In October, the Ontario Press Council adjudicated a complaint concerning several articles by the Ottawa Citizen’s David Warren. Warren had already retracted 5 errors identified by the complainant - some had used "sources" from dubious websites and chain emails debunked as hoaxes years earlier, and appear elsewhere on this blog.
A few highlights of the decision:
“Aspects of complaints lodged by a professor against the Ottawa Citizen have been upheld by the Ontario Press Council.” And via Norman Spector in the Globe and Mail:
“On the four complaints related to factual errors, the Press Council sided against Mr. Warren and in favour of Professor Wainio on one; on the three others, it found that ‘the sources relied upon by Wainio appeared substantially more reliable and persuasive than those relied upon by the columnist,’ but ducked ruling on them by arguing that it is ‘a non-profit corporation with no statutory mandate and without the authority to summon or compel the attendance of witnesses or the production of documents. Where, as is the case here, a columnist chooses to rely on one set of sources, and the complainant on another, the Council has no reliable means of adequately and conclusively determining which is correct.’
Spector concludes: “For a powerful news organization that routinely demands accountability from others, its behaviour in the case of Professor Wainio’s complaint reeks of hypocrisy.”
The Citizen, a member of the industry body, refused to respond to the complaint, describing it as an “abuse”. The refusal is unprecedented, and raises obvious questions. Also unprecedented were the lengthy delays, and the many articles written by Warren about the complaint while it was under consideration - examples:
"'Human rights commissions' are, alas, not unique, and the septic idea of policing public opinion has spread rapidly through many Canadian institutions… feminist, homosexual, Islamist, and miscellaneous leftist -- who hold the notion of free speech in contempt. Their success depends on the obsequious response of our political class … who tend to wet themselves at the first shrieking note from a radical lunatic”. “I've received a personal taste” from an “Ottawa reader” he continued, describing the complaint as “completely bogus".
"I don’t care what the personal consequences to me -- they can sue me, they can throw me in prison (I’ve already been hauled before the Ontario Press Council by one of these trolls…".
"…I'd be up before a couple of human rights tribunals and the Ontario Press Council. Indeed, I was up before the latter recently… It used to be one could hold all kinds of opinions in newspapers without fear of prosecution…"
"I should like to stay out of prison. I should like to avoid being hauled before another Press Council, or a Human Rights Tribunal".
"defenceless little people…hauled before tribunals, stripped of all due process, ground down and destroyed... sooner or later, they will come for me... I declare, that I will go to jail…”.
While using his column to misrepresent the complaint and portray himself as a victim of “prosecution” for his “opinion” (there are in fact no consequences even if a complaint is upheld – only the offering of another “opinion” by the OPC), Warren neglected to mention that CanWest’s CEO at the time, Leonard Asper (who unlike complainants, might have published his views in any of his many dailies), had himself filed an OPC complaint against a competing newspaper. One might ask if Warren therefore considers his former boss a “troll”, “radical lunatic”, and someone who “holds the notion of free speech in contempt.”
Below are details of the complaints. Given that the OPC upheld factual error in the case of the Iceland IMF loan, informed comments are welcome as to why they could not reach a decision in other instances, like the number of days Obama served as a Senator before his presidential bid.
1. "Crowd conformity and the rise of Obama", David Warren, June 7, 2008 http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/business/story.html?id=55da2872-cf01-4824-8ad1-a1621332bceb
At the end of this article, David Warren claims that, "Mr Obama had only 143 days of sessional experience in the U.S. Senate, before his Presidential campaign began".
Originally from a Republican blogger, the claim that Obama served 143 days in the Senate became a widely circulated chain email, and appeared on a number of extremist sites. Reports below demonstrate that the figure is false. Obama served 743 or 768 days in the Senate (depending on how it is calculated) according to CNN, the Washington Post, and voter fact check bodies called upon to correct the internet smear.
CNN, The Facts: Obama served 743 days in the Senate from his swearing in to the announcement of his exploratory committee, the first official step when considering a run for the presidency. He served 768 days from the start of his career in the Senate to February 10, 2007, when he formally announced his candidacy for president…
Another anti-Obama piece circulating on the Internet claims that Obama only has 143 days of Senate experience…An Analysis Based on a Variety of Sources Suggests This is Incorrect.
-- Obama served 743 days as a senator before announcing his presidential bid.
An editor urges potential letter writers to use higher standards than those used by Warren.
