Monthly Archives: February 2009

Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned Watch: The Post Needs a New Ombudsman

Ah. I see that Washington Post* ombudsman Andrew Alexander has finally read . Last week, Hilzoy wrote:>Obsidian Wings: I clicked the link Mr. Alexander provided, and read it. Did he? I don’t know what would be worse: that he did, and takes it to support Will, or that he didn’t take his job seriously enough to bother.The answer appears to be that he did not take his job seriously enough to bother. This means, I think, that the *Washington Post* needs a new ombudsman who does take his job seriously enough to bother. Immediately.Now that Andrew Alexander has read it, he writes: March 1 2009:>The editors who checked the Arctic Research Climate Center Web site believe it did not, on balance, run counter to Will’s assertion that global sea ice levels “now equal those of 1979.” I reviewed the same Web citation and reached a different conclusion. It said that while global sea ice areas are “near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979,” sea ice area in the Northern Hemisphere is “almost one million sq. km below” the levels of late 1979. That’s roughly the size of Texas and California combined. In my mind, it should have triggered a call for clarification to the center. But according to Bill Chapman, a climate scientist with the center, there was no call from Will or Post editors… until last Tuesday — nine days after The Post began receiving demands for a correction…But last week–before he had read it–he was singing a very different tune:Andrew Alexander, February 19 2009:>Thank you for your e-mail. The Post’s ombudsman typically deals with issues involving the news pages. But I understand the point you and many e-mailers are making, and for that reason I sought clarification from the editorial page editors. Basically, I was told that the Post has a multi-layer editing process and checks facts to the fullest extent possible. In this instance, George Will’s column was checked by people he personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors. The University of Illinois center that Will cited has now said it doesn’t agree with his conclusion, but earlier this year it put out a statement that was among several sources for this column and that notes in part that “Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979.”—-The relevant portions from the University of Illinois Arctic Climate Research Center, January 12 2009:>Almost all global climate models project a decrease in the Northern Hemisphere sea ice area over the next several decades under increasing greenhouse gas scenarios. But, the same model responses of the Southern Hemisphere sea ice are less certain. In fact, there have been some recent studies suggesting the amount of sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere may initially increase as a response to atmospheric warming through increased evaporation and subsequent snowfall onto the sea ice. (Details: ) >Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979, as noted in the Daily Tech article. However, observed N. Hemisphere sea ice area is almost one million sq. km below values seen in late 1979 and S. Hemisphere sea ice area is about 0.5 million sq. km above that seen in late 1979, partly offsetting the N. Hemisphere reduction. Global climate model projections suggest that the most significant response of the cryosphere to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations will be seen in Northern Hemisphere summer sea ice extent. Recent decreases of N. Hemisphere summer sea ice extent (green line at right) are consistent with such projections. >Arctic summer sea ice is only one potential indicator of climate change, however, and we urge interested parties to consider the many variables and resources available when considering observed and model-projected climate change. For example, the ice that is presently in the Arctic Ocean is younger and thinner than the ice of the 1980s and 1990s. So Arctic ice volume is now below its long-term average by an even greater amount than is ice extent or area.>

Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned Watch: Ombudsman Andrew Alexander Parodies Himself

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

Republicans: Much Worse than You Can Imagine (Bobby Jindal Edition)

**UPDATE:** More from Zachary Roth:>TPMMuckraker | Talking Points Memo | Jindal’s Office Tries To Spin Katrina Story, Digs Itself In Deeper: You can watch the key excerpt here, but here’s the transcript from Bobby Jindal’s speech:>>During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office I’d never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: ‘Well, I’m the Sheriff and if you don’t like it you can come and arrest me!’ I asked him: ‘Sheriff, what’s got you so mad?’ He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go – when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn’t go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, ‘Sheriff, that’s ridiculous.’ And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: ‘Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!’ Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.>In our post, we reported — among other red flags — that we couldn’t find any news reports that put Jindal on the ground in the affected area during the time when a boat rescue would have been needed. As we noted, we called Jindal’s office twice before posting to ask them to verify the incident, but heard nothing back. This morning, Politico’s Ben Smith, noting that we and others had raised questions about Jindal’s story, posted a response from the governor’s chief of staff, Timmy Teepell:>>It was in the days following the storm. Sheriff Lee was a hero who worked tirelessly to rescue those in danger, and he didn’t take kindly to bureaucrats getting in his way.>That didn’t really seem to clear things up either way — indeed it admitted that it wasn’t “during Katrina” as Jindal had originally said. Still, the headline of Smith’s post characterized the statement as “stand[ing] by” the anecdote.>Team Jindal probably would have been wise to leave things there.>Instead, they went back to Smith, now telling him, in Smith’s words, that Jindal “didn’t imply” on Tuesday that the story “took place during the heat of a fight to release rescue boats.” (Take 30 seconds to read Jindal’s actual words, and you’ll see that’s flatly untrue — but no matter.) Rather, Jindal spokeswoman Melissa Sellers told Smith, “It was days later .. Sheriff Lee was on the phone and the governor came down to visit him. It wasn’t that they were standing right down there with the boats.”>Smith added:>>She said she thought Lee, who died in 2007, “was doing an interview” about the incident with the boats when the governor described him yelling into the phone.In other words, Jindal only heard from Lee later that this had happened. He didn’t actually see it happening and played no role in it himself. We posted a few hours ago, noting that Jindal’s office had admitted the story was false.>But then things got weirder: Jindal’s people went back for yet more.>>Smith soon posted an update explaining that he had misunderstood Sellers earlier. According to Teepell, Smith now wrote, rescue efforts were in fact still underway when Jindal met with Lee. And Jindal overheard Lee yelling on the phone to justify a decision he had previously made, not giving an interview about the episode, as Sellers’ earlier version had had it.>In fact, that whole thing about Jindal overhearing Lee giving an interview? It’s now gone from Smith’s post (though, thanks to the dangers of syndication, it remains here) as if Jindal’s office never said it.>There’s more. Amazingly, Sellers then argued to Smith that there is no difference between Jindal’s original story as told Tuesday night, and the one her office finally settled on this afternoon. And even more amazingly, Smith added another update in which he transcribed that argument without comment, as if it were reasonable.>Then the capper: With Jindal’s office now satisfied with the third iteration of its story — a version that clearly acknowledged that the first version, told Tuesday night to millions, was false — Teepell went back to Smith with the following comment: >>”This is liberal blogger B.S. The story is clear.”>And Smith, in yet another update, published it.

The Forest of Outstretched Arms Looking for Work Grows Thicker and Thicker…

Associate Dean Ananya Roy decided a year and a half ago that Berkeley’s International Studies teaching programs would deliver much more in the way of education to the undergraduates at the same cost if we spent less money hiring graduate students as instructors and more money hiring post-Ph.D.’. as lecturers.I was just looking through the lecturer applications. OMG. So many people who would be so good in the classroom, and who know so much, and would be such general assets to the Berkeley intellectual community. This has to be the worst year to apply for an academic job in America since… the Great DepressionAnd I think we are going to be offering them half-time jobs…