11.A new era of Wiki attacks belittle political process
12.Britannica 'still rules' over web rival
13.Revered reference beyond compare
14.Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia facing scrutiny
15.Bias, sabotage haunt Wikipedia's free world
16.On the stump
17.Out of America: Those oversized egos on Capitol Hill, and why I was rooting for George Galloway; What Washington really needs is a racy, gossipy tabloid or a local 'Private Eye' Independent on Sunday
18.Public sector, private lives
19.Define Wikipedia: Wicked media or work in progress?; Reports of Senate staffers altering their bosses' bios raise debate over the user-edited online encyclopedia.
20. Political Skeletons, Cut and Pasted
21. Column five: Doctoring the past - Wiki style: Doctoring the past - Wiki style
22. Web firm accused of helping to convict dissident; Yahoo! again criticised as political blogger is jailed
23. Biden staffers take Web bio entry into own hands; Several Senate computers caught changing Wikipedia
Congress caught making false entries in WikipediaCNET.com
January 30, 2006
A new era of Wiki attacks belittle political processThe Macon Telegraph (Georgia)
April 28, 2006 Friday
Apr. 28--As the political season begins in earnest, the electorate would be wise to take what they see, hear or read about a candidate with a grain of suspicion. Ask Secretary of State Cathy Cox. No, nothing ugly has been produced about her, yet, but her campaign manager, Morton Brilliant, thought he had a bright idea. He decided to change Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor's Wikipedia biography. Cox is Taylor's opponent in the race for the Democratic nomination for governor. He added information about the DUI arrest of Taylor's son, Fletcher, following an accident where a passenger in his Lincoln Navigator was killed.
Wikipedia is an open on-line information source that can be edited by just about anyone and this is not the first time political shenanigans have been pulled. Rep. Terry Lee, R-Neb., had his Wikipedia entry changed to say he was accused of domestic violence. Macon's own Rep. Jim Marshall's Wikipedia profile was altered by William Hagen who wrote an op/ed to the Houston Home Journal saying Marshall wasn't a real conservative. Shortly after editing Marshall's information and adding links to his own missives on other conservative Web sites, Hagen went to work for Republican Mac Collins, who is trying to unseat Marshall in the 3rd District.
Wikipedia alterations have also been used to delete unfavorable information about political candidates. According to The Boston Globe, staff members of Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., deleted "unflattering material" from his profile. The staff of Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., took out references to their boss as a "liberal Democrat" while in college. California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein's payment of a fine for not disclosing her husband's involvement in her campaign finances was also removed.
The Wikipedia pranks span more than the political spectrum. John Seigenthaler Sr., former editor and publisher of the Nashville Tennessean, had his profile changed to accuse him of involvement in the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
When Taylor's campaign discovered the change they traced it back to Brilliant (yes, you can do that). Cox did the right thing. She got rid of him and apologized in a statement: "I am genuinely sorry for any anguish this incident has caused the Taylor family." Cox also said, "I have once again made it clear to my staff that personal attacks, especially on family members of candidates, are completely off limits and not in keeping with my desire to change the mean and bitter tone of politics."
The tone, however, is already hostile, and if politics is politics, the electorate will have its fill of negative campaigning from both sides by the time the General Primary rolls around July 18.
Britannica 'still rules' over web rivalThe Times (London)
March 25, 2006, Saturday
Revered reference beyond compareThe Australian
March 27, 2006 Monday
James Bone (Same article twice)
Encyclopaedia rejects study that puts it on a par with free amateur internet source, reports
A WAR of words has erupted over a study claiming that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is only marginally better than its upstart internet challenger, Wikipedia.
The venerable Britannica, founded in Edinburgh in 1768, is demanding that the scientific journal Nature publicly retract its finding that the open-source Wikipedia "comes close" to Britannica in accuracy.
In a 20-page statement on its website, Britannica complained that the Nature study was "fatally flawed". "We discovered in Nature's work a pattern of sloppiness, indifference to basic scholarly standards, and flagrant errors so numerous they completely invalidated the results," it said.
But Nature stuck to its guns, and fired back: "We reject those accusations, and are confident our comparison was fair." The row goes to the heart of the role of experts in the internet age.
Over the centuries Britannica has earned a reputation as the world's premier encylopaedia with contributions by leading experts and has charged handsomely. But it is now under threat from the free "usergenerated" model of Wikipedia, written by online volunteers.
The Wikipedia, created five years ago, posted its one millionth article in English this month -about Scotland's Jordanhill railway station. Jimmy Wales, its co-founder, has said that the goal was to "get to Britannica quality, or better". But it has been embarrassed by revelations that contributors had doctored pieces.
John Seigenthaler, a former newspaper editor and Kennedy Administration official, caused a rumpus last year when he discovered that his Wikipedia biography said "he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother, Bobby". The entry turned out to be a prank.
More recently, Wikipedia has uncovered efforts by American politicians to clean up their image. Staff of Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, apparently removed a paragraph from his Wikipedia entry recording his false claim to have flown combat missions over North Vietnam.
Similarly, staff of Senator Norm Coleman, a Republican, rewrote his Wikipedia biography so that he was described merely as an "activist" at university, not a "liberal". A Wikipedia entry for Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma falsely reported that he had been voted "most annoying senator".
The Nature study, published in the December 15 issue, asked scientists to assess 50 entries on scientific topics ranging from Dolly the Sheep to Dmitry Mendeleev, the Russian 19th-century chemist, without telling them if the articles came from the Britannica or the Wikipedia.
