Media Matters Names George F. Will Misinformer of the Year

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Move over CBS News, there is a new misinformer in town and his name is George F. Will. Last year, CBS News won this coveted award thanks to its “exclusive” (and infamous) 60 Minutes report on Benghazi” when, “led by 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan and news chairman Jeff Fager [CBS News] defended the truly indefensible, until that became unfeasible.”

As Media Matters’ Hannah Groch-Begley tells us,

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.

Will’s most egregious sin of 2014 may have been his “attacking and dismissing rape victims” – you remember his infamous “[W]hen they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.” – But there were sins aplenty:

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’s “ethical lapses” are certainly noteworthy. He appeared this summer “as part of an ‘exclusive group of major donors and VIPs’ at a summit for the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity (AFP)” and while failing to disclose his connections to AFP, “routinely used his column throughout the year to promote Koch-favored candidates and issues, including North Carolina Senator-elect Thom Tillis, unsuccessful Michigan senate candidate Terry Lynn Land, and Illinois Governor-elect Bruce Rauner.”

Media Matters rounds out Will’s list of sins by mentioning his climate change denialism, which reached new heights of dishonesty in 2014, when he demanded to know where the 97 percent of scientists who say global warming is influenced by humans come from, asking “who counted” the scientists? “Who measured?” “Where did that figure come from? They pluck these things from the ether.”

The ether? Well, it turns out that peer reviewed studies have looked at academic papers to determine how many support the reality of anthropogenic global warming. I guess Will is so used to working for Fox News, where numbers are simply invented, that he literally could not conceive of somebody actually COUNTING anything.

I doubt this is how Will saw his year ending. As Groch-Begley points out, “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.”

It sort of makes you wonder why Fox News bothers hiring all these “specialists” when they have George F. Will? For that matter, why have George F. Will when you have Elisabeth Hasselbeck to say all the really stupid stuff, as she does on Fox & Friends, where she has more than earned her stripes as the spokesperson for the catastrophically stupid. Just sayin’.

Bad as all this is, it is Will’s comments on rape that will most be remembered. And Will, in true conservative fashion, refused to apologize as criticisms mounted. As Groch-Begley reminds us,

The backlash was swift. Just a few days later, four U.S. Senators — Richard Blumenthal, Dianne Feinstein, Tammy Baldwin, and Robert P. Casey, Jr. — condemned Will’s comments for “trivializing” sexual assault. A twitter campaign under the hashtag #survivorprivilege, started by writer and activist Wagatwe Wanjuki, trended online and sparked increased media coverage. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, one of the largest papers in the Midwest, dropped Will’s syndication permanently, calling his column “offensive and inaccurate” and apologizing for publishing it. Groups that advocate for women’s rights, including UltraViolet and the National Organization for Women, urged the Post to drop Will entirely.

Rather than reconsider his position in light of the mounting criticism, Will doubled down. He refused to apologize, explicitly saying he wouldn’t take any of his words back, and responded to the senators by claiming he takes “sexual assault much more seriously” than they do.

Right. Because any man can take sexual assault as seriously as a woman. Men typically have to go to prison to worry about rape. Women deal with the threat every day.

Will’s stance become less surprising when you realize, as we are reminded here by Groch-Begley, that this “was not the first time he had written on the subject, though it was perhaps the most extreme example. Over two decades ago, in 1993, Will mocked what he termed the ‘victimization sweepstakes’ which featured ‘rape crisis feminists.’ And then, in 1994, Will “declared that a study of campus sexual assault was nothing more than a “feminist fiction.”

I can think of other awards Will might win for this, some with names that could not be published here.

If you’re wondering where Misinformer of the Year puts Will in relation to other really dishonest people, consider not only CBS News but some of these other past winners:

Rush Limbaugh (2012), Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. (2011), Sarah Palin (2010), Glenn Beck (2009), Sean Hannity (2008), ABC (2006), Chris Matthews (2005), and Bill O’Reilly (2004).

Now that’s some august company, right there. Anytime you are listed alongside Sarah Palin you know it’s bad. George F. Will might wish to consider a new decision-making paradigm for 2015.

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