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NYT Brags About Sanitizing Wikipedia

From those champions of the people’s right to know at the New York Times:

David Rohde of The New York Times in the Helmand region of Afghanistan in 2007.

Keeping News of Kidnapping Off Wikipedia

By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

June 29, 2009

For seven months, The New York Times managed to keep out of the news the fact that one of its reporters, David Rohde, had been kidnapped by the Taliban.

But that was pretty straightforward compared with keeping it off Wikipedia.

Times executives believed that publicity would raise Mr. Rohde’s value to his captors as a bargaining chip and reduce his chance of survival. Persuading another publication or a broadcaster not to report the kidnapping usually meant just a phone call from one editor to another, said Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times.

But Wikipedia, which operates under the philosophy that anyone can be an editor, and that all information should be public, is a vastly different world.

A dozen times, user-editors posted word of the kidnapping on Wikipedia’s page on Mr. Rohde, only to have it erased. Several times the page was frozen, preventing further editing — a convoluted game of cat-and-mouse that clearly angered the people who were trying to spread the information of the kidnapping.

Even so, details of his capture cropped up time and again, however briefly, showing how difficult it is to keep anything off the Internet — even a sentence or two about a person who is not especially famous.

The sanitizing was a team effort, led by Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, along with Wikipedia administrators and people at The Times. In an interview, Mr. Wales said that Wikipedia’s cooperation was not a given.

“We were really helped by the fact that it hadn’t appeared in a place we would regard as a reliable source,” he said. “I would have had a really hard time with it if it had.”

Mr. Rohde was kidnapped in Afghanistan on Nov. 10, along with his interpreter and their driver. Two days after the kidnapping, a Wikipedia user altered the entry on Mr. Rohde to emphasize his work that could be seen as sympathetic to Muslims, like his reporting on Guantánamo, and his coverage of the Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims. Mr. Rohde won a Pulitzer Prize for his Bosnia coverage in 1996, when he worked for The Christian Science Monitor.

The Wikipedia editor in that case was Michael Moss, an investigative reporter at The Times and friend of Mr. Rohde who has written extensively about groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Like many Wikipedia editors, he adopted a user name that hid his true identity.

“I knew from my jihad reporting that the captors would be very quick to get online and assess who he was and what he’d done, what his value to them might be,” he said. “I’d never edited a Wikipedia page before.”

With his editors’ blessing, Mr. Moss had already made similar changes to Mr. Rohde’s “topic page” on The Times’s Web site, and in both cases he omitted the name of Mr. Rohde’s former employer, because it contained the word Christian.

The Wikipedia page history shows that the next day, Nov. 13, someone without a user name edited the entry on Mr. Rohde for the first time to include the kidnapping. Mr. Moss deleted the addition, and the same unidentified user promptly restored it, adding a note protesting the removal. The unnamed editor cited an Afghan news agency report. In the first few days, at least two small news agencies and a handful of blogs reported the kidnapping.

Around that time, Catherine J. Mathis, the chief spokeswoman for the New York Times Company, called Mr. Wales and asked for his help. Knowing that his own actions on Wikipedia draw attention, Mr. Wales turned to an administrator, one of several who would eventually become involved in monitoring and controlling the page.

On Nov. 13, news of the kidnapping was posted and deleted four times within four hours, before an administrator blocked any more changes for three days. On Nov. 16, it was blocked again, for two weeks.

“We didn’t want it to look unusual in some fashion that would draw speculation, so we would protect it for three days, or up to a month, which is pretty normal,” Mr. Wales said. He added, “Weeks would go by before there was a problem.”

On Feb. 10 and 11, two users added the kidnapping information several times to Mr. Rohde’s page, only to see it removed each time, and they attached some heated notes to their additions. “We can do this months,” one said.

An administrator put a rare indefinite block on the page, then changed that to a temporary freeze. One of the would-be editors posted a note saying: “Not gonna work boy genius. Should have stuck to indefinite.”

Most of the attempts to add the information, including the first and the last, came from three similar Internet protocol addresses that correspond to an Internet service provider in Florida, and Wikipedia administrators guessed that they were all the same user.

“We had no idea who it was,” said Mr. Wales, who said there was no indication the person had ill intent. “There was no way to reach out quietly and say ‘Dude, stop and think about this.’ ”

Last Saturday, after Mr. Rohde and the translator, Tahir Ludin, escaped from a Taliban compound in Pakistan, Ms. Mathis e-mailed Mr. Wales before making a public announcement, and Mr. Wales, himself, unfroze the page.

When the news broke Saturday, the user from Florida reposted the information, with a note to administrators that said: “Is that enough proof for you [expletives]? I was right. You were WRONG.”