If you do intend to send us a letter you can help expedite it being published by citing your sources, especially for statistics. One letter writer wrote to point out Obama’s mere 143 days in the U.S. Senate. Problem is, the number is just plain wrong…
Annenburg FactCheck.org debunks the “143 days” chain email: Wrong. That's not the number of days the Senate was in session. From the time Obama was sworn in on Jan. 3, 2005, until the day he announced his exploratory committee on Jan. 16, 2007, the Senate was in session 304 days, according to the Secretary of the Senate's official count’
2. "Soon we will know Obama's mettle", David Warren, Nov. 8, 2008
In an article that claims Obama’s election may have been “the most racist election in U.S. history… an election in which 97 per cent of black voters voted for the visibly black candidate”, David Warren first muses about Trudeau, then adds a remarkable statement: "Maybe he wasn't black, but then neither is Barack Obama according to his own account of his ancestry. For even on the Kenyan side, he is more Arab than Luo”.
The claim that Obama was Arab, like a litany of other bizarre internet smears (that he is the Anti-Christ, was not born in the U.S. etc.), have circulated on the fringes of the web for years. It is surprising and disappointing to see them repeated, without any supporting source, in an Ottawa newspaper.
Warren cites no authority, making only vague reference to “his own account of his ancestry”.
In 2008, a notable video clip showed Senator John McCain correcting a supporter on national television who claimed that Obama was an "Arab". Given its importance, were Warren to have information that confirmed Obama was more Arab than Luo, it would be a major news event. Therefore, it seems he should provide a source, or correct or clarify his remarks.
When this article was published, a short, polite letter to the editor requested clarification. It also pointed out, in regard to Warren’s suggestion that this was the most racist election in U.S. history because blacks voted largely for a black candidate, that African-Americans normally vote in the same numbers for white Democrats. The Citizen declined to respond or publish a letter.
“More Arab than Luo” is a quantifiable comparison of one ethnicity over another. Obama Senior is clearly described as Luo, one of the largest of Kenya’s Black African ethnic groups, in biographies. It’s unlikely that Obama himself claimed that he was “more Arab than Luo”. And none of the conspiracy theorists looking for that evidence have been in able to find it.
There are, of course, no reports supporting Warren’s “Arab” claim. Aside from his article, the only claims that Obama is more Arab than Luo are extremist blogs, websites, and loopy chain emails. Most quote a Kenneth Lamb, who writes, "that Mr. Obama is only 6.25% African Negro", “43.75%” Arab, and descended from "Arab slave traders". This also appears on Atlas Shrugs, one of only a few websites to post debunked photos of a Sharia punishment Warren wrote about and was obliged to retract in Feb. 2008 when pointed out that it had been exposed as fake in 2005. Atlas Shrugs also carried the "143 days" chain email, the debunked stories about Kenya, and the erroneous claims about the U.S. Stimulus Bill which are all included in this complaint. Along with claiming that Obama is Arab, the site simultaneously says he is the illegitimate child of Malcom X. TruthorFiction.com describes the ‘Obama is more Arab than Luo’ claims circulating in chain emails as pure “fiction”.
While likening Obama to Hitler might be Warren's "opinion", an individual’s ethnic make-up, particularly when quantified and compared, as Warren does, is a matter of fact. Warren provides no factual support or cited source. This is inconsistent with the OPC’s policy stating that readers have a right to know the source of statistics, and warranted a response from the newspaper.
Media Matters, and others debunk the "Arab" claim:
3. “Being philosophical about Kenya”, David Warren, Jan. 12, 2008
In Warren's article on post-election violence in Kenya, he describes "Barack Hussein Obama’s” father as Luo (rather than Arab), and then incorrectly blames the Luo tribe for a massacre committed by Kalenjin. He claims Luo, and now Prime Minister, Raila Odinga is a "Soviet agent" and (indirectly) links him with debunked internet rumours about Sharia law, claims which also appeared in chain emails and on extremist sites. Warren: "Raila Odinga, son and heir of Odinga Odinga as the leading politician from the Luo tribe, thought the numbers were fixed, and ordered his tribal allies to riot accordingly…
The pattern of mob violence is worth a further glance. Often what is reported in the media as chaos, does not look like chaos when more carefully observed. An example would be what happened in the village of Kiambaa, near Eldoret, in western Kenya -- one of the few incidents visible to an old-fashioned, philosophical journalist. On New Year's Day, there were at least 50 fatalities. But they were not random. All were apparently caused when a mob surrounded a church, full of people. Members of this mob washed the church with gasoline, then set fire to it, with the people still inside. Those inside were all members of the Kikuyu tribe. Those outside were mostly Luo.
