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How the Left Conquered Wikipedia, Part II: Coddling Progressives

Posted By David Swindle On September 1, 2011 @ 12:25 am In FrontPage | 10 Comments

In a previous article in this series on Wikipedia’s leftist bias I discussed briefly the friendly treatment the online encyclopedia gave such influential figures as Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, and Noam Chomsky. These entries featured muted criticism if any at all and little embarrassing “personal life” content (which, as I noted, is the primary way in which bias is conveyed on the site.) Progressives continually receive the benefit of the doubt. Wikipedia does not have to be overtly biased in favor of leftism; it is simply the site’s default option, synonymous with a sophisticated and humane worldview. When considering people on the Left, Wikipedia assumes the best; if there are blemishes on their records, it tends to explain and exculpate, whereas with conservatives what it regards as failings are subjected to unforgiving analysis.

There are three unwritten rules that pervade the treatment of most leftists on Wikipedia:

[1] Quote feeble critics only so they can be rebutted.

Al Gore’s entry is 8984 words, a reasonable length for a Vice President active in politics for more than 30 years. None of Gore’s political decisions or positions receives criticism from opponents, nor does he have a “personal life” section (thus eliminating the need to mention his allegedly forcing himself on a Portland masseuse in 2006—a story that would have likely been included in the entry of a conservative political figure.) The 465 words of criticism in the Gore profile is reserved for Gore the environmental activist and  raises five different objections – including a particularly trivial one from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) — each of which also allows Gore or one of his supporters to get in the last word. For example, in response to critics noting the Gore family’s increased energy usage (multiple homes, private jet trips) an official spokesman claims that the mansions run on more expensive “renewable energy” and philosopher A.C. Grayling claims the whole matter of Gore’s “footprint” is irrelevant and an example of fallacious ad hominem reasoning.

Similarly, comedian Bill Maher has a thorough 3095-word entry with a single inconsequential criticism (51 words from Alabama Republican Congressman Spencer Bachus claiming that Maher’s 2005 comments highlighting the military’s failure to reach its recruiting goals were demeaning) that is included only so Maher can refute it.  Flaunting his supposedly “pro-military” politics, Maher claims that he supported the military and challenges Bachus to fix the problem.

[2] Give the Benefit of the Doubt to the Jew-Haters.

More troubling than the way Wikipedians set up straw men for their leftist heroes to knock over is the way they minimize their bigotry.

The Rev. Al Sharpton has the unique distinction of being the only cable news host to have provoked an anti-Semitic pogrom in New York City. But one will not know this from reading Sharpton’s 3979-word Wikipedia page profile, in spite of its larger-than-usual criticism section.

Sharpton’s career is filled with episodes illustrating his commitment to inflaming racial conflict. In 1987 one of his lowest points came in his support for Tawana Brawley, a black teenager who claimed to have been gang raped by white police officers. (A grand journey would find that these charges were wholly fabricated.) Sharpton furthered these allegations, and was later successfully sued for defamation by one of the prosecutors he claimed participated in the rape. Refusing to pay the $345,000 judgment against him, he relied on his wealthy supporters to pick  up the tab. Even as late as 2007, Sharpton was still on record supporting Brawley’s lies.

At least with the Brawley case, Sharpton’s demagoguery did not result in violence. That was decidedly what happened in 1991 when Sharpton’s most nakedly anti-Semitic actions inspired riots in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. Sharpton’s DiscoverTheNetworks profile gives the story as it should be told:

That same year, anti-Semitic riots erupted in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section after a Hasidic Jewish driver accidentally ran over and killed a 7-year-old black boy. Within three hours, a black mob had hunted down and slain an innocent rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, in retribution. Sharpton declared that it was not merely a car accident that had killed the black child, but rather the “social accident” of “apartheid.” He organized angry demonstrations and challenged local Jews––whom he derisively called “diamond merchants“––to “pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” to settle the score. Stirred in part by such rhetoric, hundreds of Crown Heights blacks took violently to the streets for three days and nights of rioting. Sharpton reacted to the chaos by stating, “We must not reprimand our children for outrage, when it is the outrage that was put in them by an oppressive system.”

In contrast, this event earns Sharpton only 61 words of criticism at Wikipedia for his use of the “diamond merchants” and “pin their yarmulkes back” slurs. No criticism is presented for Sharpton’s actions, and the Wikipedia entry devoted to the riots similarly omits Sharpton’s role.

