Media Matters has named the patrician prevaricator for the Plutocracy, George F. Will, the “Misinformer Of The Year.” It must have been a close fought battle for this coveted title among “Fred Hiatt’s Hiring Hall For Unemployable Conservatives” at the reliably Republican Washington Post (Charles Krauthammer, Michael Gerson, Marc Thiessen, Richard Cohen, Robert Samuelson, Kathleen Parker, Ed Rogers, Jennifer Rubin, et al.)
George Will has been at it for longer, so well deserved! Misinformer Of The Year: George Will (excerpts):
This single phrase has followed George Will for the last six months. The syndicated conservative columnist, considered by many a thoughtful intellectual rather than a bomb-thrower, severely damaged his brand when he wrote a June 2014 column dismissing efforts on college campuses to combat the epidemic of sexual assault and suggesting that women who say they were raped receive “privileges.” The column has sparked hundreds to protest his public appearances, challenges from U.S. Senators and women’s rights groups, and the dropping of his column from a major newspaper.
Will’s 2014 misinformation was not limited to attacking and dismissing rape victims. Throughout the year, Will failed to disclose several major conflicts of interest in his columns, and his tangled relationship with political entities backed by Charles and David Koch was cited by the outgoing ethics chair of the Society of Professional Journalists as the kind of conflict journalists should disclose in their writing. His history as a prominent denier of climate change also helped further undermine his credibility, with more than 100,000 people signing a petition demanding the Washington Post stop printing the science misinformation he and others regularly push in its pages.
* * *
Will was always careful to keep one foot in the mainstream — in addition to his Post column, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977, he served as an ABC News commentator for three decades and was even a featured interview in several Ken Burns documentaries. [Which really pissed me off, Ken!]
Yet late last year, he left ABC to join Fox News as a political contributor, cementing his increasingly conservative and counterfactual tendencies. Some of his politics — such as his longstanding climate change denial — seemed to fit in at the network. But at the time, Media Matters wondered if an association with Fox’s more angry and crude fare would ruin the brand of the staid conservative pontificator, shifting his erudite elitism towards the hard-edged style of misinformation for which Fox is better known. Will’s accomplishments in 2014 revealed our suspicions were well-founded.
Media Matters isn’t the only organization to recognize the damage Will’s commentary did to the discourse this year. When PolitiFact awarded its 2014 Lie of Year to “exaggerations about Ebola,” they cited Will as a prime example. Will used his Fox News platform to spread lies about the disease, falsely claiming that it could be “spread through the air.” As PolitiFact noted:
Will’s claim that Ebola could spread through the air via a cough or sneeze shows how solid science got misconstrued. The conservative commentator suggested a thought shift about how the virus could spread. In reality, Will simply misunderstood scientists’ consistent, albeit technical explanation.
Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, vomit and diarrhea. Coughing and sneezing are not symptoms.
Will has a long history of pushing misinformation, but it finally caught up with him in 2014, tarnishing the reputation as a public intellectual he had spent decades cultivating. He started the year one of the most respected members of the conservative media elite, and ended it with hundreds protesting his speeches. For this reason, Media Matters recognizes George Will as the 2014 Misinformer of the Year.
* * *
When the Society of Professional Journalists announced this September that it was overhauling its Code of Ethics for the first time in 18 years, outgoing SPJ ethics chair Kevin Smith cited Will as one of the “most noted examples” of disclosure failures by journalists in 2014.
Will’s work with GOP candidates and right-wing money groups has long made disclosing his myriad conflicts-of-interest an issue. Back during the 1980 presidential campaign, for example, Will came under fire when it wasdiscovered that “he’d secretly coached Republican candidate Ronald Reagan for a debate,” and then immediately after Reagan’s face-off with President Jimmy Carter appeared on ABC’s Nightline to praise the Republican’s debate performance, without disclosing his role advising the candidate. Will himself admitted in 2005 that his participation in Reagan’s debate preparation was “inappropriate,” but the revelation did not appear to end Will’s questionable behavior.
This summer, Will reportedly appeared as part of an “exclusive group of major donors and VIPs” at a summit for the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity (AFP). He had previously spoken at the gathering in 2008 and was honored in 2010 with the group’s “George Washington Award.”
