Oh, Fine: I Knew Wikipedia Was Untrustworthy, And Now I Find Out It’s Partisan Too….

If the mainstream media, social media, and the most accessed encyclopedia won’t tell the truth without trying to manipulate it, what chance do we have?

Yesterday I again tip-toed into the realm of government lawyer ethics for a CLE seminar. As I did last week, I attempted to mention the most important government lawyer issues raised by the events of the past year without triggering partisan zealots and the anti-Trump deranged. I also noted that being a partisan zealot or anti-Trump deranged qualifies as a potential conflict of interest for a government lawyer, interfering with his or her ability to be objective, independent, competent, loyal and zealous. I did not say, but could have, as proven by Sally Yates. I know from past experience that this particular—100% accurate—observation is inviting a fight.

However, I did feel it necessary to discuss Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department official who is at the center of several Mueller investigation controversies. I am not yet prepared to weigh in on Orr, except to note this, as I did yesterday: The fact that Ohr served as the Justice Department contact for Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent commissioned to author the dubious Trump–Russia dossier that was used as the primary justification for the FISA warrants permitting surveillance of the Trump campaign, while Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that prepared the dossier under a contract with the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign (but I repeat myself), was a blatant conflict of interest, and arguably (and I’ll argue it) an unwaivable one. It also violates the ethics requirement that all government employees must follow to avoid the appearance of impropriety. (Pretty much the entire Mueller investigation has breached that. )

In the course of trying to confirm the basic facts of Ohr’s conduct, I consulted Wikipedia. Where else do you go these days for a dispassionate up-to-date recitation of facts without spin? Not  the New York Times. Not Fox News. As Frankie Pentangeli says to Michael Corleone, “Your father did business with Hyman Roth; your father respected Hyman Roth; but your father never trusted Hyman Roth.” That pretty much describes my relationship to Wikipedia. I don’t trust it. I frequently find errors in entries; I know people who have Wikipedia pages who are about as deserving of them, or less, than my Jack Russell Terrier; and I have never forgotten how my father spend hours correcting a wildly inaccurate Wikipedia article about a World War II battle that he was deeply involved in and wrote about in his book only to have his work rejected because Wikipedia does not accept, it said, “first hand accounts.” Wikipedia is a classic example of an imperfect resource that is both essential and hopelessly flawed by its very nature.

It does not, however have to be partisan and biased by its very nature. The Bruce Ohr entry reads like a Democratic Party advocacy piece, which I strongly suspect it is. The tone is entirely defensive and soaked with innuendo. If there is something that reflects badly on Ohr, it is attributed to ” right-wing conspiracy theories,” or Fox News. Defenses of Ohr from left-leaning news sources like the BBC or ABC News are quoted approvingly. We get statements of “fact” like “The FBI did not publicly reveal the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign during the campaign, in part so as not to hurt his electoral chances, contradicting the claim that the probe was an attempt to undermine Trump’s candidacy.” Of course, the presence of partisan individuals like Peter Stzok in the probe undermines that assumption.  Suspecting that many things were seriously amiss in the handling of the Russian investigation and the Mueller investigation is completely justified, and Wikipedia should not be representing otherwise. It would not be representing otherwise, if it was not part of a de facto partisan conspiracy to mislead the public and tamp down legitimate suspicion? All I was looking for were the facts that can be confirmed, and a neutral recitation of what is not definitively proven, but alleged. Thanks to the tone of the Wikipedia article, all I know for sure is that whoever wrote it has an agenda.

13 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

13 responses to “Oh, Fine: I Knew Wikipedia Was Untrustworthy, And Now I Find Out It’s Partisan Too….

  1. dragin_dragon

    It is quite possible that Ohr wrote it himself. A few local lawyers have done so as an entrance into politics.

  2. “Wikipedia is a classic example of an imperfect resource that is both essential and hopelessly flawed by its very nature.”