While Sharpton can threaten Jews with violence and rely on Wikipedia to sanitize the episode, radio show host Don Imus’s “nappy-headed ho’s” comment draws 1273 words from Wikipedia, more than all of Sharpton’s controversies combined. And who appears in Imus’ entry to label his words “abominable”, “racist”, and “sexist” and to demand his termination? Sharpton the anti-Semite.

Wikipedia cannot even bring itself to use the word “anti-Semite” anywhere within Sharpton’s entry. So of course there is not a quote provided from critics who regard Sharpton as such. More time is spent on a very mild homophobic remark (80 words,) and Sharpton’s anti-Mormon comments with his apology (231 words.)

How did Sharpton’s entry earn such a thorough clean-up? Examining the Al Sharpton “talk” page provides the answers and reveals the page’s leftist protector. Casual Wikipedia users might not notice that at the top of every Wikipedia entry is a secondary page labeled “Discussion.” It’s here where editors are encouraged to discuss significant changes to the articles and try to achieve the Wikipedia utopia of “consensus.” Visit these pages and you’ll find the ideas which are excluded from entries and – occasionally – justifications why.

When one frustrated contributor links several conservatives who describe Sharpton as a “race hustler” and demands to know why such criticism is not permitted, he is mocked by an administrator-level user (a veteran Wikipedia editor with the extra ability to “protect” pages from other editors changing them and also to block specific editors from contributing.) The administrator has the Malcolm X-inspired handle Malik Shabazz and responds sarcastically: “Wow. Four race hustlers accuse Sharpton of being a race hustler. Film at 11.”

A day later another unregistered user (one who has not created a Wikipedia name and instead is identified only by his computer’s IP address) responded to this abuse of authority. Venting his frustration at Shabazz’s dictatorial behavior in securing the page, 96.224.55.81 knows he is one of Wikipedia’s “second class citizens” when he writes:

One does not need to resort to conservative commentators, as the person above does, to see that Al Sharpton has done more to harm race relations in New York City than to help. In fact, in my own attempt to solicit revision to the misleading and inaccurate current narrative describing Al Sharpton’s divisive, destructive, and unjust (prosecute the driver for murder?) “contributions” to the Howard Beach attack and the Bensonhurst attack, I cited two very fair minded, objective, and reliable sources whose credentials are beyond reproach. Yet my request for any editor to make these changes to the semi protected article [ “semi-protected” is the status for all biographies of living people – they require an administrator’s okay before changes go live] has resulted in no result. Apparantly [sic] you, Mr. Malik Shabazz, are “in charge” of the Al Sharpton Wikipedia page, and I concede defeat to you. Anonymous users, however fair minded and however much they follow Wikipedia rules, are impotent when faced with someone dedicated to being guardian of entrenched fluff pieces that hide inconvenient facts. You win. I now see that I have to become a registered user to even hope to have a chance of getting the Wikipedia Al Sharpton entries for Howard Beach and Bensonhurst to reflect the truth…. It seems as though the entire raison detre of the Howard Beach and Bensonhurst Al Sharpton Wikipedia entries is for the single minded purpose of sanitizing the Sharpton role there, and to tar and feather these entire communities. In Howard Beach, who called 911 during the attack, and said please send the police some teens are beating a Black man? Yup, the White residents of Howard Beach, whose houses the mob of thugs passed by. But you wouldn’t know it from Wikipedia. 96.224.55.81 (talk) 02:19, 19 August 2011 (UTC)

Who is Shabazz? His user page tells the whole story in uncomfortable detail. He claims to be a secular, African-American Jew who identifies as a feminist and an anarchist. Strangely, his feminism does not prevent him from boasting on his page that he “enjoys pornography” and that he’s a member of Wikiproject Pornography, the team that creates Wikipedia’s obsessive database of adult film stars.

[3] Leave out the Embarrassing ‘Personal Life’ details.

One of the most sanitized of Wikipedia entries is that of Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC.) In the ‘70s and ‘80s Dees rose in prominence as a “courageous” white Southerner who dared to sue racist organizations like the Klan. Through Dees and the SPLC’s legal strategy the Klan was bankrupted. Thus, the SPLC quickly became the best-funded “Civil Rights” organization in the country as Dees’ lawsuits attracted the tax-exempt donation dollars of guilty whites eager to go after racist rednecks. And of course Dees was lionized with his own 1991 TV movie, described at the Internet Movie Database as,

This is the story of Morris Dees, a civil rights lawyer, who’s being threatened, so he has to have an armed bodyguard.