The study found the average Britannica entry contained approximately three inaccuracies, while Wikipedia had four. Only eight "serious errors" were found - four in each encyclopaedia. Britannica objected that, despite Nature's conclusion, the journal's own figures showed Wikipedia had one third more inaccuracies.
It claimed that in some cases -such as the spelling of Pythagoras's home in Italy, the Britannica was right and Nature's experts were wrong.
Britannica also complained that some omissions were wrongly counted as errors.
Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia facing scrutinyChattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
February 25, 2006 Saturday
Michael Davis, Staff Writer
The popular Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia has a multitude of pages detailing numerous topics from scientific processes to the biographies and civic lives of elected leaders.
But recent reports of congressional staffers changing the biographies of members of Congress have brought further scrutiny to the free online tool, which can be edited by anyone.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said in a statement that the Internet has lots of Web sites that vary in balance and correctness. When errors in his record are spotted, he said, his office tries to rectify them.
"But the World Wide Web is like the Wild, Wild West, and it is not possible to tame or even monitor all these Web sites," he said in the statement. "We have not attempted to change any information on the Wikipedia site."
Wikipedia allows any reader to edit almost all of its existing content, and all changes are recorded in history pages, according to the site's introduction page.
Carol Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, said Internet content can be corrected quickly, but Wikipedia does not have a high degree of scrutiny.
"I think most of it is generally accurate, but there's a lot in there that isn't," she said. "I think you have to take Wikipedia with a grain of salt."
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said the edits by congressional staffers quickly were changed back to the prior content. That demonstrated the ability of the site's thousands of editors to keep information as accurate as possible, he said.
"It's very routine for us," he said. "We do monitor everything."
Staff members of Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., made changes to the senator's biography, including changing a description of him in his college days from "liberal" to "activist," The Associated Press reported.
And staffers for Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., removed a passage about the congressman's broken pledge to abide by congressional term limits, according to the AP.
Matt Lehigh, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said in an e-mail that Wikipedia "allows its users to offer subjective entries, often making it difficult to distinguish fact from editorializing."
"To the best of my knowledge, no member of Senator Frist's staff has ever made any effort to alter the Web site's commentary on the senator," he said.
John Seigenthaler Sr., founder of the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center, made national news late last year when he exposed that there had been inaccurate information about him on Wikipedia.
Mr. Seigenthaler, former editorial page editor of USA Today and former publisher of the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, wrote a column in the newspaper about the issue. He wrote that his Wikipedia entry falsely explained that he was considered to be involved in the assassinations of former President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy. The content later was removed at Mr. Seigenthaler's request.
Mr. Wales said the Web site now allows only registered users to write new articles. But anyone visiting the site, regardless of whether they are registered or not, can make changes to existing content.
In an interview, Mr. Seigenthaler responded to reports of congressional Wikipedia edits, saying there is the "temptation to go in and change" content that is viewed as negative.
With its current set-up, he said, Wikipedia is "inviting regulation."
Mr. Wales said, though, that "the chance that Wikipedia could be regulated by Congress is zero."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
E-mail Michael Davis at email@example.com
Bias, sabotage haunt Wikipedia's free world
February 12, 2006, Sunday
By David Mehegan
When the news broke last month that US Representative Martin Meehan's staff director admitted deleting unflattering material from Meehan's profile on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, it might have been a shock to some. Maybe it shouldn't have been. Wikipedia administrators have since turned up thousands of flattering or disparaging changes in profiles of dozens of members of Congress.
Last week, volunteer investigators discovered that staff members in the office of Senator Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, removed descriptions of him as a "liberal Democrat" in college. A reference to Senator Dianne Feinstein's payment of a 1992 fine for not disclosing her husband's involvement in her campaign finances was removed by someone in her office.
The revelations that political bias has crept into articles raises new questions about an Internet phenomenon that some are acclaiming as the future of information. And the issues plaguing the site run deeper than political spin. Wikipedia touts itself as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit," and it is exactly that quality that is causing problems.
Two months after a highly publicized attack on the Wikipedia profile of a Tennessee newspaper editor -- in which a prankster falsely implicated him in the murders of President John F. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy -- the new disclosures sharpen a nagging question about Wikipedia: Can it stop sabotage and distortion without losing the freedom and openness that made the reference possible?
In five years, Wikipedia has amassed a mountain of impressive articles, written by thousands of anonymous contributors. But the dark side of that freedom is that Wikipedia's articles are becoming battlegrounds, pitting writers with biased viewpoints and vandals trying to sabotage entries against a volunteer band of "Wikipedians" who constantly seek to set the record straight.
For the true believers, Wikipedia is far more than a reference work. It's a movement, a social circle, a proof of the power of free Internet content, even a kind of optimistic cult. "Wikipedia's goal is to give everyone on the planet free access to information," founder Jimmy Wales said last week in a speech in Boston. "We're talking about bringing people in to join the global conversation."
At the same time, teachers and college professors are wondering whether they should allow students to cite Wikipedia as a source in term papers, which they are increasingly doing. Given its inherent nature as a work in progress, some wonder whether Wikipedia can ever be a reliable source of information.
Kate Clifford Larson, a Simmons College history professor who wrote a 2003 biography of Harriet Tubman, had barely heard of Wikipedia until her students began to cite it as a reference on research papers. Curious, she looked up the Wikipedia article on Tubman, the famous conductor of the Underground Railroad who rescued slaves from the antebellum South.
