The Kansas City Star reprinted a George F. Will column about climate change roundly derided as a pile of stink-poo upon its publication.
Will's column first appeared in The Washington Post on February 15. The bow-tied conservative took aim at the "eco-pessimism" surrounding the "hypothetical" calamity of climate change. Will concluded his column by stating that "there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade," according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization.
Within hours, writers and scientists attacked the column for engaging in the worst kind of cherry picking.
Will, for instance, quoted several reports from the 1970s in which scientists remarked on cooling trends. (Skeptics like to dust off these "looming ice age" stories because they make warnings about global warming seem faddish.) But as one science writer noted last week, even in the '70s "greenhouse warming ... dominated scientists' thinking as being one of the most important forces shaping Earth's climate on human time scales."
Will also misstated the World Meteorological Organization's findings. Talking Points Memo suggests that Will based his notion of an unchanging climate on a 2008 BBC story about the effects of La Nina. The BBC article states that temperatures have not risen since 1998 -- but that was a year El Nino, the Heat Miser to La Nina's Snow Miser, warmed the world. In the same article, the World Meteorological Organization's secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, said the "trend of temperature globally is still very much indicative of warming."
Journalism Web sites linked to the nearly instantaneous criticism of Will's column. So I was surprised to pick up the February 21 Star and find the maligned piece on the opinion page.
I sent e-mails to Miriam Pepper, the Star's editorial-page editor, and Derek Donovan, the paper's readers' rep. His column may be tedious, but Donovan is a conscientious fellow. He called back to say that he had spent several hours making calls and checking the disputed information in Will's column.
Donovan suggests that both sides of the global-warming debate exaggerate. He mentioned a recent New York Times story that equated Will's column with some of Al Gore's more alarmist pronouncements. I tried to argue that the climate "debate" had been settled (Earth: getting hotter). But as a newsman, Donovan wasn't ready to go there. Skepticism is healthy, he says, noting past instances the media got it wrong, such as the overstated threat of AIDS to heterosexuals.
And just as The Washington Post is standing by Will's column, Donovan says he doesn't see an "error of concrete fact" the Star needs to correct.
At the same time, Donovan recognizes that Will engaged in the journalistic equivalent of using apples to make a prediction about the orange crop.
"It's not a good column; there's no question," he says.