WASHINGTON, November 28, 2015 — Over its many years of existence, Wikipedia has been both a blessing and a curse to writers on deadline searching for either some general background research or a quick, accurate fact-check. The problem is, when it comes to politics or anything remotely intersecting with politics (pretty much everything these days, sad to say), you have to be careful not to rely entirely on Wikipedia entries.
Various politically oriented Wikipedia editors—often, though not always, of the hard-left persuasion—have a tendency to intervene in Wikipedia entries, subtly (or not so subtly) altering evidence, subheads and information to suit one side of the story—their own—as opposed to Wikipedia’s longstanding editorial policy, which has long stressed neutrality.
We have noted numerous times that political or current events Wikipedia entries, particularly those involving Republicans, conservative and libertarian politicians of all stripes, and controversial entries such as those that touch on issues like
global warming climate change are often strongly tailored not only to suit the left wing point of view but, when possible, to magnify damaging “scandals,” whether true or not, while eliminating or ignoring contrary evidence.
Keeping this in mind, we read with interest this morning a story by Ashe Schowe appearing in the November 28, 2015 edition of the online Washington Examiner. Schowe’s story offers us a recent and quite specific example of what I’ve long noted is the relentless revisionism conducted by unnamed left-wing editors who never leave a Wikipedia entry dealing with Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, “climate change denialists” and the like without a negative slant.
This bogus revisionism is a war that’s conducted 24/7 and it’s been running out of control for a long time. But to its credit, Wikipedia seems ready to step up to the plate and get serious about at least some of these editorial miscreants, as Schow notes in his story:
“Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is looking to tighten his website’s rules about editors altering pages with which they have a conflict of interest.
“Wales renewed interest in the policies follows a Washington Examiner report that a crewmember of ‘The Hunting Ground,’ a one-sided film about campus sexual assault, had been editing Wikipedia pages to promote the film and conform facts to its narrative.
“‘I have long advocated that we should deal much more quickly and much more severely with [Conflict of Interest] editors,’ Wales wrote after citing the Examiner. ‘The usual objections (from some quarters — I think most people agree with me) have to do with it being hard to detect them, but in this case, the COI was called out, warnings were issued, and nothing was done. Now the editor has been called out by the media embarrassing him (he deserves it), his employer (who may not), and Wikipedia.’”
By way of reference, “The Hunting Ground” is billed as a documentary film, much-praised (by the left-wing media), that relies on the current “men’s war on women” hype to drive publicity. The film, recently and provocatively aired on CNN, offers a completely one-sided narrative concerning the continuing legal wrangle resulting from a delayed-reaction rape charge lodged against current Tampa Bay Buccaneer star quarterback Jameis Winston during his Heismann Trophy-winning stint as a Florida State Seminole.
While neither side in the case has prevailed, prosecutors never had enough definitive evidence to bring the case to trial. “The Hunting Ground” completely supports the alleged victim’s side of the story and never once airs Winston’s side of the story, a typical tactic of today’s politically slanted “documentaries,” following the pioneering techniques of notorious documentary propagandist Michael Moore.
According to a story by Daniel J. Flynn published earlier this week by Breitbart.com, in a note to CNN, Winston’s attorney John Boudet noted “The filmmakers’ decision to omit any reference to any of this abundant exculpatory evidence from this documentary…demonstrates a profound bias and disregard for the truth.”
“The filmmaker claimed in one email obtained by Winston’s lawyers that she planned to ‘ambush’ the first pick of the 2015 NFL draft, Flynn writes. “In another the filmmaker admits, ‘We don’t operate the same way as journalists—this film project is very much in the corner of advocacy for victims, so there would be no need to get the perpetrator’s side.'”
Given the ongoing controversy over this alleged incident, the reaction against the offending Wikipedia revisions regarding the documentary film didn’t just stop with Jimmy Wales. At least one active Wikipedia editor has asserted that enough is enough:
“Another Wikipedia editor, KirkCliff2, chimed in on the thread by suggesting that the crewmember didn’t break just COI rules but also Wikipedia’s rules against gaming the system and neutrality. This editor also noted how Edward Patrick Alva, ‘The Hunting Ground’ crew member, ‘has also been fairly disingenuous about his actions’ and had been ‘shamelessly plugging the movie and the “stars” thereof.’
“Alva had made multiple edits to the Wikipedia pages of subjects from his film, including former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of rape by fellow FSU student Erica Kinsman. Some of Alva’s edits included removing information that cast doubt on Kinsman’s story and made the Tallahassee police look worse — in line with how the movie portrays the situation.”
“KirkCliff2, who wrote that he is ‘a veteran editor who rarely even weighs in on such issues’ believes Alva ‘must be banned.’ Other editors were not so quick to rush to punishment.”
Alva himself finally weighed in with one of the predictably lame, standard-issue left-wing excuses, what I call the “Scooby Doo Defense”: “Who, ME?”
“Alva weighed in on the discussion in a separate thread, saying that his user page had been ‘vandalized’ since the Examiner story broke. He also said he had ‘been up-front’ about his affiliation with the film and defended his edits.
“A Wikipedia editor responded to his comments by suggesting it was ‘best that you step away from editing in this subject area entirely.’ Another editor suggested that “the source leading the charge” against Alva (the Examiner) ‘is one we don’t typically take as reliable for contentious social/political issues.’”
The first editor here expresses the Wikipedia neutrality ideal with perfect clarity. The second betrays his left-wing editorial sympathies—the kind of sympathies that continue to render numerous Wikipedia entries factually unreliable in certain topic areas.
In many ways, Wikipedia’s problem is a problem shared by editors of most Internet sites that genuinely try their best to keep neutral when editing a variety of articles. Although once traditional editorial standards are not often observed in this era of strongly biased and largely left-wing journalistic hegemony, an “objective” site tries to ensure that those stories it runs that are clearly meant to report actual news rigorously stick with the facts while avoiding even reflexive editorialization.
On the other hand, whether in a newspaper or online, an opinion piece is an opinion piece, and the writer is entitled to his or her opinion. In this case, no matter what his or her own proclivities, an editor should edit primarily for grammar or clarity, but should also call out a writer who reports clear rumors as facts or who get verifiable facts actually wrong, asking that writer for clarification or supporting evidence to back up a controversial claim.
No matter how a writer may grouse, such clarification improves even an opinion article, adding to a writer or a columnist’s reputation for reliability and burnishing the publication’s reputation for the same.
Reference works, however, even constantly morphing reference works like Wikipedia, have an even higher standard. As much as is reasonably possible, reference works must strive to remain above the fray, offering objective research and information while allowing a reader or researcher to either arrive at his or her own opinion on the subject and, when possible, supplying primary sources both pro and con that can add further support for an entry.
Unfortunately, straight, objective news and reporting is increasingly difficult to find in 2015. Nearly every topic has been relentlessly politicized and polarized.
The time is right for a new generation of editors to start pushing back against the relentless quest for bloody, sensational, eyeball-catching, newsprint-selling headlines and stories and get back to reporting the facts. Otherwise, today’s tendency for propagandizing even in straight news stories and allegedly reliable dictionary and encyclopedia entries is going to end very, very badly. In my opinion.