your worldview, you accept it and move on; if it doesn’t, you check the source and discover that the claim is wrong.

I think this is untrue. If a factual claim from a reputable source does not “fit with my worldview,” I change my worldview. At the very least, I expand my worldview, which means I insist on some interpretations less and am more open to others being more accurate, probabilistically speaking.

You have said that everybody expects Opinion pieces in reputable sources to be full of lies, if those Opinion sources contain facts which are at odds with what one already believes. I believe this is untrue. That is because my beliefs about topics are flexible and subject to change upon further inquiry or information. Otherwise, why would I read Opinion pieces? Why would I read CT posts? Why would I bother to read authors whose views I find repugnant?

I do expect opinion writers to provide information selectively, because an opinion writer can’t provide every relevant fact. Some facts will strike an author as the best grounding for their propositions. I anticipate those facts will be shared in their opinion piece, along with their explanation of why the proposition is indeed grounded by those facts. It is in order to gain access to those facts, and comprehend the author’s understanding of the link between those facts and their subjective propositions and beliefs, that I read opinion.

Hence, I expect opinion writers to operate in good faith. I expect advocacy to fall within the constraints of accuracy for verifiable factual information. I expect the author to consult with reputable sources, and verify the accuracy of their factual claims. I expect editors to ensure this is done, that any accidental mistakes are subject to quick and prominent correction, and that any intentional mistakes result in sensible disciplinary action for the errant journalist (though obviously “intentional” ought to be proven beyond any reasonable doubt in the editor’s mind).

What does “expect” mean, in all of the above? It means that, if I encounter an Opinion source in which my criteria don’t hold, I cease to rely upon that source for accurate factual information. I also reserve the right to criticize that source on public forums, consistently mention the source’s failure to meet these criteria whenever the source comes up in discussion as evidence, and generally alert others to the problems with the source. The source is no longer reputable, unless they take satisfactory action to redeem themselves and fall back into the realm of expectation I outlined above.

You have characterized me as naive, as if I don’t recognize that the universe rarely aligns itself to my absurd ideals. I don’t mind the accusation (though I do of course recognize ideal != practical, and am accordingly more flexible than the above paragraphs might imply).

It surprises me to see you say that I haven’t engaged your comments directly. I already responded directly to your statements, in an earlier post, and you responded by insulting me (assuming “naive” is an insult). I don’t mind the insult; I just note that, at that time, in that response, you made no indication that I misunderstood you or hadn’t responded directly and forthrightly to your statement. My apologies if that’s the case. Have I done better this time?

275

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 8:37 pm

The enemy of my onymous is my friend.

276

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 8:37 pm

Who ARE these guys?

277

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 8:38 pm

Salient and PG, sorry to intrude on what is actually an interesting and germane response to the topic of this post (how dare you?). Emerson, if you consider me a threat, you are not yet ready for the real world.

278

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 8:38 pm

(Well, the reverse, really, but it’s compulsive posting day.)

279

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 8:40 pm

Er, that would be the friend of my enemy is onymous?

280

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 8:42 pm

Forgive the anomaly.

281

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 8:43 pm

Salient (why does this feel off topic to me all of a sudden?) I don’t know why you assume good faith in opinion writers. I certainly don’t. I don’t think I’ve seen reader surveys that suggest that most people do. I think they deserve space in which to operate, but I certainly do not see in the opinion pages extant today much sign of its existence.

282

salient 03.27.09 at 8:45 pm

I don’t know why you assume good faith in opinion writers. I certainly don’t.

I expect good faith in opinion writers. And I stop paying attention to them when they fail to meet that expectation, and I alert others to the problem whenever it seems suitable & appropriate. Example: George Will.

283

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 8:48 pm

All laudable expectations and behaviour, I guess. But I am assuming you came to some reasoned judgement of Mr. Will some time before this episode, is that correct? I guess my point is, isn’t this to some extent being angry at a dog for barking?

284

salient 03.27.09 at 8:53 pm

Oops. Gah. Please replace “stop paying attention to them” with “stop reading them or engaging them directly” in this comment (currently #282).

For those of you who expect authors to lie to you, a question: why do you read them? Isn’t it a waste of your time? For those who say “I don’t”: you’re here on CT. If you refuse to read opinion because you suspect authors of ill intent generally, why are you reading CT, where the majority of posts contain opinion content as well as factual information? You can’t even trust the factual information in that worldview, because you refuse to trust factual information from opinion writers!

285

onymous 03.27.09 at 8:56 pm

Knock down clown, onymous.