Joseph M. Reagle, an adjunct professor of communications at New York University who studies Wikipedia, said he was not sure whether its role in suppressing news about Mr. Rohde would prompt an outcry among longtime editors, because in the Rohde case, lives were at stake.

“Wikipedia has, over time, instituted gradually more control because of some embarrassing incidents, particularly involving potentially libelous material, and some people get histrionic about it, proclaiming the death of Wikipedia,” he said. “But the idea of a pure openness, a pure democracy, is a naïve one.”

This is absolutely chilling.

Just imagine the other news The Times has kept from us over the years.

And they are proud of it.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Monday, June 29th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

10 Responses to “NYT Brags About Sanitizing Wikipedia”

  1. Helena

    I actually have no problem with what Wiki and the NYT did in this case. IMO it was sensible and prudent and humane. My problem with their actions is that they get to choose who they’re going to protect and who they’re not going to protect (I know, “whom”, but it’s not common parlance anymore). And when they choose, their criteria are suspect. If this had been a reporter from say, The American Spectator, or National Review, or the Washington Times, do you suppose they would have been so careful and thorough?

    It also shows how completely aware they are of how reporting on sensitive events can affect the outcome of those events. And that they know full well how evil Al Qaeda is – and yet they consistently characterize our military and political efforts to stop them as wrong-headed at worst and incompetent at best. They are so deeply two-faced it is breathtaking.

    • Steve

      You’re absolutely right, Helena.

      Of course if this had been a Marine or GI or a contractor, they would have put the information on the front page above the fold.

      But when it is their own personnel, suddenly they are aware how sensitive these things are.

      But beyond all of this, I am appalled at how readily readily they suppressed other news sites. And how eager Wikipedia was to cooperate.

      I know from personal experience that some prominent conservatives have tried to get some of the outrageous lies posted about them at Wikipedia removed. Even going so far as to ask Mr. Whales personally.

      And they have always been told — tough. That’s not our policy.

      But it is their policy, when they are asked by their fellow travelers.

    • bronzeprofessor

      I hate to sound like a grouchy professor, but that’s what I am — Wikipedia is a serious problem, for this reason: It presents an air of informational authenticity that simply isn’t warranted. No matter how many times you ask students to read up on the way Wikipedia works, students still cite it as an authoritative source of data. It’s like the encyclopedic version of Jon Stewart saying he’s just a comedian whenever anyone criticizes the inconsistency in his political logic. Students watch Jon Stewart and treat what they learn watching his shows as authentic, not ironic; students read Wikipedia and treat what they read as fact, not an ongoing and fluid debate, which is what it is and purports to be, officially at least.

      The fact that the New York Times felt the need to work with Wikipedia editors proves how problematic the latter site really is. Given how much people reference Wikipedia for information, the editors need to take responsibility for what their site is — a source of information for people — and stop the practice of allowing users to enter data and comment willy nilly. They need to hire a balanced board of editors and vet information. A small screw-up involving false information posted for a few hours, or information getting posted that’s not appropriate for public consumpion, might get corrected but the damage is still done.

    • proreason

      Wikipedia is another element of the propaganda campaign executed so thoroughly by the Left since the 1950’s.

      The Professor’s students who cite is as authoritative prove that it is successful as a propaganda vehicle.

      Imagine, a source of “knowledge” that is probably accurate 98-99% of the time. Yet, when necessary, it can and is thoroughly manipulated to forward the nee-communist-now-totalitarian-oneworld agenda. Why, it’s almost as clever as painting “the news” on nbcabccbscnn or the slimespostglobe.

      And of course, propaganada and control of the media is just one element of the decades-long strategy to destroy America.

    • jobeth

      BP…This practice of young people not understanding the importance of finding and vetting accurate informational sources come from the greater game plan of the socialist/communists in dumbing down of our students, even from elementary school through high school.

      By the time you get them at the college or university level, many have no idea of how to think critically and take the easy way out…”Its on the inter-net…so it MUST be real”

      Critical thinking is not taught anymore which makes it so easy for “informational sources” to dupe the average young person.

      But I know I’m preaching to the choir telling YOU this. :-D You must be tearing your hair out sometimes. You shouldn’t need to be teaching remedial thinking skills at your level.

      I used to accept job apps for a company I worked for. It wasn’t only the most lowly entry level, apps that were constantly being tossed. They were tossed because these ‘kids’ didn’t even have the skill to fill out a simple app form. Resume’ skills would have be unheard of.

      What ARE our kids being taught in our schools?