….Barack Hussein Obama, whose father was a member of the Luo tribe…
…Mr Odinga was raised from his childhood (in East Germany) as a Soviet agent. The Soviets aren't there to control him any more; he has his own games going, including an interesting one alleged on the Internet (with documentary evidence) with a certain Sheikh Abdullahi Abdi, suggesting dimensions of the conflict previously unobserved."
On Jan. 3 the LA Times and other outlets described the church attackers as "members of the rival Kalenjin tribe". Thirty other articles also clearly identified the attackers as Kalenjin. None report them, as Warren does, to be “mostly Luo”. A single early report by Jeffrey Gettleman (Jan. 2) lists Luo last in a series of possible attackers. It was corrected and updated on Jan. 7 and 8: “Witnesses said the attackers were from the Kalenjin tribe”.
Gettleman’s corrected report, which mentions Luo as the least likely perpetrators, compared with over thirty reports that clearly identify the Kalenjin as the attackers of the church, lend no credence to Warren’s claim that the attackers were “mostly Luo”.
Warren’s article was published on Jan. 12. Reports naming the Kalenjin in multiple venues appear from Jan 2. Rather than his error being excused due to “the information available at the time”, Warren had access to over 30 accurate reports. Instead, he appears to deliberately discount them: " Often what is reported in the media as chaos, does not look like chaos when more carefully observed, … dimensions of the conflict previously unobserved." Warren's reference to “Barack Hussein Obama” suggests his naming the Luo as attackers may be meant to associate both Obama and Raila Odinga with the massacre and the debunked "unobserved" internet story about Sharia law in Kenya to which he refers readers.
The view that post-election violence amongst Kenya's many tribes was related to Islamism circulated through extremist websites and blogs (including Atlas Shrugs). The rumours are linked to an email campaign by Kenyan Evangelicals Celeste and Loren Davis, and involve a number of preposterous claims debunked by fact-checking sites. (The Davises are conspiracy theorists who claim that the National Football League is in league with the devil).
A supposed Memorandum of Understanding (presumably Warren's "documentary evidence") between Odinga and Sheikh Abdi, had already been discredited by WIKILEAKS, and Snopes, Polifacts, truth or fiction.com, sofir.com. A forged and altered version of this Memorandum had been in email circulation claiming Odinga had promised to implement Sharia law. The authentic Memorandum promised only to look into extraordinary rendition and improve equality. The BBC and Christian Today carried stories refuting the forged document and detailing the mix up. A story similar to Warren's appeared in the New York Sun. This story was so inaccurate it was the subject of a number of other articles and calls for its retraction.
WIKILEAKS describes: "…the existence of a "secret" Memorandum of Understanding signed by Raila Odinga (now Prime Minister of Kenya) and the National Muslim Leaders' Forum. A forged version of this Memorandum of Understanding was in email circulation as of November 2007 and a copy was released by Wikileaks.Org on November 14th 2007. The MoU went on to cause considerable mischief in the December 2007 Kenyan election and continues, incredibly, to be used to frame US Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama (for example, see 'The Kenyan Connection' in the New York Sun http://www.nysun.com/opinion/kenya-connection/69273/).”
A section of the wikipedia page on the New York Sun:
"In June of 2008, New York Sun reporter Daniel Johnson became the subject of controversy  regarding his January 9th, 2008 article "The Kenyan Connection", in which he linked to several forged documents on the site Wikileaks. In the report, Johnson suggested Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama was the paternal cousin of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and went on to allege that Odinga had in fact signed a MOU agreement agreeing to institute Islamic Sharia Law if elected. To support his claims, he linked to an alleged copy of the agreement appearing on popular website Wikileaks, yet bypassed the site's commentary identifying the documents as known forgeries. In light of this controversy, several questions have been raised regarding the New York Sun's veracity and journalistic integrity."
Summaries, sources, and a few of the websites which carried the rumours follow:
Warren’s further claim that Prime Minister Odinga was “raised from his childhood (in East Germany) as a Soviet agent” has no factual basis.
Born in 1945, biographies conclude that Odinga lived in Kenya until age 17 where he attended “Maranda High School. Between 1962 and 1964, Raila attended the Herder Institute, Leipzig”. He then studied engineering in East Germany from 1965 to 1970.
This makes Odinga 17 on his arrival in Germany and 25 on his return to Kenya. This is not a period of childhood or 'child-raising'’. Odinga clearly spent his childhood in Kenya, and went to Germany as a young man. Childhood is normally understood to be under 12 years of age, adolescence as 13 and up, and young adulthood as late teens and early twenties. No normal reader would understand “raised from childhood” to mean age 17 to 25, or even age 15 to 25. Families are not considered to be “raising children” who have left home and are in their twenties. In addition, the Citizen failed to address in any way Warren’s further claim that Odinga was “raised from his childhood” as a spy or “Soviet agent”, a claim which simply exaggerates the Davis chain email describing Odinga as a “socialist trained in East Germany”.
