Friday, May 25, 2012

How Right-Wingers Took Over Wikipedia


Wikipedia is one of the most useful sites on the Web. It's a fantastic reference source that provides an incredible wealth of data on an endless variety of topics.

A big strength of Wikipedia is that anyone can edit any article. If, for example, an expert on quantum mechanics happens to notice a small factual error in the Wikipedia article on that topic, he or she can easily fix it on the spot. By harnessing the power of the knowledge of millions of people, Wikipedia has grown into the world's biggest reference resource.

However, Wikipedia's strength is also its biggest flaw. The very fact that anyone can edit an article means that errors, spin and bias can easily creep into the Wikipedia database.

If you're looking to read up on millions of disparate topics, from aardvarks to Frank Zappa, Wikipedia can offer you an enormous amount of helpful info that is reasonably free of bias.

But there's one big exception: articles on current political figures and topics.

Here, Wikipedia falls woefully short in its goal of providing a "neutral point of view."

Increasingly over the years, literally thousands of Wikipedia's political articles have gradually and quietly been given a right-wing spin. And thousands of articles on political figures ranging from Ronald Reagan to Glenn Beck have been either sanitized, or given a pro-GOP slant.

Normally, the open nature of Wikipedia prevents such mischief. Typically, if someone introduces biased, or incorrect information into an article, it is quickly corrected by other visitors.

But this process has clearly failed on Wikipedia when it comes to thousands of articles on current political topics.

The reason is obvious: the right-wing "contributors" are ferociously tenacious. They will go in and sanitize and slant an article over and over until it reads the way they want it to. These people are well-organized, ruthless and determined and they usually eventually get their way, via sheer blunt force. In this respect, they're much like Fox "News" and right-wing talk radio in that they believe if they simply repeat something over and over, it becomes "fact."

To be sure, from my experience with Wikipedia over the years, I've seen some of this behavior from progressives as well on Wikipedia---but it is nickel-dime, compared to the massive, sweeping efforts made by right-wingers to bend reality to suit their point of view.

I first started noticing Wikipedia's right-wing spin in 2008 when I accessed the main article on George W. Bush. I was looking for some quick info about Valerie Plame. I was surprised to find zero mentions of Plame in the Bush article.

I then tried to raise this issue on the article's "Discussions" page and I found that merely typing in the word "Plame" triggered a text robot that blocked any posts from mentioning Plame on that article. Clearly, a Bush-friendly editor was very determined to sanitize the article of any and all mentions about Plame.

I found this truly astonishing. Whatever one thinks of the Plame affair, it's incredible that Wikipedia main article about Bush would contain zero mentions about this case. It were as though Karl Rove himself had edited the article and had carefully airbrushed out anything that could possibly have a hint of negativity about his boss.

By contrast, the Wikipedia articles on various Democrats could have been written by Rush Limbaugh himself.

For example, at the same time Wikipedia was blocking any mentions of the Plame affair from the Bush article, the main Wikipedia article on Bill Clinton included a massive, seven-part "Controversies" section. This section rounded up every single right-wing nutcase allegation ever made against Clinton (quite an impressive feat when you consider all the crazed conspiracy theories that swirled around Clinton in the 1990s).

By contrast, at the time, no "Controversies" section existed in the Bush article (although there was a modest two-part "Criticism and public perception" section).

Of course, Wikipedia's contest is dynamic and fluid and a lot of what I found in 2008 has now changed. For example, there is now a very brief mention of Plame in the Bush article.

But it's clear that the ongoing right-wing spin process continues to contaminate Wikipedia articles.

A recent example is the Wikipedia article on Glenn Beck.

Do you remember Beck's controversy from May 17, 2005? That was the day Beck made astonishing and chilling remarks about killing Michael Moore. His exact words were: "I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could."

Beck's remarks (understandably) created a firestorm of controversy. Moore even opened his 2011 book, Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life with the Beck quote, as an example of the crazy, violent rhetoric that he has faced over the years from the wingnut crowd.