She was startled to find errors: the wrong birthplace for Tubman, as well as discredited legends that she had rescued 300 people and had had a $ 40,000 price on her head. Larson clicked on the "edit" link with the article, and corrected the errors herself. Then she clicked the article's "history" link, which shows all the changes that have been made since it was started, and got a second shock.
"Someone has vandalized the site on a regular basis," she said in an interview, "inserting racist and ugly comments, misinformation, and some basic juvenile toilet talk."
The sabotage doesn't appear in the article itself, but it can still be read in the history. "Someone would always go back and take out the racist stuff," Larson said. "Who are these people who do this [sabotage]? I hope it's teenage kids. I'm concerned that there isn't some overarching editorial board."
With no editorial board, Wikipedia (at wikipedia.org) works amazingly well. According to statistics on the site, since it was founded in 2001, the English-language version has drawn 857,750 registered users. Far fewer than this are still active, perhaps as many as 15,000. Last week, Wales, 39, cited internal data suggesting that 0.7 percent of users, about 615 people, have made more than 50 percent of edits. However many there are, the Wikipedians have developed a complex and more-or-less democratic system of rules and policies for contributions, such as neutral point of view, civility, citation of sources, and no libel or vandalism.
The project has 150 computer servers in South Korea, Amsterdam, Paris, and Florida, all managed day to day by volunteers. Indeed, the whole thing is run by volunteers, with a corps of about 800 administrators at the center -- experienced, committed Wikipedians with special powers, elected by the community at large.
While Wales -- internally known as Jimbo, and sometimes referred to as the "god-king" or "benevolent dictator" -- retains ultimate control as president and chairman of the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, he doesn't supervise content and takes no salary. He has only two full-time staff members, and funds to support the project come mostly from public fund-raising, in gifts of $ 50 to $ 100. Wikimedia Foundation -- which has spun off such "sister projects" as Wikiquote, Wikinews, and Wictionary -- spent $ 750,000 last year and expects to spend $ 1 million to $ 2 million this year.
Wales's dream is high-minded, to be sure, but not everyone is sold. The best-known doubter is John Seigenthaler Sr., 78, retired editor and publisher of the Nashville Tennessean and founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. "In mid-September," Seigenthaler said in an interview, "my wife got a call from a retired industrialist in town, who said, 'What are you going to do about this stuff they're saying about you?' My wife called me and said, 'Google yourself, click Wikipedia, and take a look.' It knocked my eyes out."
In a Wikipedia biographical article, after the accurate statement that "Seigenthaler was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960s," someone had added, "For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven." The sentences had been there for more than four months.
Seigenthaler called Wales, who was appalled at the slander and quickly wiped it out. However, he did not know who had done it. Wikipedia users don't have to give real names or addresses. Anyone with access to a computer can log in and do mischief. On his own, Seigenthaler tracked down the saboteur to a business in Nashville, and an employee there admitted altering the article. He had done it as a prank.
Seigenthaler wrote a scathing op-ed piece in USA Today. "When I was a child," he wrote, "my mother lectured me on the evils of 'gossip.' She held a feather pillow and said, 'If I tear this open, the feathers will fly to the four winds, and I could never get them back in the pillow. That's how it is when you spread mean things about people.' For me, that pillow is a metaphor for Wikipedia."
Wales and other Wikipedians say they were shocked by the incident and are working on new measures to fight vandals. "We care deeply about getting it right," Wales said in an interview. "At the same time, you don't have to beat up on yourself permanently. You have to ask, 'What did we do wrong and what do we do better next time?' "
Seigenthaler also called Larry Sanger, a key former member of Wales's team. Interviewed for this story, Sanger said, "I felt horrible, almost personally responsible. It was a feature of the system that I set up that made it possible. I told him I always thought this would happen."
But not all Wikipedians felt horrible.
Every article has a link for discussion, and after Seigenthaler went public, his discussion page was soon filled with furious debate between those who were distressed by the libel and those who considered him an enemy of free speech who just didn't understand the greatness of Wikipedia.
"Mr. Seigenthaler's attitude and actions are reprehensible and ill-formed," said one typical comment. "[He] has the responsibility to learn about his own name and how it is being applied and used, as any celebrity does on the Internet and the world-at-large. Besides, if there is an error whether large or small, he can correct it on Wikipedia. Everyone fails to understand that logic." Another wrote: "Rather than fixing the article himself, he made a legal threat. He's causing Wikipedia a lot of trouble, on purpose."
And some clearly thought he should be taught a lesson. Since the USA Today piece ran Nov. 30, the Seigenthaler profile has been continually sown with obscene, homophobic, racist, or vindictive comments.
Someone wrote that Seigenthaler's wife had tried to kill Wales. On Dec. 21, the Kennedy allegation was inserted again. On Dec. 29, someone wrote, "Some journalists have commented [sic] on how odd it is that a proponent of 'free speech' is so intent on shutting down Wikipedia." On Jan. 11: "He died last Tuesday while on vacation." On Jan. 5, someone replaced all the photographs of Seigenthaler in the article with pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald, and repeated the trick Jan. 14. Most of these changes were removed within minutes by administrators watching the article.
As disturbing to Seigenthaler as the original incident and the ongoing attacks is the link to the editing history. Though Wales deleted the history of the original sabotage, all the garbage written since is there for inspection.
