WashPost's Fred Hiatt plays dumb for George Will

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Journalism is not complicated. Honest. But sometimes people practicing it pretend that it is. They pretend that it's very complicated and that every fact has nine different sides and it's impossible--impossible--to figure out what the truth really is. And because it's impossible, who's to say who's right and who's wrong. Who's to say what's correct and what's incorrect. It's all open for debate.

The Post's Fred Hiatt, busy contorting himself into a pretzel, is playing that (dumb) game with regards to George Will, the increasingly heavy anchor that the columnist has become around the daily's neck. Will and the Post refuse to apologize, or in newspaper terms they refuse to issue a correction, despite the fact that Will's now infamous column last week was built around falsehoods about global warming. But rather than trying to figure out how to fix the problem, Hiatt and Will have apparently been brainstorming on how not to accept responsibility.

The Post and Will are above corrections because they've pored over the available information and they can spot a ray of daylight where they can claim Will was not categorically wrong in his global warming claim. And if there is a daylight toward deniability, they're going to choose that over transparency, and honesty, with their readers.

Hiatt insists Will's entitled to his opinion about the global warming facts because those facts are just too complicated--too unknowable--and who the hell are readers to claim otherwise? Hiatt told CJR:

If you want to start telling me that columnists can't make inferences which you disagree with—and, you know, they want to run a campaign online to pressure newspapers into suppressing minority views on this subject—I think that's really inappropriate. It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject — so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don't make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn't be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him.

That sound you hear is Hiatt digging the Post an even deeper and more embarrassing hole.

I have two favorite parts. The first was Hiatt's insistence that Will has every right to draw inference--to make claims of fact in his column--based on data that most scientists reject. Good Lord, what is Will not allowed to do in a Post column? And does the Op-Ed page maintain any guidelines?

And second, I chuckled when Hiatt insisted that if people disagree with Will's published falsehoods, they shouldn't try to pressure the paper to publish corrections, they should, y'know, "debate him." Right, because Will and Post editors have been so open and willing to address--to debate--the controversy.

Hiatt and Post are hunkered down in serious denial mode. And that's when journalism becomes unnecessarily complicated.

P.S. When is the Post's media critic, Howard Kurtz, going to weigh in on this growing press controversy in the pages of the newspaper, even if it does feature a star Post columnist?

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.