The errors in this article are significant, but the Ottawa Citizen declined to simply correct or clarify.
4. "Iceland Stranded in more ways than one", David Warren, Jan 31, 2009
Warren: “...with 25 times leverage, a four percent decline in asset value wipes out your equity”.
Willem Buiter: “With 25 times leverage, a 4 per cent decline in the value of your assets wipes out your equity”.
David Warren offers this claim in connection with “Iceland's three major banks” on Jan. 31, 2009, calling it a "home truth", without attribution or specific Icelandic figures to support it.
An almost identical sentence appears on the Financial Times website by economist Willem Buiter on Jan 20, supporting his economic research and analysis. Discussing whether Iceland’s bank crisis could be repeated in the UK, it is clear that Buiter is referring to specific UK figures he supplies, "giving leverage of 25.8 times (pro forma) and 18.7 times (statutory), respectively" (see Buiter’s article, about 10 paragraphs in). He does not relate the figure to the Icelandic banks as Warren does. Icelandic banks apparently had rates of leverage much higher than 25.
Warren echoes and exaggerates Buiter's concerns about British and Icelandic banks, saying, "Britain is travelling down the same chute… Warnings of a specifically "Icelandic" collapse now appear in the pages of such sober journals as the Financial Times". This indicates that he may be familiar with Buiter's article on the same topic, but he does not cite or credit him.
Error: Warren then claims that Icelanders are now “in hock, for at least $40K per head -- for just the last IMF loan ”. He claims that per person debt for the IMF’s unprecedented loan to Iceland is $40,000 per head. A population of 300,000 (which he cites), at $40K per head, would make the IMF loan to Iceland $12 billion. In fact, the IMF loan is clearly listed in reports as $2 billion, making Warren's statement incorrect, as the “per head” cost would be about $7K (see "IMF approves $2.1bn Iceland loan": BBC, and other links below).
Perhaps Warren confused Icleand’s per capita GDP, which is listed as $40,000 per head in the CIA’s fact book, and other sources, with the per capita cost of its IMF loan. Perhaps he just mixed up the numbers and decimal places and turned the $ 2.1 billion IMF loan into a $12 billion loan. Whatever the case, the figure expressed as per capita IMF debt is simply wrong. Again, this is not a difference of opinion with Mr. Warren as the Ottawa Citizen claims, but an error of fact, similar to the most recent correction in an August Citizen article.
A letter to the Citizen at the time noted the error, the Buiter article, and requested a correction. The Citizen did not respond.
5. "The radicals are rising", David Warren January 30, 2008
Warren fails to identify or attribute a series of quotes found in a Bret Stephens article in the Wall Street Journal. Warren incorrectly places one of the quotes with a different source than Stephens.
Warren: Among the slogans being shouted in Egypt's streets: "Arm us, train us, send us to Gaza!" And, "O rulers of Muslims! Where is your honour, where is your religion?" And, "We will take to the streets, even if we are all tried in military courts!"
In the WSJ, the last phrase (slightly truncated by Warren) is not "shouted in Egypt's streets", as he claims, but spoken (apparently by telephone) by Mahdi Akef to Khaled Mashal.
Stephens: “Arm us, train us and send us to Gaza,” chanted the demonstrators, along with “O rulers of Muslims, where is your honor, where is your religion?” The independent Egyptian daily Almasry Alyoum also described conversations between Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, to coordinate their activities. “We will take to the streets and defend our brothers in Gaza, even if we are all tried in military courts,” Mr. Akef was reported as saying.
The Guardian reports that Khaled Mishal spoke on the phone from Damascus, Syria, with Akef, in Gaza. Presumably Stephens is referring to comments made in this conversation. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jan/25/egypt.israelandthepalestinians1
"Khaled Mishal, the influential Hamas leader in Damascus, has reportedly been on the phone to Mahdi Akef, the Brotherhood leader, to coordinate protests and maintain pressure".
Other similarities exist between Warren's article and that of Stephens, whom he does not cite.
Stephens: "Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood"
Warren: "… Hamas, which controls Gaza, is of Egyptian descent. It is an invention of the Muslim Brotherhood…"
Stephens: "Gaza is sovereign Hamas territory".
Warren goes further: "the Muslim Brotherhood have established their own sovereign beachhead in Gaza".