The SPLC has since leveraged much of this success into attempts to marginalize mainstream conservative organizations with the “racist,” “bigot,” “hate group,” and “homophobe” slurs. The SPLC aims these rhetorical weapons exclusively at groups on the political Right. Islamist and leftist groups who engage in hate speech are exempt from the SPLC’s efforts.

In spite of the useful services it provides to the Left’s causes, what has become apparent even to Dees’ progressive colleagues is that his organization is primarily a scheme for him to make money. A devastating article in Harper’s in 2000 by progressive journalist Ken Silverstein revealed that,

The Center earned $44 million last year alone–$27 million from fund-raising and $17 million from stocks and other investments–but spent only $13 million on civil rights program , making it one of the most profitable charities in the country.

Silverstein’s article features quotes from Dees himself and former associates revealing that this was no accident. Dees brags that he learned to “hustle” from going to church.

You think a conservative would be able to get away with this kind of shameless, nonprofit fraud? Wikipedia would likely create a standalone page for such a controversy if it came from  the Right. Dees has been exposed not only in Harper’s but in  The Nation, the Left’s most influential publication. Yet Wikipedia drops this material down the memory hole.

It’s not as if some of its insiders have not tried to get an accurate entry for Dees. On the Morris Dees “talk” page, three users voice their unanswered objections under the heading “Morris Dees entire Bio page is a Whitewash”:

Substantiated information such as Dees documented abuse of his ex wife and his affairs, per Alabama court records has been removed from this document as well as statements from The Nation, Harpers, and even the SPLC’s hometown newspaper, the Montgomery Advertiser, which all came to the same conclusion: the SPLC is a self-propagating fundraising machine with little regard for the truth. If Wikipedia refuses to acknowledge all negative attributions then what possible value is the service? —Preceding unsigned comment added by 71.197.231.120 (talk) 18:57, 21 October 2009 (UTC)

I’m amazed at how one-sided and biased this bio is. None of the conclusions reported by Harpers or The Nation are attributed or reported. Also none of the divorce proceedings and physical abuse filings from Alabama courts are included. Most bizarrely, there is no documentation of the unbelievable amounts of money that the SPLC has used for the direct enrichment of Dees. Wikipedia is rarely credible when it comes to bios. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Bellinghamsailor (talk • contribs) 19:12, 21 October 2009 (UTC)

This most definitely is a whitewash and shows yet again one of the fatal flaws of Wikipedia: some people are more equal than others. Maybe if I were a scam artist raking in big bucks by creating hysteria, I, too, could influence what goes on Wikipedia. Someone had the temerity to accuse me of being someone on the other side of the ocean, just because I saw the added information and that it had suddenly vanished and I then reverted it. I’d read the information elsewhere and think it should be part of Morris Dees’ entry. Is he going to come after me now and break my knees or something? Nothing would surprise me now. The whole thing is patently unfair. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 174.54.30.118 (talk) 02:41, 13 January 2010 (UTC)

The last anonymous Wikipedian nailed it: “Maybe if I were a scam artist raking in big bucks by creating hysteria, I, too, could influence what goes on Wikipedia.” Contrary to Wikipedia’s rhetoric about being a democratic, anti-elite, open encyclopedia “anyone” can edit, on this particular farm some animals are more equal than others.

If Wikipedia leftists cannot be trusted to be unbiased on the most extreme of cases like Dees and Sharpton then can one really expect fairness on other genuinely controversial political territory? Sharpton and Dees are reviled even by many on the Left who accurately regard them as charlatans and racial bomb throwers out to “hustle” their way to multi-millionaire lifestyles. Yet after a decade, the process created by Wikipedia’s founders to find an objective truth has instead been hijacked to further enable these men  who have conned Americans out of millions of dollars over the course of their honorary degree-laden careers in “professional” activism. Wikipedia is the first google search result for Sharpton and the second for Dees. Thus, Wikipedia is complicit in the duo’s schemes.

I wonder if deep down Wikipedia’s founders Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger recognize the Frankenstein’s Monster they’ve unleashed. Certainly, at least Sanger – who left Wikipedia in 2002 and now runs the competing encyclopedia Citizendium — sees his beast with eyes wide open. (Citizendium runs on completely different rules than Wikipedia and results in fewer but more accurate, less biased articles.) How much longer until the rest of the world wakes up to the false information utopia called Wikipedia? Considering the rate at which Wikipedia’s editors are abandoning the project it likely will be sooner than one thinks.


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