"Why is this happening to me after 78 years?" Seigenthaler asks. "I don't want my grandson or great-grandson to read that history, and by God, they can read it now. These people have nothing against me except that I have criticized Wikipedia. Wales call them vandals, but they think of themselves as being loyal to Wikipedia."
"There are many more good people than bad -- in the world, and in this project," said Wales. It's a remark you hear from many Wikipedians. Wales, raised in Alabama, made a fortune in the Chicago futures market in the 1990s, and moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1996 to start his online Internet portal site, Bomis.com. At first, Bomis featured soft-core erotic content. But Wales had long had a dream "to have a free, high-quality encyclopedia in all the languages of the world. I think that global universal access to basic information can have a transformative impact on the world."
In 2000, he founded Nupedia, intended to be a comprehensive online encyclopedia and hired Sanger, a computer nerd with a doctorate in philosophy, as editor. At first, they expected Nupedia to have articles written by specialists such as Encyclopedia Britannica. But it was slow going, with only 20 articles completed in the first year. Britannica has 65,000 articles, available in books or by subscription online.
What happened next is disputed by Wales and Sanger. Sanger, who at times calls himself the cofounder, and says he got the idea of using "wiki" technology ("wiki" is Hawaiian slang for "quickly"; "pedia" comes from the Latin word for "education") and proposed it to Wales in 2001. His Wikipedia profile says he "spearheaded and named the project, and formulated much of the original policy." Wales's profile says he got the idea from someone else, and last week he said "it's preposterous" to call Sanger the cofounder.
No matter whose idea it was, it allowed encyclopedia articles to be written much faster, since a theoretically unlimited number of authors can contribute.
At first, Wales says, he doubted the anyone-can-edit system would work over time. He had suspected that, "as traffic grew, we would have to lock things down. The major revelation was how good people are -- the vast majority of edits are helpful. We were able to remain open and flexible after more growth than we thought possible." Today the encyclopedia has multiplied into versions in more than 200 languages, 85 of them with at least 1,000 articles. There are more than 960,000 articles in English. By some estimates, there are 40,000 contributors in all languages.
But the vandals multiplied, too, and the sabotage points up a fundamental philosophical difference between the Wales and Sanger schools. Wales believes open editing should remain, and that evildoers, or "trolls," can be defeated or kept at bay by the good people, using sensible rules and effective tools. Sanger believes supervision should be in the hands of specialists.
"Wikipedia is not sufficiently committed to the involvement of expert contributors or to a review process that is credible to the public," he said. "There is a difference between something that is more or less guaranteed to be the best representation of expert knowledge, and a pretty good guess on the part of amateurs working together."
Sanger also lost patience with the "edit wars," in which a persistent ignoramus battles with a well-informed contributor, each side deleting the changes of the other. "The idea that an expert should have to negotiate at length with someone who knows nothing about a matter of substance is ridiculous," Sanger says. Such wars erupt over politics, culture, biography, and religion, and pages often have to be "protected" -- wholly or partially locked against changes. The George W. Bush page is currently protected.
Cynics might expect the vandals to win in the end -- after all, graffiti artists never quit. But there's a core of loyal Wikipedians who are determined that they won't.
Wikipedia administrator Ryan Kaldari, 28, of Nashville, is an active vandal-fighter. A programmer who edited his high school newspaper, Kaldari said John Seigenthaler had always been one of his heroes.
"I was especially concerned about that article," he said. "I felt personally responsible, because I keep an eye on Nashville articles."
Now he watches the article like a hawk and several times has temporarily protected it. While he understands Seigenthaler's desire to wipe out the editing-history, Kaldari insisted, "It's important for the history to be there -- to have a record of how an article has evolved."
Another vandal-fighter is administrator David Denniston, 48, of Santa Barbara, Calif. A high-tech manager and composer with a doctorate in music, Denniston has written 400 articles on medieval music.
"If you do a Google search on [15th-century composer] Guillaume Dufay," Denniston says, "there is a link to Wikipedia. I intend to compete with Grove [the Grove Dictionary of Music], only my articles are free."
At home and at work, Denniston watches the "recent changes" page and his own "watch list," and using various shortcut software tools available to insiders, he zaps vandalism almost as soon as it appears. Asked why he bothers, Denniston said, "Suppose you could go to a big city and wherever you see [graffiti], click a button and repair a surface. One after another, they're gone in 10 seconds. It's extremely satisfying."
Aside from sabotage, for many people the big question about Wikipedia is accuracy.
A December article in the journal Nature found that at least in science, its articles are only slightly less accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica. And college students are increasingly relying on it. However, some academics are skeptical.
"It's absolutely not trusted, from a faculty point of view," said Gregory Fried, chairman of the philosophy department of Suffolk University. "I don't doubt that it has good articles, but I don't know which are good and which are not."
Joyce Lee Malcolm, professor of history at Bentley College, said her students are citing it in footnotes. But, she says, "for major papers, I don't want them to use it. The articles and books I assign are refereed and are accurate. With Wikipedia, someone may be cranking it out in a garage somewhere."
An e-mail request to a variety of scholars to look at articles in their fields turned up some complaints. David Garrow, author of a Pulitzer-winning book about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., replied: "I called up their MLK entry, and right in the second sentence there's an obvious error: that King was awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom before he was assassinated. Wrong. He was awarded that presidential medal in 1977, by Jimmy Carter."
But most of those queried had no big complaints. "Thus far my experience of Wikipedia has been quite positive, with quite high levels of accuracy," replied historian William Cronon of the University of Wisconsin and author of "Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West." "I just skimmed the entry on Chicago, and what I did read seemed basically accurate."