Stephens: "Egypt, not Israel is the country that has most to fear from a statelet that is at once the toehold, sanctuary and springboard of an Islamist revolution. No wonder liberal Egyptians are reacting with near-hysterical alarm to last Wednesday’s demolition of the border fence between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai".
Warren: "The rhetorical target is Israel. The actual target is the "moderate" Egyptian government, and the response to these rallies, from the authorities, and from Egypt's formerly-articulate "middle class," is panic".
As well as similarities in analysis, there is a clear error of attribution (and related to this, an error of fact) regarding the series of quotes which Warren fails to attribute to Stephens or any other source.
6. “Shout to be heard”, David Warren, Oct. 24, 2007
Warren offers the only report in the Citizen on Islamo-fascist Awareness Week" – a highly controversial event on some U.S. campuses organized by conservative activist David Horowitz. Horowitz maintains a website called Front Page Magazine, which lists Warren as a contributor. Its sister site, Jihad Watch, where Warren's articles have been posted, has been identified as a hate site, and blocked by servers in the U.S.
Warren fails to attribute parts of his report to a promotional publication by Horowitz, and further, appears to embroider one improperly attributed passage to include reporting of things which are clearly shown not to have occurred.
Attribution: In a written response of July 31, 2008, Mr. Green contends that Warren’s version of events was “clearly attributed to an account by Peter Collier”, Horowitz’s partner. There are two problems with this. First, while Warren names Collier, he does not identify him as Horowitz’s partner and fellow organizer. Journalistic requirements are clear, as in this policy from the Los Angeles Times: Stories should identify sources as completely as possible...In particular, a source's point of view and potential biases should be disclosed as fully as possible.
Warren misleadingly presents Collier as a disinterested observer or audience member providing an objective “account”, when what he is really providing is publicity for his event. What Warren quotes is not an independent witness account, but published promotional material which should have been identified as such.
Second, an identical version of this promotional text was published under Horowitz's name in another publication (the Townhall.com website). It appears that what Warren describes as an account by Collier of the event, is instead a published promotional text by Horowitz himself, describing, in the third person, his own speech. (Collier's presence at the event is contradicted both by Horowitz’s authorship, and by the simultaneous descriptions of events in other cities. There is no evidence that Collier witnessed the event at all).
As a report, this is inaccurate, biased, and unbalanced and not properly attributed to a published source. It offers only a recapitulation of published advertisements by Horowitz unidentified as such, and no views or accounts from independent observers, or those opposed to Horowitz's campaign (for example, university administrators who, in other reports, described the events as "inflammatory.
Oct. 24, Warren: "An account by Peter Collier of one of the events, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where David Horowitz was speaking specifically on the fate of women under radical Islam, gives some idea. Before he had even started, the noise and hostility was rising to event-cancellation levels. But on a large screen he flashed up a photograph of a woman in a burka being shot in the back of the head. Into the sudden, stunned silence he began: ‘Everyone in this photograph is a Muslim. There is a helpless victim; there are perpetrators of murder. This photograph is why we're here tonight'”.
Oct. 23, David Horowitz (Townhall.com): " At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, David Horowitz spoke...The volatile crowd quieted immediately when Horowitz began his speech by showing an enlarged photograph of a Muslim woman on her knees being shot in the back of the head by Muslim fundamentalists. ‘Everyone in this photograph is a Muslim' Horowitz began. 'There is a helpless victim; there are perpetrators of murder. This photograph is why we're here tonight'”.
Accuracy: Photos, reports, and video of the speech in the Daily Cardinal and elsewhere contradict Warren's description of a hostile audience brought to sudden stunned silence by a dramatic "large screen" projection. There was in fact no "large screen", and no large projected image at this event. Instead, the news photo of the speech in the university newspaper (see Daily Cardinal photo) shows someone holding a poster of the described image onstage, a very small picture which would not be sufficiently visible in an auditorium to “stun” even the first row. In addition, it is not clear whether this poster, like a second similar poster supposedly depicting an Islamic execution, was also a movie still. Horowitz was obliged to withdraw the fictional execution photo from his publicity.
Video and reports by those attending describe an audience who showed "more decorum" than Horowitz (see below), the only outburst being directed at a lone heckler who later interrupted. Video and transcripts of the speech also reveal that it began with no "event-cancellation level" hostility, and Horowitz's opening remarks do not match the quote provided in the description.
A conservative observer: “I will give credit to the Muslim Student Association and the other groups who were there in opposition, they maintained more decorum than Mr. Horowitz”. http://www.blackfive.net/main/2007/10/islamo-fascis-1.html
Elsewhere, Warren takes two other phrases from the Collier/Horowitz text and joins them in a sentence, without attributing them to Horowitz’s publicity:
Warren: On more than 100 university campuses across the United States, from Berkeley to George Washington in the U.S. capital...