Without disclosing his connections to AFP, Will routinely used his column throughout the year to promote Koch-favored candidates and issues, including North CarolinaSenator-elect Thom Tillis, unsuccessful Michigan senate candidate Terry Lynn Land, and Illinois Governor-elect Bruce Rauner.
Despite Will’s regular promotion of Koch-backed candidates, Will, AFP, and his syndicator all refused to tell Media Matters whether he had been paid for his appearance (or compensated for travel and lodging) at the 2014 AFP conference.
Apparently ignoring the criticism from the SPJ and others, Will forged ahead with using his Post platform to help Koch-backed candidates. Weeks after appearing at the AFP conference, Will penned a column praising the “ebullient” Joni Ernst (and attacking her then-opponent, Bruce Braley). Though AFP had spent millions supporting Ernst, Will did not disclose his connection to the group.
Will’s 2014 ethical lapses weren’t limited to his undisclosed connections to AFP. In late July, Will gave the keynote address at lobbying group National Retail Federation’s Retail Advocates Summit. A few weeks later, Will published a column lamenting the “distracting crusade against the minor and sensible business practice called ‘inversion,'” adding that a “sensible corporate tax rate would be zero.” The NRF summit listed “lower business tax rates” as one of its “key issues,” and the group had previously pointed to inversions as evidence the U.S. needs to reform its tax policy.
Earlier this month, Will’s Washington Post colleague Erik Wemple called him out for another “out-and-out conflict of interest.” As Wemple explained, Will had written a November column promoting the efforts of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) to fight against increased oversight of the state’s private voucher schools. Unmentioned by Will in the column was the fact that Will sits on the board of directors for Wisconsins’ Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which had granted major money to WILL in recent years.
* * *
To round out his 2014 misinformation campaign, Will returned to one of his most infamous topics: climate change denial.
Will has long denied that climate change is a real, manmade problem that has drastic consequences. But in 2014, he took this doubt further, disputing that scientific consensus even exists on the matter. When told that 97 percent of scientists who have studied the topic agree that warming trends are influenced by humans, he demanded to know “who counted” the scientists. “Who measured?” he asked Fox News’ Bret Baier. “Where did that figure come from? They pluck these things from the ether.”
NASA’s website offers several studies and scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, to confirm the scientific consensus on climate change. Several peer-reviewed studies examining scientific publications on global warming have found that approximately 97 percent of academic papers taking a position on the matter supported the consensus position that human activities are driving global warming.
Will’s clumsy and misleading approach to scientific facts over the years also helped spark a petition in 2014, signed by more than 100,000 people, urging the Post to banish climate misinformation from its pages.
* * *
Unlike Will, the Post’s editorial board recognizes that climate change is “an existential threat to the planet,” and this year devoted a full week to publishing a series of climate change editorials aimed at sparking action against this threat. In an interview with Media Matters, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said he viewed this as a moment “when the debate could begin to get unstuck.” If that is the Post’s goal, they may need to look at the role their columnist plays in keeping the debate stuck squarely in the past.
I have never understood why anyone thinks of George Will as an “intellectual.” He is a hack. I think it has something to do with the fact that he uses the “Big Book of Adjectives” that are unfamiliar to the average reader, forcing them to get out the dictionary to figure out what the hell it was he just said. That’s just being a pretentious prick. Maybe it is the Ivy League preppy way he dresses. Or maybe it is his glasses (Governor Goodhair Rick Perry seems to think this does the trick).
But if you ever just break down Will’s arguments, he is no more intellectual than the bomb throwers in the Tea Party, which he more and more resembles in his increasingly unhinged columns every day.
It is one thing for the reliably Republican Washington Post, which has invested heavily in George Will over the years and makes lots of money off his nationally syndicated column to keep him on staff, but why do I have to suffer this fool in the pages of our sad small town newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star? (which essentially copies and pastes the Washington Post editorial pages into its editorial pages).
I read the major newspapers every day. I don’t need to see the Post republished in my local newspaper, which should be writing its own editorials and its own commentary. Make that your News Year’s resolution, editors of the Arizona Daily Star. Start writing!