Unfortunately, today I keep getting distracted by work (i.e. doing Real Science, not just Fake Internet Science). But my understanding is that the climate sensitivity error bars have been shrinking, partly from paleoclimate and partly from other things — again, I’m no expert, but I have read some relevant papers and might find the time to dig up the references soon. The point is, there’s some simple greenhouse estimate of the warming effect of CO2 assuming no feedbacks. Climate sensitivity includes the feedbacks, so is more a measure of the actual warming effect of CO2, and is determined not only from models but from past measurements of temperature and CO2 concentrations (which are what I would like to list some good references for). Climate sensitivity has a slightly weird definition because it’s an equilibrium response including fast feedbacks, for some definition of “fast”, but we’re not in equilibrium (and changing the forcing much more rapidly than in typical past eras!) and there’s also observational data on things like thawing permafrost and melting icecaps that are also relevant to the question of how large feedbacks are. Google will turn up details that I don’t have the time to supply at the moment.

But I’m still a little puzzled, since Tom has agreed that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, we are emitting CO2, the CO2 does drive temperature increase, and that there are positive feedbacks. Maybe the word “other” was doing all the work in the thing about doubting that CO2 leads to positive feedbacks “in other temperature forcing mechanisms”?

286

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 9:03 pm

Hi onymous,

Yes, I’m trying to work and do this at the same time, and not finding it too easy myself. And what you write does accord with a lot of what I’ve read. Many times I’ve seen the figure of 1-1.5 degrees F warming for AD 2100 that can be expected and attributed to CO2 without forcing. Indeed, it is the existence and strength of positive feedbacks that I want to know more about. If you run into any relevant papers, let me know. I’ll keep an eye on this post for a few days.

287

salient 03.27.09 at 9:04 pm

But I am assuming you came to some reasoned judgement of Mr. Will some time before this episode, is that correct?

Mr. Will, perhaps, but not the Post. Oh, a further corollary. I also hold newspapers to the same standards, via their editorial staff. I will admit, I figured the Washington Post was at least verifying the factual information in their Opinion pages, and would correct any emergent errors in accordance with their published, publicly available policy. It’s that policy, and their adherence to it, on which their credibility and authority relies.

They have refused to correct themselves, in a high-profile case. Who knows what happens in low-profile cases; digging around I found some ombudsman’s evidence of stories dating back to 2004 with systematic substantive errors, complained about through official channels, that have gone uncorrected. Hmm. Some of this I can understand — finite resources, priorities — but in a high-profile case, Hiatt did a cost-benefit analysis and decided to not issue an explicit correction. Weaseled out instead by offering someone a chance to rebut.

Furthermore, the editors and editor-in-chief (Hiatt) have refused to update their corrections policy to reflect any difference between News and Opinion in corrections policy. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume the Post won’t follow its own corrections policy anywhere in the paper (or, to be more accurate, they’ll follow it inconsistently and thus unreliably).

Hence, for now, I’m not relying on the Post for news information. They lost a reader of their newspaper (and from the sound of it, not just me, so not just one). Furthermore, I feel perfectly justified in raising a stink wherever it’s generally appropriate to stink-raise about the issue (i.e. wherever it’s on-topic).

288

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 9:06 pm

281: Tom is playing the hip insider game again. He cool, you not. He knows the ropes.

“Expect” can have a meaning like “demand” or “insist on”, or it can just have the predictive meaning. Tom knows that, but he’s got case to make, so he pretends he doesn’t.

I still don’t have much idea why he chooses to take a man he professes to despise and make him an icon of — free speech? — in order to prevent a hypothetical development which actually already happened long ago. You don’t need to lock the barn door, Tom, the horses are gone. And why are you so up at arms at anything anyone has said?

Not LaRouchie, not Scientologist, not C.S. Lewis casuist, not Fleischer apprentice….

Representative of a professional organization?
Speech department advocacy practicum?
Ethnobethodological intervention?
Bot?

289

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 9:09 pm

Some discussions of global warming fail to explicitly mention methane, and thus are, for internet debate purposes, simply wrong.

290

salient 03.27.09 at 9:13 pm

Some discussions of global warming fail to explicitly mention methane

Leave your thane out of this. This is a family-friendly blog!

291

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 9:38 pm

Salient, FWIW, I quit anything more than casual perusal of the Post at about the time of the Iraq invasion. However, they do still have some good reporters there. If I can say anything here, it is do not expect a news media organisation to be a font of wisdom or diligent on post publication fact-checking. These people are losing money, and they rush through the fact checking before a story goes to press. The last thing they want is to check numbers after they’ve sold the day’s soap. Don’t tell Emerson, but there is no person and no function for fact checking opinion. Period. It comes in, it gets proofed, it goes up, everybody gets paid, it’s a convenient way to fill a hole. It’s cheaper than reporting.

292

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 9:49 pm

The Post is so awful, with such awful writers, that it angers Tom whenever someone suggests that any one writer be fired for awfulness. Unfair! Equal protection of the laws! Free speech!