Townhall.com, Front Page magazine: We have organized students on over 100 campuses across the country.... from UC Berkeley in the West to George Washington University in the East.
The figure of 100 is presented as fact, and attribution compounded by inaccuracy. While over 100 universities were claimed in Horowitz’s promotional material, only about 25 apparently took part.
From improper attribution/identification of sources to Warren's description of non-existent large screen projections, this article fails to meet guidelines outlined by the OPC.
7. “The Economics of Madness”, David Warren, Ottawa Citizen Feb. 14, 2009:
Mr. Warren opposes public health care, along with public education (he recently called for its complete dismantling in Canada –from primary school to universities, adding “equality is a dark and monstrous ambition”). These are his opinions. However, this article, which constituted the only “report” on the issue in the Ottawa Citizen (and perhaps in the entire country), contains specific factual claims about health care and the 2009 U.S. Stimulus Bill which are flatly false.
First, Warren claims the final 1,071 page version of the U.S. Stimulus Bill was unpublished: “I invite my reader to examine the 1,071-page final shopping list of the Democrats' "stimulus bill," should they ever condescend to publish it.” As CNS news and other media outlets reported on Feb. 13, the final 1,071 page version “crafted by a House-Senate conference committee, was posted on the Website of the House Appropriations Committee on February 12, 2009”.
Warren writes: “We know what it contains only by rumour. So that I cannot, at present, comment on the basis of any hard information on, for instance, provisions to establish and fund the office of a "National Coordinator of Health Information Technology," which Democrats stuffed in an earlier draft, on the advice of the since-discredited Tom Daschle.”
Warren is saying he has no hard information on the final bill because it is unpublished. But it was published. And, prior to his article, there was a great deal of reported “hard information” on both the earlier, and final 1,071 page published versions. He then goes on to make specific claims about the earlier version, saying that Democrats, on the advice of Tom Daschle, had “stuffed in an earlier draft” “provisions to establish and fund the office of a "National Coordinator of Health Information Technology." Warren does not indicate whether he had himself read the draft, which had been available for some time, but he is clearly saying the provisions to establish and fund this body are included in it, and goes on to describe them in the next paragraph as fact.
The information in Warren’s article can be shown to come from a published opinion piece by Republican Betsy McCaughey, not from “rumour”. Media coverage had already focused on the earlier House and Senate versions of the bill, along with the final conference version. Much of this coverage was a debunking of the error-filled opinion piece by McCaughey, which seems to be the source of Warren’s claims, and which major media reports had already shown to be false prior to his article.
McCaughey’s opinion piece was published on Feb. 9. Warren’s claims are virtually identical in their errors, although he exaggerates her claims slightly.
For example, her opinion piece appears to be the sole source of Warren’s virtually identical claim that the Stimulus Bill contained provisions “to establish and fund the office of a "National Coordinator of Health Information Technology” which Warren claimed was created “on the advice of Tom Daschle”. McCaughey: “These provisions reflect the handiwork of Tom Daschle”. As reported by the Atlantic, Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, CNN, and other media outlets on February 11th and 12th, again before Warren’s article, this is false. The Atlantic described the claims as “...flatly disprovable lies.” This is because the "National Coordinator of Health Information Technology” was established through executive order by George Bush in 2004 in order to start the transition to electronic medical records.
Ontario Press Council Guidelines state that, even within Opinion “when they present what purports to be a statement of fact, they should ensure that it is accurate and, when necessary, provide the source of the information”. Given that the source of Warren’s claims was a published and already debunked article, the source should have been provided. Warren failed to do this. In terms of attribution, it should also be noted that every media outlet - even the non-professional bloggers and websites who repeated McCaughey’s claims, - were professional enough to at least attribute these claims to McCaughey and identify her as the source. Mr. Warren should have done this as well.
Building on the initial error about the creation of an already existing body, Warren then repeats and exaggerates what McCaughey claims it will do. He writes: “Posing as an innocent make-work project that will improve the flow of information to doctors on the latest medical findings, the new bureaucracy will in fact be endowed with huge and perpetually increasing powers to enforce standardization, by penalizing doctors who deviate for whatever reason -- often a very good one -- from electronically-delivered protocols. In other words, it is a device for imposing socialized medicine across America by the back door -- in the knowledge that Americans will not accept it through the front door.”
Except for the exaggeration, Warren’s language is virtually identical to McCaughey’s. He repeats her wording about “electronically delivered protocols”, “the latest or newest medical findings”, “enforcing standardization or uniformity” and “penalizing doctors”.