Even so, anyone may find errors. The article for Cardinal Bernard F. Law, for example, reports that amid the priest sex abuse crisis: "The archdiocese was forced to close 65 parishes before Cardinal Law stepped down." In fact, the closures occurred under Law's successor, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley. The article on Hingham, Mass., says the town has a statue of revolutionary war general Benjamin Lincoln, "forebearer" of Abraham Lincoln. But there is no statue, and the two Lincolns were not related.
Wikipedians brush off such lapses. Wikipedia is a work in progress, they insist, and Larson's repair to the Tubman entry only proves that it works. The site has an explicit disclaimer: "Use Wikipedia at your own risk. . . .Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here."
Despite the questions, there's widespread admiration for Wikipedia among the Internet intelligentsia.
"I keep waiting to find out that there's really a group of editors behind it," said Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet governance at Oxford University and cofounder of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He has doubts, too -- not so much about sabotage as about the kind of manipulation that happened on Capitol Hill.
"It's not brute-force vandalism that will be a problem," he said. "There's a more subtle bias and spin." Once publicists and marketers realize Wikipedia is one of the top results on Google searches, Zittrain said, "whether it's Wal-Mart, a university, or a person, they will paint a positive picture on it. When it becomes so successful, people with agendas have reason to be part of the fray."
It's not only in Washington, of course. Around the time Governor Mitt Romney announced in December that he would not run again, a Wikipedia article about Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, who is running for governor, was edited. She was praised as "a rising star" with a "distinguished career." No one knows who made the edits.
On the stumpThe Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
February 12, 2006 Sunday
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A21
Pass the Wikipedia and some salt
More Senate staff members appear to have been gussying up their bosses' bios on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that allows users to edit its content.
"In some cases," Wikipedia sleuths report, "they have removed negative facts about their senator from the articles."
Wikipedia had already identified what it said was improper spinning of articles about Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Five senators were added last week: Democrats Joseph Biden Jr., Del., Tom Harkin, Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein, Calif.; and Republicans Conrad Burns, Mont., and Norm Coleman, Minn.
Out of America: Those oversized egos on Capitol Hill, and why I was rooting for George Galloway; What Washington really needs is a racy, gossipy tabloid or a local
'Private Eye' Independent on Sunday
February 12, 2006 Sunday
Consider America's colossal budget deficit, its botched health care reform and the rest, and you realise that competent law-making is not exactly the forte of Congress. But when it comes to looking after their political reputations, members of the US Senate have few peers. For proof, consider the bizarre little affair of Wikipedia.
Wikipedia, as many readers will know, is an online encyclopedia, whose distinction is that it can be edited by anyone. In one sense, this feature merely formalises what every journalist knows: whatever you write, and however thoroughly you research a subject, there is always someone out there who knows more about that subject than you do. By and large, this goes for Wikipedia.
But you have to take it on trust that contributors are acting in good faith, motivated only by a desire to promulgate the truth. That principle, alas, does not apply when eager-beaver young aides on Capitol Hill, concerned above all else to spruce up the image of their boss, get in on the act.
In fact, the first falsification case to crop up here on Wikipedia had nothing to do with Congress. Last November, it emerged that its biography of John Siegenthaler, the retired journalist, writer and one-time aide to Robert Kennedy, had been altered to suggest Mr Siegenthaler had lived for 13 years in the Soviet Union and might have been involved in the JFK assassination. The victim of this slander was understandably outraged, and Wikipedia launched an investigation. In the end, a culprit came forward, who said the whole thing was intended as a prank and that he didn't think anyone took Wikipedia seriously.
Congressional aides, however, clearly take it very seriously. That is why, for example, someone air-brushed out references to plagiarism in the bio of Democratic Senator and possible 2008 presidential candidate Joe Biden (he's the garrulous lawmaker who, back in 1988, had to drop a bid for the White House when it was revealed he had stolen words from, of all people, Neil Kinnock).
It also explains why assistants of Norm Coleman, the ambitious Republican Senator from Minnesota, amended his Wikipedia entry to describe their boss as an "activist" in his university days and not a "liberal" - perish the thought. This, too, is why a reference to a false claim by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa that he flew combat missions in Vietnam conveniently vanished from his entry.
To be fair, there has been black-washing as well as whitewashing. Someone got hold of the entry on Oklahoma's Republican Senator Tom Coburn (who is said to have described global warming as "a load of crap" and homosexuality as "the greatest threat to America") and inserted in his bio the claim that colleagues had once voted him "most annoying senator". Robert Byrd, the curmudgeonly, pompous Senator from West Virginia who loves showing off his knowledge of Roman law and history, has been another deserving victim. Mr Byrd has been in the Senate for almost half a century. He's 88 years old, but some wit neatly changed that to 180 on Wikipedia. Whether 88 or 180, the odds are he'll run again this autumn.
The offending edits have been removed, and Wikipedia has blocked various entries to prevent further meddling. It is a footling affair. But it illustrates a real problem. Why is it that such lampooning is confined to surreptitious adjustments on a rather esoteric website? Why is there no regular forum where the oversized and over-sensitive egos of many of America's politicians are cut down to size?
That was why I and not a few others were quietly rooting for George Galloway when he defended himself last year before a congressional subcommittee investigating the Iraq oil-for-food controversy. His preening, mendacious glibness is appalling. But finally someone was giving as good as he got (or a good deal better than he got) to the sanctimonious Mr Coleman, the sub-committee's chairman, and his colleagues - and without the presence of single lawyer to protect him.
