Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Sanitization of Wikipedia

I didn't mean to blog about Project Runway. I meant to blog about Wikipedia. Specifically, this article I read about, how, for some reason, Wikipedia seems to have a hair trigger on sanitizing entries about our Dear President, but how the same heavy hand is not being used to edit the entries about certain ex-Presidents.

Here's the main point of the article:

For example, Wikipedia's main Bill Clinton article manages to mention every single fringe right-wing nutcase allegation ever made against the 42nd president.

By contrast, the main Wikipedia article on George W. Bush has been carefully sanitized. It clearly aims to present Bush in the most favorable light possible. Frankly, the Bush article looks like a love letter from Karl Rove.

Now, don't get me wrong: I like Wikipedia. A lot. I've said as much before. But I also understand that the whole wiki- thing can be used (or perhaps abused) to specific advantages, as long as there's someone out there being vigilant enough. So I guess the moral of the story is that you need to check alternative sources -- or the footnotes to the Wikipedia article -- before you rely on Wikipedia as gospel.

But what I really got out of the article is this:

If Wikipedia was free of bias, one might think that the main Bush article would include at least a mention of the Margie Schoedinger sexual assault allegation against Bush.

And just who is Margie Schoedinger?

She was a 38-year-old Texas woman who filed a sexual assault lawsuit against George W. Bush in December 2002.

Oh, and there's one other interesting detail: the next year, Schoedinger was found dead of a gunshot wound.


But instead, the Schoedinger case was completely ignored by the U.S. media, with the sole exception of the small local Texas newspaper (The Fort Bend Star) that originally reported the story. Her case remains extremely obscure. To this day, very few people have ever heard of her.

Now that's something I never heard before. Why the heck do we have a free press in this country if they're not covering this kind of thing?


Justin S. said...

I agree that Wikipedia can be biased. I'm not so sure that it's a left-wing / right-wing bias issue. I think they probably just monitor the crap out of the Bush page because they're paranoid.

As for Margie Schoedinger, there is a Wikipedia entry for her, and what the article you link to fails to mention is the gunshot wound was self-inflicted. That makes a huge difference. Bush has done plenty of terrible things, but Bush-had-Schoedinger-killed is a conspiracy theory that, unless evidence is presented, shouldn't be given any more credence that 9/11 Truthers and people who think we never went to the moon. Plus, we have no way of knowing whether her stories were anywhere within the vicinity of true. The problem isn't that the Schoedinger story didn't get much attention, it's that the equivalent Paula Jones type stories got way too much attention for Clinton.

dara said...

Justin: The point is that G.W. Bush's Wikipedia entry does not link to anything about Margie Schoedinger's lawsuit. In comparison, Bill Clinton's page seems to link to everyone who ever even thought about filing a sexual harrasment claim against him. The fact that we never knew about Schoedinger's claim? That's a real problem. But the fact that people have tried to post about it and were sanitized is just as bad.

As for whether the Schoedinger conspiracy theories can be validated, that's a whole other can of worms. Still, with roughly the same amount of evidence, there was a point when everyone in this country was parsing various conspiracy theories concerning the Clintons and Vince Foster's suicide.

Justin S. said...

I agree. Wikipedia and the media are also too different cans of worms. Sanitizing Wikipedia is not a good thing. But the media should not report stories that are just conspiracy theories at this point (and no, they shouldn't have reported about the Vince Foster conspiracy theory either).

Marc McDonald said...

Until I brought up the issue in that article, the main Wikipedia article on George W. Bush didn't even have a single mention of the Plame case.

Not one mention. It was as though the case simply never happened.

The article now does have a brief mention of Plame. But I'd bet money that, over time, that reference will be quietly dropped.

A couple of years ago, just on a whim, I counted the number of mentions of Bin Laden in the main Bill Clinton and George W. Bush articles.

At the time, the Clinton article mentioned Bin Laden 24 times. The Bush article had zero mentions of Bin Laden. (Note that it is an article of faith among Right-Wingers that 9/11 was Bill Clinton's fault).

I think the problem is that the Right-Wingers are simply more aggressive about constantly editing the articles on Wikipedia.