It's important to note that at no time did Beck ever claim he was joking, or making the comment in jest. And Beck never apologized or faced any consequences for his remark.

No doubt, after a while, Beck just wanted the whole issue to go away. And today, it's clear that he's gotten his wish. In fact, seven years later, it's as though the incident never occurred.

If you read the Wikipedia article on Beck, there is absolutely nothing about Beck's comments about killing Michael Moore. Not one word. In fact, the article is largely sanitized of Beck's long history of making inflammatory, crazy remarks.

For example, do you remember Beck's controversial 2010 Tides Foundation remarks? That episode too, has been completed omitted from the Wikipedia article on Beck. In fact, the article reads like a big, wet sloppy kiss and a Valentine to Beck.

Of course, the article on Beck is hardly the only slanted article on Wikipedia. A casual scan of topics ranging from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton also shows a heavy right-wing spin.

One of the very few exceptions is the Wikipedia article on global warming. After a long, ferocious back-and-forth struggle over the years, Wikipedia's editors finally locked down that article to prevent tampering from the wingnut climate change deniers.

On that article, one currently finds a detailed FAQ on the discussions page that answers all the questions that weary Wikipedia editors have had to answer, over and over, in disputing the Rush Limbaugh crowd. As a result of this policy, the "global warming" article is one of the few major Wikipedia articles that hasn't been subjected to right-wing spin.

The problem is, thousands of other Wikipedia articles are open to editing by anyone---and as a result, virtually every article on a right-wing figure has been carefully sanitized. At the same time, most Wikipedia articles on Democratic figures tend to read like they were edited by Fox News.

The Wikipedia articles on everyone from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama round up every single nutcase right-wing allegation ever made against these people. And if the likes of progressive commentators from Ed Schultz to Michael Moore ever did or said anything in the least bit controversial, you can be sure to read about it in detail on Wikipedia.

One quick example to prove my point: at different times in their careers, both Schultz and Beck have gotten into trouble for using the word "slut." But while the Wikipedia article on Schultz details the controversy his comment created, the Wikipedia article on Beck completely avoids any mention of the time Beck called Cindy Sheehan a "slut." As ever, the double standard on Wikipedia is blatant and sickening.

Of course, since Wikipedia's content is fluid and dynamic, the situation may have changed by the time you read this. But if that's the case, you can be assured that such content won't survive long on Wikipedia before it is eventually deleted or altered by right-wingers.

As I said, the right-wingers are tenacious and determined. They'll do whatever it takes to bend Wikipedia to suit their reality.

Today's right-wingers know exactly what they want. And they'll play hardball to do whatever it takes to win. For example, we saw this in the 2000 elections, when the GOP brownshirt thugs staged riots and intimidated the Florida voter counters, while Al Gore's people just sat around politely waiting for the phone to ring.

The right-wingers may not have the facts on their side. But they do have the determination and will to get what they want by brute force. And as a result, Wikipedia, the world's largest and most popular reference site, now has a right-wing slant on thousands of its articles.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Viva la France: Socialist Hollande Wins Presidency


I've really enjoyed following the recent French elections. I must admit, I feel envious of the French in many ways. One thing I greatly admire is their election system. There, voters have a choice of numerous candidates, from the far left to the far right. (I should note that, in France, the "far right" refers to a candidate that is in many ways far to the left of most U.S. Democratic politicians---a fact that is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media). I also like the run-off aspect of the French election system. There, one would never see a debacle like "Bush v. Gore," which made a mockery of democracy in the U.S.

On Sunday, Socialist Francois Hollande won the French presidency. And unlike America's wimpy Dems, Hollande doesn't shy away from his strong Progressive convictions. He has pledged a 75 percent tax on those making over $1 million a year.

I notice that the U.S. and U.K. corporate media have tried to portray this as an extremist stance that will harm France's economy. Strangely enough, the same articles usually go on to claim that this tax policy won't raise much money anyway. But if that's the case, then why the fierce opposition to it by the corporate media?

