At Politico, Andrew Restuccia reports on a spat between President Obama’s detractors and apologists over Wikipedia’s Solyndra entry:
Editors on Wikipedia have also taken the precaution of prohibiting unregistered users from changing the article, a common step for controversial topics.
While vigorous debate among Wikipedia editors over an entry is commonplace, the Solyndra fight mirrors the divisive political dialogue on the ill-fated solar company, which received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Obama administration in 2009.
The GOP has alleged that the administration approved the loan to please Obama’s campaign donors, a claim that Republicans in Congress have been unable to prove after more than a year of document requests and hearings. But they have unearthed emails documenting keen interest by White House aides in the company’s travails, debates about the optics of Obama’s May 2010 visit to its plant in California, and discussions about Solyndra between federal officials and Obama fundraiser George Kaiser — enough to keep the issue simmering.
So it’s little surprise to see it boiling over online.
Restuccia did good work during the Solyndra story, but here he defines “boiling” down. The debate over Wikipedia’s neutrality (and is it even possible to debate neutrality?) is within reasonable bounds for a distributed encyclopedia.
But there is an interesting story over the Wiki page for Brett Kimberlin, the convicted Speedway bomber, serial litigant and self-described pot dealer to Dan Quayle prior to Quayle’s term as the 44th Vice President of the United States (1989-1993).
Patrick Frey, Los Angeles County prosecutor and author of the indispensible Patterico’s Pontifications blog, describes his interaction with a volunteer Wikipedia editor after the temporary removal of the Kimberlin page:
Hello. My name is Patrick Frey and I operate a blog at patterico.com. I am interesting in knowing why you deleted the Wikipedia page on Brett Kimberlin. I have seen the deleted page and it was quite well sourced, with links to TIME Magazine and other news publications.
There was an entire book about this individual written by Mark Singer, a New Yorker writer. There is simply a wealth of reliable information out there about Kimberlin.
I read the reasoning for the deletion and did not understand it. I wonder if you could enlighten me. Thanks very much.
Symonds responded (emphasis mine):
I deleted the article back in September as a volunteer, because it served as an attack page. It was sourced, but was also unduly negative, and written by people who “had an axe to grind”. Although some of the facts were sourced, there was an undertone of maliciousness in the way that the article was written.
Mr Kimberlin was not a paragon of virtue, but the article as it stood simply painted him as a man with no positive qualities at all, which is obviously problematic in a neutral encyclopedia.
If the facts are sourced and accurate, perhaps the negative picture is accurate. Mr. Kimberlin is a man convicted of violent crimes. Portrayals of violent criminals tend to be largely negative, do they not? It sets a disturbing precedent to remove accurate facts from a neutral encyclopedia because those facts portray a violent convicted criminal in a negative light.
Also, how do you know the authors had an “axe to grind”? Who made this claim to you?
And why would that matter if the facts are accurate?
Symonds haughtily blew me off:
I’ve answered your questions and I have no real interest in discussing foreign politics with a blogger by email on my day off. The decision I made was backed up by others, the creators of the article were banned by the community, and I barely even remember the while episode. The whole event was entirely run of the mill, the sort of thing that happens on Wikipedia every day, and I have no real interest in left or right wing politics in North America.
All the best,
My second question (after “When did ‘discussing foreign politics with a blogger by email’ get redefined as work?”) is how the unimpressive Kimberlin was able to cloud the mind of New Yorker writer Mark Singer; attract an avid countercult whose ill-starred initiates do a fair job of proving he also has a regular cult; bring in [pdf] hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment to make “DVDs with musicians to educate youth about their voting and civil rights to get them to register and vote”; and maneuver his foes into jail time. How did this little man end up playing the Max Cady/Damien Thorn role in our collective B movie?
While Solyndra is still good for demonstrating that Mitt Romney doesn’t read Reason, it’s now of fan interest only. The rise and rise of Brett Kimberlin may or may not deserve Singer’s epithet “American Journey,” but it tells you more about this country than any half-billion-dollar political scandal.