But on Capitol Hill, a Galloway moment comes along only every decade or so. If only Washington had its equivalent of a racy, gossipy British tabloid or a local version of Private Eye, I find myself thinking for the umpteenth time - a publication for whom the bigger the reputation, the more tempting the target.
The Washington Post is a splendid newspaper, but the serious skewering of politicians is not its strong point. Surrounded by small armies of aides, almost never forced to defend themselves in serious debate, the grandees of Capitol Hill have a ridiculously easy time of it compared with their opposite numbers at Westminster. And even the strange tale of the Senators and Wikipedia is unlikely to change that.
Public sector, private livesThe Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York)
February 12, 2006 Sunday Pg. D5
.... Wikipedia has tracked down which senators' staffs edited entries about their bosses ...
The organizers of the online enyclopedia that anyone can edit claim most of the postings improved the entries ...
But the list of changes shows several attempts at spin. The description of Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., was changed from a liberal Democrat in college to an "activist Democrat" and then to "an active college student" ...
Newly discovered e-mails by indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to ThinkProgress.org, show a personal invitation to President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Define Wikipedia: Wicked media or work in progress?; Reports of Senate staffers altering their bosses' bios raise debate over the user-edited online encyclopedia.Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
February 12, 2006 Sunday
Aaron Blake, John Reinan, Staff Writers
Almost everyone, including Sen. Norm Coleman, agrees his staff members shouldn't monkey with accurate, if unflattering, information in his biography on the user-edited online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
But whether a flap over alterations they made last month proves the value of the Internet as a means of gathering information or shows again how faulty and anarchic it can be depends on whom you ask.
Detractors of websites that rely on users for information say the revelation that people in the offices of Coleman, R-Minn., and four other U.S. senators deleted and reworded parts of their bosses' online biographies is proof that Wikipedia invites "mischief." But in the end, say proponents and Wikipedia itself, the incident shows that volunteer fact-checking and quality control are effective in getting good information.
Coleman this week wasn't defending his staff, but he also wasn't happy with the online entry for him. He said that there isn't enough positive information in his biography and that it mischaracterizes or ignores certain aspects of his work as a senator and as a past mayor of St. Paul.
Somebody in his office removed a reference to the fact that Coleman voted the Bush administration's position 98 percent of the time in 2003, changed the adjective "liberal" to "activist" in a description of Coleman's political past and deleted four references to Bush political adviser Karl Rove.
The staff of Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., edited out a reference to accusations of plagiarism he has faced, and someone in the office of Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., took out a reference to Burns' use of a racial slur in 1999. The offices of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, also were singled out for making edits.
The offices were briefly cut off from editing privileges for "vandalism," Wikipedia's term for any edit that deliberately reduces the quality of the encyclopedia. Most of the changes were undone within a half-hour and some within a minute, said Wayne Saewyc, a volunteer who investigated the situation for Wikipedia's sister project, a news service called Wikinews.
"Our reputation looks good here, because all of the negative changes that were made were reverted very quickly by us, and it was really no problem for us," Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said. "There was no real impact on the quality of our work."
Controversies over Wikipedia and other user-managed websites highlight a fundamental difference in how information is transmitted on the Web compared with traditional media.
Having editors to act as gatekeepers and take responsibility for errors is vital, said Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota's journalism school.
"There's this great espousing of the idea that there is an ultimate truth, and we on the Internet have it," Kirtley said. "And yet there's a very casual acceptance of slander and falsehoods: `Let a thousand errors bloom, and maybe somebody will find it and get around to correcting it eventually.'-"
But Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative public-interest law firm in Washington, said the attention the controversy has received shows just how well the public forum works.
"The information gets out, and these guys look like fools. The situation has already been corrected," Pell said. "Everybody finds out about this, and the information gets out really quickly."
Other events in recent months also have challenged Wikipedia's image. In November, John Seigenthaler, a former editor of the Nashville Tennesssean, denounced the site in USA Today after finding out that his Wikipedia biography for months had said he had been suspected in the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and brother Robert F. Kennedy. In December, a stir was created when Wikipedia's Wales was reported to have been editing his own biography.
Robert McHenry, a former editor of Encyclopedia Brittanica, said Wikipedia's reaction to these "mini-scandals" has been lacking.
"Everything about it is very experimental, but for us, our goal is to create a free, high-quality encyclopedia," Wales said. "All of our changes and adjustments over time are really trying to figure out what's the best way to achieve quality in the long run."
WHAT IS IT?
Created in 2001, Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia composed entirely of the contributions and revisions of its users, all volunteers. It claims to be the largest reference website on the Internet. The English-language version has almost 1 million articles, with 1,500 added each day. It is owned by the Wikimedia Foundation, which also operates several other programs, including Wikinews, a user-maintained free news service. The website is www.wikipedia.org.
Political Skeletons, Cut and PastedThe New York Times
February 11, 2006 Saturday
Section A; Column 1; Editorial Desk; Pg. 14
Staff members for a Republican congressman, carefully perusing his biography on Wikipedia -- the free-form, online encyclopedia -- recently happened upon the insertion that he likes to beat his wife and children. The Web's collective form of fact-gathering tends to invite such sliming. But now, a more tricky problem is emerging: the editing of legislative biographies by staff members and loyalists devoted to gilding the incumbent.