In any case, claims that Hollande is an "extremist" are wildly off the mark. He is, after all, popular with most of the French people. And, in fact, his popularity really started to soar after he announced the 75 percent tax on the rich. Publications like "The Economist" and "The Wall Street Journal," which have tried to portray Hollande as a dangerous extremist and as bad for French democracy are laughable. The fact is, it's the corporate media itself that is contemptuous of democracy. The People, after all, have spoken. And to ridicule the will of The People is to show how the corporate media really despises democracy.

I see a lot of misinformation and outright lies about France in the U.S. corporate media. Generally, the image portrayed of France is that of a nation that is suffering from a horrible economy, where the people are gloomy and miserable and, if France would only "see the light" and deregulate its economy, U.S.-style, it'd prosper.

This, of course, is all a crock. I know this, because I've been to France and I've seen it first-hand. OK, the economy does have its problems. But in France, I saw none of the extreme, bottom-of-the barrel poverty that is increasingly common in the U.S.

France, of course, is not a utopia. But it is a nation that where the gap between rich and poor is much less extreme than the U.S. In France, even the poor have a substantial social safety net. And the French health-care system is one of the best in the world (in fact, it was ranked No. 2, after Italy, in a recent World Health Organization ranking).

I mentioned this fact to a few right-wing friends of mine and they disputed it, claiming that the World Health Organization is a "Liberal" group. When I asked them if they had any evidence that contradicts the WHO, one of them said, "I sure do!" We continued debating for a few minutes and then finally he named his source: Rush Limbaugh. I pointed out to this person that even the "Wall Street Journal" recently did an in-depth investigation into the French health-care system and praised it as one of the best in the world. "Well, that must be a Liberal publication, too," my right-wing friend said. Somewhere, Rupert Murdoch's ears must have been burning.

Anyway, during my visit, the French people I saw seemed happy and content with their lives. I visited during August and I found that during that month, virtually the entire nation takes the whole month off. (In France, every worker gets a minimum of 5 weeks paid vacation, as well as loads of holidays and sick days).

The latter was something that really impressed me. After all, I've worked jobs in the past that offered zero sick days. I once tried to call in sick when I had the full-blown flu and was told that I'd be fired if I didn't come into work. I tried to explain that, if I came in, not only would I not be productive, but I'd wind up spreading the virus all over the workplace. "I don't care," my boss said. "You need to come in anyway." (Note that in my five years with this company, I had never even tried to take a single sick day).

I've tried to explain this to my European friends and, without exception, they're stunned that American workers put up with this sort of crap. "People would take to the streets if employers tried to do that here," one French acquaintance told me.

Besides blasting France and making up lies about what its like to live there, I notice a lot of my right-wing acquaintances are constantly mocking and ridiculing the French as "surrender monkeys" and "weaklings."

I recall the "surrender monkey" insults that were flying around before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. But frankly, to continue to mock and insult the French even today, in the aftermath of that disastrous war, is just frankly bizarre. I recall telling one right-winger, "But the French look pretty smart to have not participated in that godawful war---after all, no WMDs were ever found!" My right-wing acquaintance looked at me and then said, "Have you Libs already forgotten 9/11?" I then stopped the debate, realizing it was pointless.

As far as the other charge the wingnuts level against the French---that they're weaklings and cowards---well, who are the real weaklings these days? French workers, after all, don't take any sh*t from the rich and powerful. If workers there see their rights under threat, they'll immediately take to the streets and fight for their rights.

Here, in America, workers are timid and scared to stand up for their rights. Very rarely do workers here take to the streets. Instead we politely bend over and spread our ass cheeks so we can get f*cked by the Rich and Powerful, again and again. This is why we have zero government-mandated vacation days or sick days (which makes America unique in this regard among First World nations). Even the likes of India and China require some vacation days and holidays for workers these days.

So who are the real cowards? It sure as hell ain't the French.