      Having custody of my learning disabled granddaughter, I was very much interested in her basic reading and writing skills. For practice, I told her to begin to use cursive when ever possible. Her ESE teacher told us that they don’t teach cursive writing now to ANY student, not only the ESE student, because most things are printed now…(computers etc!!!!) I went nuts.

      Now, they don’t even teach the very basics….so we know they aren’t teaching anything as abstract as critical thinking.

      “All the better to lead you by the nose my dear” said the Big Bad Commie Wolf.

      Even with my granddaughter’s skill deficits, I continually challenge her to reason out her positions and actions and to not take anything for granted. Look it up. And even with her limited ability she still gets it. It’s so sad to see what is happening to our young people. This transfers into their future as a whole.

      Only a few will become self made people INSPITE of their lacking education but this is where their future lies. These self made individuals and the fortunate ones who are truly educated.

      BTW BP, many thanks for all your efforts in waking up your student’s minds. If my learning disabled granddaughter can get it they should be able to.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      jobeth,

      Critical thinking, at least to me is not an abstract skill. From birth, parents are there to teach their children about the dangers of wrong choices. That’s part of what makes parenthood so demanding. What is one of the things kids of 2 to 5 or 6 often do? The “why” game. Where an endless string of “whys” causes the parent (or other adult) to proceed down a list of answers until they get frustrated by one they cannot answer.

      But beyond that, reasoning and decision-making start early, or should. The electronic babysitter is partly to blame but also is parents who they, themselves are not critical thinkers. Oh, many times here in the good ol’s South where daddy is just totally pissed off at his boy for doing something “stupid” yet they have never set an example themselves, nor gone the length to explain the situation beforehand.

      I don’t want to say that my own generation gap is showing, but it most decidedly is. But rather than say this next generation is worthless, I will say that the increase in less-responsible people is getting bigger by the minute.

      On the news, kid gets caught by police, kid shoots at cops….cops shoot kid. Who’s the bad guy here? The news will paint the cops as the perpetrators of evil. They interview momma and she says “LaShawn was such a good boy…he never hurt nobody”. Come to find out “LaShawn had $523 on him, the gun he used was stolen and he’s wanted for a string of car break-ins. And he’s 16.

      Great parenting.

      That’s certainly only one end of the spectrum. Many, many kids come up and we don’t hear about them because they are home every night, doing their homework, quietly engaging in a hobby, playing sports, though not always a sports star….etc. We don’t hear about them because one, to the news world, that kid is downright boring. (to that, I say, “good”). And two, they aren’t on the radar of this “brave new world” where everyone is a victim and needs help.

      By virtue of the fact they get most of the help they need from their parents is what makes them special these days but of no interest to the sensationalist media. And it goes against their grain.

      BUt one last, almost unrelated statement. I find it odd, that the hippies of the 60’s who condemned the “status quo” in education are the very same in power now who have gutted it and dumbed it down so far that kids graduate from high school unable to read and write and do basic math. What a success story.

    • proreason

      “the hippies of the 60’s ”

      Sad to say, it started with the Greatest Generation. They endured the Great Depression and WWII – 17 years of deprivation. God bless em, they were determined their kids would have an easier life.

      Jump ahead to the mid-60’s. You have a generation who had the easiest life any generation had ever had.
      But instead of appreciating the sacrifices of their parents, they wanted more: no rules, no boundaries, no punishments, no responsibilities, no consequences. 3 million killed in Cambodia? So what? Millions living in drug-addled poverty? Not my problem! (let the government fix it).

      Those people are now in charge of the country. And guess what, they are implementing their ideals. Trillions in debt? Tax someone else. 40,000 late-term abortions? Woman’s choice. 10% unemployment? Make the next generation pay for it.

      And their children, having been brought up by people who demanded everything for nothing, are often Baby Boomers squared. Fortunately, there are some who didn’t drink the koolaid. If there aren’t enough of them, look out.

      America’s future hangs in the balance right now. And one thing we know for sure, the Boomer’s aren’t the saviours. If Gen X doesn’t wise up in the next 2 years, dark dark days are ahead for us all.

    • bronzeprofessor

      Rusty, Reason, Jobeth — You are all right! As an educator my narrow focus is usually on the students’ ability to question information, weigh different sources, and come to a rational conclusion.

      Jobeth, you ask, “what are they teaching kids these days?” The truth is they give students a lot of homework at all levels — sometimes, I think, too much. But they have structured education to keep as many students as possible in school for as long as possible, which makes it hard to reach the most astute students and foster their critical thinking skills. Bright students are systematically “dumbed down” to the level of mediocre students who, if given real choices and total freedom, would probably stop going to school and get important, crucial jobs doing physical labor. But schools nowadays give students the impression that working physical labor is somehow shameful, and working with ideas is somehow more reputable. The result is that students who aren’t naturally inclined toward analytical labor are kept in school past the moment where it’s good for them, and they end up resorting to things like Wikipedia because they aren’t motivated to do much more thinking than that.

