Tag Archives: Fred Hiatt

Shut him down

Once again someone needs to explain to Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of the Washington Post, the importance of making "inferences."  Yesterday in an online chat session (courtesy of TPM) there was the following exchange between Hiatt and a reader:

Boston: This doesn't relate to Obama but would you care to address the whole George Will global warming column controversy? Is there any concern that lax standards for accuracy hurts the prestige of The Post opinion page more generally?

Fred Hiatt: Happy to, because we don't have lax standards for accuracy. He addressed the factual challenges to his column in detail in a later column. In general we do careful fact checking. What people have mostly objected to is not that his data are wrong but that he draws wrong inferences. I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down.

We have talked about this issue here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here).  Two quick things.  First, "inferences" in this case are part of the "facts."  As one arrives at all "facts" other than perhaps those immediately obvious to you, by "inferences."  Believe it or not, I make an "inference" regarding all facts about the past.  I ate breakfast this morning, I so conclude, on account of the fact that there is an empty bowl of cereal with spoon in it on my desk.  Ok that is an easy one, but you get the point.  It is a fact that I ate breakfast, but it is a fact I believe on account of the evidence for it.  So it's not so easy to separate "facts" from "inferences." 

Second, I would argue that the Post excludes people with "inferences" all of the time–and rightly so.  The Holocaust denier can claim merely to be making historical "inferences" between "facts".  Such inferences are preposterous, of course.  Drawing this distinction, in other words, is absurd.