The deletion of unattractive facts by apple-polishers became so obvious that Wikipedia's detectives temporarily blocked some Senate addresses from making entries. The electronic addresses of Senate offices turn out to be more easily traced than those of House members, so there is no comparable record of protective edits by lower house scriveners.
Senator Dianne Feinstein's net worth was mysteriously deleted from her biography, along with the $190,000 fine she had to pay for not disclosing that her husband had guaranteed her 1990 campaign loans. Wikinews, the encyclopedia's arm of corrective reporters, found Senator Joseph Biden's past problems with campaign plagiarism charges had evaporated, thanks to someone at one of his office computers. Members of Senator Norm Coleman's staff massaged a description of him as a liberal college Democrat; he morphed into an activist, then merely an active college student. A reference to Senator Tom Harkin's discredited claims to have flown combat missions in Vietnam disappeared.
An entry on Wikipedia is still almost guaranteed to be closer to reality than a compilation of campaign commercials. But when everybody is invited to contribute to lawmakers' biographies, the most interested participants are almost always going to be the people on their payrolls.
Column five: Doctoring the past - Wiki style: Doctoring the past - Wiki styleThe Guardian (London) - Final Edition
February 10, 2006 Friday
GUARDIAN HOME PAGES; Pg. 1
Column five: Doctoring the past - Wiki style: Doctoring the past - Wiki style
We are all Alastair Campbells now. Spin doctors' antennae whirred around this week when the volunteers who run Wikipedia discovered that staff of US senators and congressmen had been busy burnishing their bosses' entries in the internet encyclopedia.
Millions of people turn to the reference site to look up facts - and change them. The non-profit making project to build an internet encyclopedia is the 19th most-visited site in the world. Three per cent of all webpages visited are Wikipedia pages. Its guiding, and democratic, principle: anyone can anonymously edit it. Increasingly, it seems, politicians and their staff are among the most dedicated editors.
Patrolling the 962,652 entries in the English Wiki - more than double the number a year ago - its idealistic volunteers found other examples of "politically motivated editing" emanating from Washington. In one case, an intern for Democratic representative Marty Meehan deleted a reference to his broken promise to only serve four terms. In another, the office of Senator Norm Coleman deleted an unflattering reference to voting with President George Bush 98% of the time in 2003, despite running as a moderate the year before. Wikipedia took draconian action: all computers connected to servers at the House of Representatives were temporarily denied access to the site.
Computers linked to Canada's House of Commons and the German Bundestag also fiddled with entries, according to Wikipedia. But Jimmy Wales, the Florida-based founder who was embarrassingly exposed for tweaking his own entry, said no suspicious activity had yet been recorded on the computers of Westminster and Whitehall.
Why do our slow-witted special advisers twiddle their thumbs while websavvy idealists write their bosses' biographies? The Guardian could help. I bring up Tony Blair's entry. It appears a perfect example of a Wiki entry: accurate, informative, well-sourced and neutral in tone. But every choice of fact is a subjective act. And there's one our Tone wouldn't like: "Euan Blair received widespread publicity after police found him 'drunk and incapable'." C'mon guys, the kids are off limits. Snip. I cut it out.
"While the Blairs have stated that they wish to shield their children from the media, they have not always been able, or willing . . . " Hang on, "willing"? What does that imply? Cut. Save. Refresh page. Tony's Wiki entry is now a lot shinier.
Time to buff up the Guardian. The stereotypical Guardian reader is, Wikipedia explains, a lentil-munching, sandal-wearing lefty. "Like most stereotypes, to some extent this one is both inaccurate and outdated." Let's get rid of "to some extent", eh?
I add some positive spin about our rising circulation. Hang on, there is someone missing from the list of "notable regular contributors (past and present)". Ian Aitken, Julian Borger, Emma Brockes: excellent, excellent. But no "Patrick Barkham". I slip the name in. It looks nice, if suspiciously anomalous.
Ah, the sweet power of the spin doctor (tempered by the growing anxiety that a volunteer will hunt me down and attack me with worms or bots or turn my Mac into a zombie computer). Wikipedia records the internet protocol address of the computer on which every edit occurs. They could easily trace my edits to the Guardian. Its volunteers cleverly trapped the US spinners by sending emails to their offices. When they received replies, they found the IP addresses contained in the emails matched those of the dodgy editors.
Time to phone Wikipedia. Does the furore over the politicians gilding their own lilies undermine its credibility? "It's more damaging to the persons involved," says Mr Wales. "We were able to catch these bad edits very quickly and good edits were incorporated very quickly."
The site is still smarting from bad publicity about the biography of the US journalist John Seigenthaler, which incorrectly linked him to the Kennedy assassinations. The libellous allegations were not spotted for months before they were removed, leading to criticism about its reliability.
Mr Wales says the "whitewashing" editors from Washington are treated "just like editors from a grammar school. If they behave themselves, that's fine. If not, they get blocked."
What does Wikipedia rule on people adding gloss to their own entries? "It's not absolutely forbidden to edit an article you're involved in but it's not considered good practice," says a UK spokesman, David Gerard.
Marty Meehan recanted. "It was a waste of energy and an error in judgment on the part of my staff to have allowed any time to be spent on updating my Wikipedia entry," he said.
And so must I. Shamed by my crass attempts to subvert the democratic goal of a free encyclopedia on the internet, I return and remove my "bad edits" to leave the pages just as they were. Will the world's spin doctors suffer similar pangs of conscience?
