George Will and Intellectual Honesty

Matt's on the case:

This started as a problem for Will, his direct supervisors, and the Post's ombudsman. But now that the Post as a paper is standing behind Will's deceptions, I think it's a problem for all the other people who work at the Post. Some of those people do bad work, which is too bad. And some of those people do good work. And unfortunately, that's worse. It means that when good work appears in the Post it bolsters the reputation of the Post as an institution. And the Post, as an institution, has taken a stand that says it's okay to claim that up is down. It's okay to claim that day is night. It's okay to claim that hot is cold. It's okay to claim that a consensus existed when it didn't. It's okay to claim that George Will is a better source of authority on interpreting the ACRC's scientific research than is the ACRC. Everyone who works at the Post, has, I think, a serious problem.

This is true, in some sense, though I think too broad. A great story, broken by the Post, will still be a great story. Still, it's amazing that the Post is standing behind Will. One reason blogs are starting to eclipse edit pages is that there is an independent mechanism to hold bloggers accountable. I can say all the stupid things I want, but I know that there is an industry out there waiting to take me to the woodshed. This is a good thing.

But more than that, as Matt points out, in any form of journalism, a writer arguing that he better understands the research than the actual experts who compiled the research, is suspect. Any editor worth his title would at least throw up a red flag. George Will isn't held to that standard because he's a brand unto himself. The temptation is to think he's gotten away with something. I'm not so sure. Will always enjoyed a veneer of indy respectability, someone who stood out amongst the babbling diarrhea merchants. With this piece, and with his inability to be forthright, Will simply takes another step toward good old fashion hackery.