      And then the problem is that students who otherwise would have been bright researchers, sort of catch the Wikipedia disease from their underprepared peers, and the whole culture suffers from a rampant, pretentious pseudo-intellectualism — everyone wanting to pose like an expert, but nobody actually doing the hard work necessary to know what you are talking about.

      Call it the Facebookification of knowledge!

      You knew the writing was on the wall when professors started getting Facebook pages and adding their students as friends, then using Facebook to post lecture notes, then grading students on blogs!

      Into the murk, we innocent creatures wander, led by leash-holders who know not the difference between murk and terra firma!

    • jobeth

      When I was a young mother, having made a series of poor decisions, I was fortunate enough to have a mother who pulled the rug out from under me. I had always assumed my parents would be my safety net against my “troubles”.

      At first I was appalled and shocked and hurt that she didn’t “help” me out of my difficulty. With time I found that I had been able fix my own problems…not without pain…but I gained something more valuable. Self pride, and the knowledge that I could be my own best friend and had to depend on myself.. I also learned the valuable lesson that I was responsible for my own decisions. Not my parents…nor the state for that matter. I learned to make better choices because I had only myself to look to. I grew and learned through what used to be called the school of hard knocks.

      Later my mother told me a valuable “secret.” A parent’s job is to work themselves out of a job. If I raised my own children to need me to “fix” things, I weaken them. To raise strong kids, you must be tough sometimes. Let them feel the pain of the brick walls they insist on running into.

      I raised my own children with that mindset. I raised 5 children to adulthood. One out the five fell away…involved herself in drugs, and lost her children etc. To this day, with friends all telling me how wrong I am, I will not let her stay at my house (drugs) and will not enable her by “helping” her avoid her pitfalls. It sometimes kills me, but I would only be hurting her more if she could fall back on me. Now if she came to me asking me for help in getting clean and getting her life back on course…I would help her in a heartbeat, but to rehab.

      Said all that to say…Our kids can’t grow and have “self esteem” by someone handing out trophies and attaboys, or thinking for them through Wikipedia etc, or just for showing up to the event. WE have to do the hard work as BP says. Self esteem is earned not awarded.

      And I totally agree, and have thought many times, that our ‘gemmie” generation outlook was begun during the WWII generation…due to the deep scars the depression made on our parents. Each generation became more selfish and demanding and more clueless in how to thing critically. Perhaps, if the worst does happen, this generation X group and their kids might finally “get’ it. Except now, many of the freedoms of the capitalist society may be not available to them as is was to our parents.

      Today we have only a few, by comparison, who as I stated before, were self made individuals or raised with a solid education who are able to make solid choices and accept the responsibility.

      What I meant by abstract was the ability to understand or work out truly abstract ideas. Something our founding fathers seemed to understand. Even when they disagreed, they could understand abstract concepts. This is what is not being taught.

      True either you have the ability or not but even if you have the ability and don’t exercise that “muscle” or understand HOW to do it, it’s as good as lost. As I said earlier, you can teach even the mentally disabled cause and effect and I have with my granddaughter. She surprises and delights me every day as I watch her grow intellectually. She has already gone passed what her ESE teachers said she would. Most of which were wonderful teachers. Just working with her her IQ has jumped 16 points at last testing. I am sure she will continue to grow…at least within her capability. Of course this just may be an example of what BP was talking about. The lack of stretching of out children’s learning capacity. She may well have had this all along but it was overlooked while being warehoused in her old school. Who knows..but she IS growing…as could all our children.

      On the other hand I have the joy of being the ‘adopted’ grandmother to a neighbor;s little 5 yo granddaughter who blows me away. She has the ability to understand whole concepts even adults don’t get. We ‘talk” a lot on that level. We discussed the Trinity the other day, of all things and she explained it to me! She understood that abstract concept we were talking about. The complicated truths of the Trinity many adults struggle with.

      So yes, how right you are B.P in how the brightest are dumbed down so much she will probably lose this ability and be bored to tears by the time she is in the 4th grade of public schools. She comes from a family who will not be giving her the opportunities she sorely needs. Her mother is a nut to put it plainly. So I fully expect our government schools will tamp down yet another brilliant mind.

      I’ve really enjoyed this thread. I wish more people had access to people like all of you here! I do my part and tell as many as possible about S&L. :-D Love this place! Thanks Steve for the opportunity!

  2. proreason

    The Slimes is against censorship.

    Except when they do it.




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