Fortunately, the Post plays no significant role in American public life.

293

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 9:58 pm

Emerson, you actually said something almost intelligent. The Post plays no significant role in American public life. That’s pretty close to true. Your schtick, however, is getting stale. Not rep, not freak not even troll, just little ol’ me, LoL…

If you actually saw how George Will makes a living… he does the column for little or no money (maybe $50K/year, max) to keep him viable for TV opps and the lecture circuit. Because he’s paid what he considers peanuts, he’s not going to spend time fact-checking his own stuff. When he does, his bow tie revolves excitedly because he used one of those internet linkie things. Invulnerable Republican operative… The Post has a reliable source of conservative comment and occasional controversy, but most importantly it has a predictable cost base for one filled hole. For them, that is the key consideration. The Post hopes Will doesn’t screw up. Will hopes he doesn’t screw up. Those internet linkie things can really turn on you. But if he does, everybody deals with it as best they can and it’s on to the next one.

294

salient 03.27.09 at 10:11 pm

The Post plays no significant role in American public life.

That’s really weird. I’m in the middle of the US (read: not in Washington) and I frequently receive emails from colleagues, local people I know with diverse jobs, etc. that contain Washington Post links. People visit the Post’s webpage, if nothing else, and share what they find there.

Note, because I guess it’s relevant: I first learned of the Will article indirectly from a bullet-point fact sheet from a friend, or let’s say email-prolific acquaintance, who cited (false) facts from Will’s article, among other sources, as evidence against the “consensus” I had casually mentioned to him about a week earlier. I equivocated in my response: well, I don’t really follow the latest developments, etc… Anyhow, it took me a while to realize the Will article generating all this buzz was the one and same Will article that was referenced. So: George Will’s article has been used, and I’d bet when the dust clears will continue to be used, as a reference by local advocates and people who want to promote a given worldview. His falsified facts are getting aired and disseminated. Etc etc etc etc.

295

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 10:11 pm

If you actually saw how George Will makes a living…

Compare and contrast:

I don’t honestly know if Will is an employee or freelancer, but I still think the distinction is important.

296

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 10:15 pm

Maybe $50K/year, max….

Through the lookingglass and down the rabbithole to Never Never Land.

And he brown-bags his lunch and has his wife patch his shirts when they tear. Is he able to grow vegetables in his yard to keep his food costs down?

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 10:17 pm

Hi Salient,

My point is that if WaPo died tomorrow, your friends would easily get news somewhere else, and George Will would find some other journalistic bastion to publish him. RB, what Will does on a daily basis is not dependent on whether he gets a W2 or a 1099, in my opinion.

298

Righteous Bubba 03.27.09 at 10:19 pm

Tom, you’ve acknowledged that you don’t know the details of Will’s employment, yet you make them up anyway.

Meta-funny can be hard to come by, so thanks.

299

salient 03.27.09 at 10:32 pm

My point is that if WaPo died tomorrow, your friends would easily get news somewhere else, and George Will would find some other journalistic bastion to publish him.

No, your point has been (for example) that people should not encourage the WaPo to fire George Will (245); that writers of opinion pieces have a license to lie and should have a license to lie and that editors ought to bear no responsibility for correcting these lies (158.3); that we should see license to lie in opinion pieces as a good thing (158.4); that newspapers like the WaPo have no substantial effect on discourse (158.5). These are the points you have made, that I have taken issue with.

But I’ll respond to your latest point, #297. My reply: So what? Points of the form “if X disappeared, we’d all get on” are usually not worth making. Random example: If CT went permanently offline for some reason, we’d go find something else to do. If the U.S. monetary system spontaneously collapsed this moment, we’d find some way to reconstruct some kind of economy that keeps us alive and variously employed. Why should I let that kind of fatalism guide my reactions to events in the world?

300

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 11:20 pm

I’ll stand by the points that I have made, although I think your description of them is a wee bit exaggerated. I note that you take issue with them. My reply: I think my view of the world of news is more accurate, and it leads me not to rage, cynicism or fatalism. Works for me.

301

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 11:35 pm

Your schtick, however, is getting stale.

Noted without comment.

294: Salient, facts only muddy the waters. Cut it out. Besides, you didn’t do a controlled study.

I think my view of the world of news is more accurate, and it leads me not to rage, cynicism or fatalism.

The antidepressant approach to reality. If it works for you…..

302

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 11:43 pm

Yes, there are parts of cyberspace where a more accurate view of reality is anathema.

303

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 11:46 pm

…but I must say I didn’t think CT was one of them.

304

John Emerson 03.27.09 at 11:49 pm

We’re convinced of the calming effect of Lexapro thought, but not of its accuracy. Stay happy.

305

Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 11:51 pm

Must be nice to get to use the editorial ‘we’ for once, eh?

