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WaPo climate news and opinion on different planets

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On climate change, the Washington Post has a Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde problem. On the news side of the house, the paper often does a fine job separating facts from fiction. But this good work is sadly invalidated in the Op-Ed section, where the Post pays columnists to promote the dishonest propaganda of climate denial.

The News and Opinions sections are supposed to operate independently, of course, but the purpose of that tradition is to keep the news from being unduly influenced by the editorial stance of the media outlet.  There should be some influence, however, going the other way — namely, you would hope that opinions spread by the paper have some basis, however shaky, in the facts about which the news section is tasked to report.  A newspaper that reports the truth in one section and lies in another may well do more harm than good.

Recent examples of the good WaPo include the superb cover story by Joel Achenbach and Juliette Eilperin that in no uncertain terms put many climate denial myths to rest.  Eilperin, one of the best environmental reporters in the business, has been the MVP as the Post, over the years, has steadily moved climate change stories from page 15 or so to the front.  She’s done a good enough job to become a target of the Koch-funded climate conspiracy crowd.

Another nice job was done recently by Fact Checker Glenn Kessler in demonstrating the phoniness of climate denialism when Rick Perry made his ignorant claims about the scientific consensus supposedly going against climate change.

Ah, but while one hand gives us solid, research-based facts, the other hand takes them away. It’s bad enough that the Post supports the “too big to fire” right-winger George Will in his distortion of climate science findings. But now, unbelievably, they’ve doubled down on that bad investment by adding another climate denier to the Opinions staff, one obscure right-wing blogger named Norman Leahy.  

Leahy recently showed what a waste of pixels his blog is by saying that climate change “is a very good thing, as without it, central Virginia would look more like the present-day Yukon and the Chesapeake Bay wouldn’t exist.”

Because the last big climate change melted the glaciers, get it?  Ha, ha, take that, evil liberals!   Unfortunately, we’ve actually been running out of glaciers lately, which will impact the fresh water supply in places like India and China, which have more than a few thirsty mouths to quench. But if the last climate change was good, this one’s gonna be great, right?

By Leahy’s “logic”, since fire is good for cooking your food, more fire everywhere would be fantastic.  It’s the kind of logic that would make a caveman laugh.

He also joins in the Cuccinelli-led campaign to make an example out of Professor Michael Mann so that no climate scientist will ever again feel safe engaging in research that could impact Massey Energy’s share prices.  Leahy adds to the wilding with the subtlest of smears on Dr. Mann’s reputation, writing “Dr. Mann may not be guilty of anything at all. Nor is he exactly innocent. His behavior toward his peers seeking to check his work raises plenty of red flags […] It isn’t pretty.” The only evidence he provides of these so-called “red flags” is one link to a right-wing website that claims, with hardly any details and zero evidence, that Mann’s team “had become extremely defensive and a sort of bunker mentality took over. Years of obstruction followed.”

From this slender reed, Leahy justifies Cuccinelli’s police state assault on UVA and the First Amendment.

You see the problem here.  The best efforts of the Post’s finest reporters are scattered to the winds when their own paper uses its Opinions section to invalidate the facts they have worked so hard to uncover.

Some may respond to this argument by saying that columnists have the freedom to write whatever they please.  True enough.  But a real newspaper should do at least a cursory fact check of their work, and refuse to publish anything that fails this basic test.

Allow me a hypothetical example to prove the point.   Let’s say that at the same time that the Post reported that Colonel Gaddafi had been overthrown, a columnist of theirs wrote a piece saying that in fact, Gaddafi was still in power and the whole revolution was just a made-for-TV movie with actors playing the parts — in short, a hoax.

I’m willing to bet that if such a piece were written, the Post would not publish it. Why?  Because it’s a gross distortion of the facts — even if it’s all just an opinion.

The only reason such distortions are allowed on climate change is that 300 pound. conservative gorillas, like Limbaugh and Inhofe, are actively spreading this nonsense.  But printing provable lies in a publication whose whole mission is (supposed to be) to tell the truth is just not a good idea.  It’s time for The Post to hold its columnists to a higher standard.