Web firm accused of helping to convict dissident; Yahoo! again criticised as political blogger is jailedThe Herald (Glasgow)
February 10, 2006
YAHOO! , the internet giant, has been accused of helping to jail a Chinese dissident by passing on details of his online political writing to authorities.
Li Zhi, a blogger from southwest China, was given an eight year sentence for subversion in 2003 after making allegations of official corruption.
It is the second time the firm has been accused of helping the Maoist government to jail politically active computer users. It follows criticism of Google and Microsoft for helping to enforce China's rigid online censorship guidelines.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB) claimed Yahoo!'s Hong Kong unit provided information about Mr Li's Chinese account which led to his detention.
This was denied by a Yahoo! spokeswoman who said the Hong Kong branch would not have access to the account and would not disclose any details of subscribers to the Chinese government. She said an investigation has been launched into whether Yahoo! China, run by a partner company, had leaked the data.
Activists criticised Yahoo! last year after it was disclosed that the company provided information Chinese authorities used to convict and jail Shi Tao, a journalist, for revealing state secrets.
A statement by RWB urged web firms to use American based servers in "repressive countries" so that governments must comply with US law when accessing data on users.
This was rejected as unrealistic by Yahoo! which claimed the company is legally bound to respond to government subpoenas but is not usually told how the information will be used.
The spokeswoman added: "The choice in China and other countries is not whether to comply with law enforcement demands for information. Rather, the choice is whether to remain in the country."
Yahoo! was "distressed" to learn the facts surrounding the Shi Tao case, she said. In that case, Chinese authorities demanded information from Yahoo!'s China unit, which complied with Chinese law.
Google's China-based service limits online searches for sensitive topics, and Microsoft has shut down a Chinese user's web log on official demand.
The allegations coincide with claims that US Congress staff had effectively airbrushed political history by altering the biographies of leading senators on Wikipedia, a popular internet encyclopedia.
By following the publicly available history of edits on the site, which can be altered by readers, researchers linked the internet protocol numbers of computers used by the Senate with changes to online pages.
They found the biographies of six senators had been altered by computers within the Senate, including that of Norm Coleman, the Republican senator who clashed with George Galloway, the Respect MP, at a committee hearing.
Mr Coleman's office later confirmed to the BBC that changes had been made to his online record.
Descriptions of his being a "liberal" in college were changed to being an "activist".
Other senators' entries were vandalised, including that of Tom Coburn, who was incorrectly alleged to have been voted the "most annoying senator".
Biden staffers take Web bio entry into own hands; Several Senate computers caught changing WikipediaThe News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware)
February 10, 2006 Friday
NEWS; Pg. 1A
News Journal Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - It turns out you can rewrite history, or at least Joe Biden's entry on Wikipedia.
The online encyclopedia invites its readers to revise and update entries at will.
Biden's staff took the site at its word, repeatedly tweaking the potential presidential candidate's online profile to delete or tone down references to plagiarism and to insert flattering references to the senator.
An entry that once read Biden "was found to have plagiarized a speech from British Labour Leader Neil Kinnock" said Thursday night that "He was alleged to have plagiarized a speech from British Labour Leader Neil Kinnock."
A paragraph referring to Biden's 2008 presidential aspirations was altered from "His name is mentioned on the long list of possible candidates for President" to "Biden's name regularly appears on most short lists of possible candidates for President."
Both changes were traced to computers registered to the U.S. Senate. Biden spokesman Norm Kurz confirmed that Biden's staff made the changes - and would continue to monitor the site and update or alter it, if necessary.
The Wikipedia.org entry is one of the first to pop up in an Internet search for "Biden."
"It would be irresponsible of us not to be monitoring it. And it would be irresponsible of us not to correct any errors we found," Kurz said.
It's another skirmish in the Capitol Hill Wiki-wars. Last week, Wikipedia temporarily banned computers registered to the House from altering entries in reaction to a wave of revisions, deletions, attacks and resume-polishing on entries of politicians and their foes.
This week, volunteer investigators at Wikinews traced deleted or toned-down, unflattering facts in several senators' biographies to Senate Internet protocol addresses - codes as unique as telephone numbers that identify computers and their locations.
"The best thing to come out of all of this is the fact that most of the edits [by Hill staffers] were legitimate," said Wayne Saywick, who contributed to the investigation. "The only question some people might have is whether they should be doing this on taxpayers' time."
Information deleted from senators' biographies included: Conrad Burns, R-Mont., once used the word "raghead"; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., once paid a fine for campaign finance violations; Norm Coleman, R-Minn., was a college Democrat.
Biden's Wiki entry on Nov. 9, 2002, consisted of a single sentence: "Joseph Biden, Jr., known as 'Joe Biden,' was first elected a senator to represent Delaware in Congress in 1972 and re-elected every time he has run, the most recent in November 2002." It has since been altered 325 times.
The entries ranged from new facts to links to news articles to the occasional partisan vandalism. On Jan. 11, the opening paragraph of Biden's entry was rewritten to include references to hair plugs and Miracle-Gro. The vandalism was removed within the hour.
The Wikipedia entries for the rest of the Delaware delegation were less fraught with controversy - although there were a few jaw-dropping entries.
Rep. Mike Castle's state Senate career did not begin in 1669. And in college, Sen. Tom Carper volunteered on the campaign of Sen. Eugene McCarthy, not that of notorious anti-Communist Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Both entries were corrected - eventually.