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Tom Fuller 03.27.09 at 11:57 pm

307

Walt 03.28.09 at 2:17 am

John, they’ve identified your fatal weakness — you are unable to quit an argument. They have you pinned here in a diversionary tactic while the main body of forces have attacked elsewhere. Trollblog already has ten posts on the joys of romance in the springtime.

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John Emerson 03.28.09 at 4:01 am

My troll honor was at stake.

309

politicalfootball 03.28.09 at 4:17 am

Tom Fuller, just so you know, Emerson is going around elsewhere on the Internet saying that in an epic battle of trolls, he fought you to a draw here. Emerson is a powerful and influential troll, effortlessly able to befuddle the minds of lesser folk, and I fear you may never get proper credit among the stupefied masses for what you have accomplished in this thread.

Please know that we who witnessed this, we understand that your evasions, provocations and unpredictable illogic were relentless. You wield a non sequiter the way that Frazier employed his powerful left arm in the fifteenth round against Ali in their first fight.

Be assured that you have earned an honored place in the Troll Hall of Fame. A magnificent performance. Well done.

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Tom Fuller 03.28.09 at 4:35 am

You guys still here? Political football, unless I missed something scrolling up, your last comment was at 173–don’t come late to the party and think you can call the victory or even describe the battle. As for your characterisations, well it’s kinda like basketball–you play with shit, you play like shit. Mr. Emerson: Honor?

311

onymous 03.28.09 at 8:53 pm

As promised, I’ve been looking into the literature a little bit. It looks like for the one number characterizing climate sensitivity (i.e. equilibrium temperature response to doubled CO2, including fast feedbacks), paleoclimate data doesn’t provide very useful constraints. (Paleoclimate data is useful for all sorts of things, like testing models, exhibiting various feedbacks, etc., but not so useful for getting a precise numerical value of this one number.)

Constraints on climate sensitivity come, among other places, from the observed 20th century warming, cooling after volcanic eruptions, the climate of the Last Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago, and the Maunder Minimum when solar activity was low around 300 years ago. In general, temperatures are more easily measured than radiative forcing, so the uncertainties tend to come from characterizing the forcings (how much CO2, how much sulfate aerosols, how to translate their concentrations to a forcing in W/m^2). Another difficulty is that the observed temperature isn’t the equilibrium temperature response, as the oceans take up heat and one has to adjust for what the eventual atmospheric temperature would be once that heat is released.

Some of the literature:
Forest et al., Science 295, 113 (2002): use recent climate measurements to estimate 5% to 95% confidence band of 1.4 to 7.7 K for climate sensitivity. Use ocean temperature observations to help reduce the uncertainty from ocean heat uptake. (The 7.7 K end of that estimate is disturbingly large, but see below.)

Gregory et al., Journal of Climate 15, 3117 (2002): put 5% confidence lower bound of 1.6 K, using surface temperature data and ocean temperature observations. Their probability distribution has a long upper tail.

In fact there was a paper by Roe and Baker, Science 318, 629 (2007) that recently argued that these long tails in the direction of large temperature increase are an inherent property of the climate system, and are very difficult to constrain further.

On the other hand, Annan and Hargreaves, Geophysical Research Letters 33 L06704 (2006) put together various other estimates from observed warming, volcanic cooling, and the LGM to conclude that there is less than 5% probability that climate sensitivity is above 4.5 K. Urban and Keller, Geophysical Research Letters (in press) also argue that the fat upper tails can be reduced by measuring ocean heat uptake and aerosol forcings more precisely.

In short, it seems that observational constraints tend to agree with the 1.5 K to 4.5 K estimates of climate forcing from GCMs. As far as I can tell from this quick look at things, the probability distributions emerging from the data say very clearly that the climate sensitivity is highly unlikely to be smaller than 1.5 K, and as I mentioned above, “climate sensitivity” by definition omits slow feedbacks that potentially make the problem worse. Also, it seems that progressively better measurements and statistical techniques are chipping away at the high end of the fat tail. A most likely value somewhere in the neighborhood of 3K seems like a good bet.

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onymous 03.28.09 at 9:04 pm

Also, just to be clear: if the effect of CO2 was only a greenhouse effect, with no feedbacks whatsoever, the climate sensitivity would be 1 K. So for observations to imply at 95% confidence that climate sensitivity is above 1.5 K is strong empirical evidence for the existence of positive feedbacks.

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Tom Fuller 03.28.09 at 11:01 pm

Hi,er, Onymous,

Many thanks for scaring this stuff up. Most of these I have not seen and I will look at them. My prior reading on this left me with the impression that the early consensus was around 1.5, and that as the issue got politicised (that’s purely my subjective characterisation, obviously), the forcing got jacked up. But, hey–it could be the science, and the papers you’ve found. I owe you one, and again, many thanks.

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