McCaughey: “Keeping doctors informed of the newest medical findings is important, but enforcing uniformity goes too far...Hospitals and doctors that are not “meaningful users” of the new system will face penalties...(for) going beyond electronically delivered protocols”.
Like the claim about the creation of the "National Coordinator of Health Information Technology” on the advice of Tom Daschle, this language and these ideas are original to McCaughey. We know this in large part because they are erroneous and appeared only in her article and in those which identify and quote her.
In addition to already mentioned reports debunking these claims before Warren’s article was published, both Newsweek and Factcheck.org published a detailed audit of McCaughey’s claims:
Excerpts from Factcheck.org and Newsweek (Feb. 20, 2009): "McCaughey says that the stimulus bill creates 'one new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology.' Not true. The office has been in existence for nearly five years. In fact, it was President Bush who created it by executive order in April 2004...The office is charged with setting standards for an interoperable health IT system and encouraging doctors and hospitals to switch to electronic record-keeping...McCaughey further claims that the national coordinator 'will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective.' She highlights the word 'guide' from the stimulus legislation, writing: 'The goal is to reduce costs and 'guide' your doctor's decisions.' But that language in the new law is virtually identical to Bush's executive order in 2004."
Executive Order 13335, April 27, 2004: … a nationwide interoperable health information technology infrastructure that: (a) Ensures that appropriate information to guide medical decisions is available at the time and place of care.
After this error was exposed, "McCaughey insisted… that a 'critical difference' between the office created in 2004… is that 'now the use of these technologies is mandatory.' But that's not true either. The bill doesn't legally require hospitals or doctors to adopt electronic medical records. When pressed, McCaughey pointed to several phrases in the bill that repeat Obama's goal to have electronic records for 'each person' in the U.S. But setting a goal is not the same thing as creating a legal requirement. And anyway, the Bush administration's stated goal was identical: 'Within ten years, every American must have a personal electronic medical record,' Bush said in April 2004, in first announcing his goal."
As to McCaughey’s and Warren’s claims about uniformity, standardization, and penalizing doctors, Factcheck.org and Newsweek state that the “law does not impose any federal treatment guidelines or require that the government do so”.
The OPC’s guidelines state: “If the statement is found to be in error, the newspaper should be prepared to promptly publish a correction or clarification.”
A letter to the Editor was forwarded at the time outlining the errors in Warren’s article. But the Citizen again declined to correct the errors or publish a letter.
The OPC states: “It may be unfair to print critical comment on an issue without simultaneously or previously publishing a straightforward news story that gives a balanced outline of the facts.”
In this instance, Warren was providing a report, likely the only report in Canada, on what he claimed were specific legal provisions amounting to a “device for imposing socialized medicine across America by the back door”, hidden in the U.S. Stimulus Bill. He was not offering an opinion on acknowledged fact, but providing erroneous information. He also failed to attribute his nearly identical claims and language to a previously published opinion article which had already been exposed as false. Clearly the factual errors were significant enough that major press coverage in the U.S. was devoted to correcting them both before and after Warren’s article was published. Given all this, the Ottawa Citizen owed it to readers to correct the record as well.
8. "Save us please, from those who would save the earth", Nov. 2, 2008
David Warren: Snow fell on London this last week, a beautiful blanket of snow -- the first to fall in the month of October since the year of grace 1922 -- while the Mother of Parliaments gave third reading to an extraordinary piece of legislation, which will put a huge new bureaucracy in place to monitor and fight global warming.
Oct. 29, 2008, Andrew Orlowski, The Register: Snow blankets London for Global Warming debate - Snow fell as the House of Commons debated Global Warming yesterday - the first October fall in the metropolis since 1922. The Mother of Parliaments was discussing the Mother of All Bills for the last time, in a marathon six hour session… The bill creates an enormous bureaucratic apparatus for monitoring and reporting...
Orlowski's very similar lede is not credited. Other attribution questions follow. Warren: called in urban parlance, the "Gore effect," after the Nobel-prize-winner and former U.S. vice-president. It is defined as, "The phenomenon that leads to record cold temperatures wherever Al Gore goes to deliver an important statement on global warming, or by extension, to sharp temperature drops wherever a major discussion of global warming takes place.”
Urban Dictionary: The Gore effect: The phenomenon that leads to unseasonably cold temperatures, driving rain, hail, or snow whenever Al Gore visits an area to discuss global warming…The phenomenon that leads to temperature decrease whenever global warming or climatic change is discussed having Al Gore's work as important reference.
Urbandictionary is a book and website, and is the only source found for "the Gore effect". But Warren quotes what he describes vaguely as "urban parlance", rather than citing the specific published source. Other writers making use of the "Gore Effect" cite it specifically, or link to it, and quote the definition accurately. While quotation marks surround Warren's first paraphrase, he again embellishes the quote - "unseasonably cold temperatures" become "record cold temperatures", etc. Warren credits neither the site, nor the book, and no attribution or quotation marks are offered for the second section below, apparently taken from the same source. Urbandictionary itself provides quotation marks and/or original published sources in the short examples it uses. Warren does not.
Warren: The phenomenon was first noticed on Jan. 15, 2004, when Mr. Gore railed in New York against the Bush administration's indifference to his railing. The city that day experienced one of its coldest days on record. It was noted in Australia, in November 2006, when Mr. Gore arrived in the late antipodean spring, together with a remarkable cold front and a late-season boon for the ski resorts. It was noticed again last May, during an international conference on global warming in Lima. For the duration of the conference, Peru experienced a cold spell.
Urban Dictionary: "Gore chose January 15, 2004, one of the coldest days in New York City's history, to rail against the Bush administration and global warming skeptics..." - New York, March 2004 (NY Environment News) Australia, November 2006: Al Gore is visiting two weeks before summer begins. The Gore Effect strikes: "Ski resort operators gazed at the snow in amazement..." (The Age) Due to Gore Effect, low temperatures produce deaths in Perú while International events in Lima (European Union - Latin America Caribbean Summit) will discuss Global Warming –
Warren continues: “ It was noticed again last May, during an international conference on global warming in Lima. For the duration of the conference, Peru experienced a cold spell…”.
Urban Dictionary makes no mention of an international conference on global warming, noting only a "European Union - Latin America Caribbean Summit". There was not, and never has been, an "international conference on global warming" in Lima. Had Mr. Warren properly acknowledged and quoted his sources, he would have avoided the error.
Warren goes on: …the general worldwide trend to cooler temperatures… "It's the sunspot cycle, stupid." The earth's climate has, for some time, been observed to track only a little behind solar magnetic field trends. We did indeed have global warming for the duration of the last solar "max," peaking in 1998. We have now plunged into the succeeding "min"…
Warren has previously claimed that "sunspots" prove the “hoax” of global warming, and repeated on several occasions that global temperatures have been “plunging” since 1998 (The first article in this complaint, "Crowd conformity and the rise of Obama", contains another repetition of the statement, again without a cited source: "There was indeed a "global warming" trend for several decades. It ended in 1998. Temperatures then began falling, very slightly, and recently have begun to plunge -- just as in the past. That is to say, warming cycles are followed by cooling cycles"). The OPC states that when an opinion is based on statistics, "readers have the right to know where statistics come from". Warren provides no sources for his figures. Contrary to his claims, and despite acknowledged, recent temporary cooling effects of La Nina, the World Meteorological Organization says "the decade from 1998 to 2007 was the warmest on record". The Hadley Met office reports that “The ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1997”. And among many other similar reports, Science Daily quotes NASA, noting, "2007 Was Tied As Earth's Second Warmest Year".
Just a few additional examples of reports:
New Scientist – 2005 was the warmest year on record according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies…in line with predicted climate models…
NASA - …Record warmth in 2005 is notable, because global temperature has not received any boost from a tropical El Nino this year. The prior record year, 1998, on the contrary, was lifted 0.2C above the trend line by the strongest El Nino of the past century…
If Warren has a more credible source than NASA, Hadley or the WMO for his repeated claim that global temperatures have "plunged" since 1998, it should be provided as per the guidelines of the Ontario Press Council.
Warren also fails to cite any source, let alone a credible one, for his claims that sunspots are responsible for global warming/cooling. Among many others, a BBC report states that there is "No Sun link' to climate change". "Scientists have produced further compelling evidence showing that modern-day climate change is not caused by changes in the Sun's activity. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7327393.stm
and from: http://environment.newscientist.com/article/dn12234?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=dn12234
Sun's activity rules out link to global warming, 10:44 11 July 2007
NewScientist.com news service, Catherine Brahic:
"Direct satellite measurements of solar activity show it has been declining since the mid-1980s and cannot account for recent rises in global temperatures, according to new research".
The OPC clearly states that when an opinion is based on statistics, that readers have a right to know where those statistics come from. In this article, Warren first fails to provide attribution for specific wording and ideas similar to other publications, particularly the sections of his text similar to Urban Dictionary, and fails to provide sources for inaccurate factual and statistical claims related to the recording of recent global temperatures and the role of solar activity.