    Substitute “Bible” for “Wikipedia,” and there one sees a succinct expression of what is thought by increasing numbers of Western Hemisphere thinkers, political ideologues, theologians, and just plain self-satisfiedly bigoted ignoramuses (see what I did there?).

    So now, Wikipedia = Bible. Of course that’ll fix everything.

    • Huh? That is hard to unravel.

      • If you think that’s hard, slickwilly, try sitting at the computer where I am right now and succeeding at posting this reply. I hope to say more later – already have it written; it just WILL. NOT. POST. So, maybe one of these fucking computers will let me post, later.

      • luckyesteeyoreman

        SECOND fucking try to post what would not post after two tries last Friday…

        [Reply to slickwilly’s Aug 31 at 2:47 pm]

        My point is, everybody is supposed to trust Wikipedia, and everybody is expected to trust Wikipedia, even though it is a fact that Wikipedia is not trustworthy, as Jack has discussed here.

        Trust is an act of faith. Trust that something written in the Bible is true requires faith that that something is true, despite evidence (and even, using modern methods, despite LACK of evidence) that that something is not true. Trust that something written in Wikipedia is true requires faith that that something is true, even when what is written about that something in Wikipedia is verifiably not true.

        But: we humans are progressing, and are progressive (I started to get a little sarcastic there). And so, we have had enough of whatever has been questioned about the truth in the Bible; we are out of patience (aren’t we?) with arguments about the truthfulness of things written thousands of years ago, such as what is written and written about in the Bible. Things are written and written about there that some of us don’t like, or don’t trust to be true, and so, they must not be true.

        So, it’s time – way past time, if you’re progressive (here goes my sarcasm again!) – that everybody just move on. Trust what is written TODAY, and ONLY what is written by certain writers TODAY who are, practically speaking, INERRANT, or, claiming entitlement to the quality of INERRANCY. Trust such automatically and unquestioningly and FIRST, before trusting any of that boring, old, unrelatable-to-real-life-today, over-translated, over-argued OLD BIBLE stuff. Nobody who wrote in that ancient past was nearly as smart as anybody who writes for Wikipedia today. (Sarcastic enough?)

        Ergo, trust what is written in Wikipedia (the new Bible) before trusting any other source. Even if what is written there is wrong, if you believe it, it will be right. It will be correct, and YOU will be correct. Because you will have put your faith in the new, correct place. You will have placed your trust in the gods of TODAY.

        Didn’t Orwell write about a world like that?

  3. Steve-O-in-NJ

    I sometimes wonder if otherwise unemployed liberal people get paid to post comments and edit Wikipedia articles, just to make it look like the world is more liberal than it actually is, sort of like artist’s record companies used to pay a few people to act as “sock puppets” on artist forums to drive less than supportive fans away.

  4. Isaac

    Progressive college groups frequently hold “Wikipedia editing days.” I’d suggest that they care more about narrative-pushing then getting truthful information out, but I think to them those are the same thing.

  5. Alexander Cheezem

    I don’t think it’s fair to call Wikipedia politically biased based on a single article: Wikipedia is crowdsourced, which means that pretty much any random person can (and often does) edit the pages. You could likely find a number of pages with a similarly conservative bias — and the list of pages which are biased in any given direction is constantly shifting as different people edit them in various directions.

    This is precisely why Wikipedia is unreliable: it aggregates the knowledge of just about anyone who wants to contributes, but aggregates their mistakes and biases as well. Sure, there are procedures in place to minimize the effects of those… but they’re inherently imperfect.

    • I don’t get the logic. If the source is trustworthy, then it ensures that its articles are objective. If it allows bias, then it is biased. One major entry on a current political figure of importance is plenty to reach that conclusion. If the old Britanica said that Columbus was Spanish and thought the world was made of bananas, would you make the same “It’s just one article” argument?

      • PennAgain

        Not sure if this will help or hinder: I hope for the former.

        It’s not so much that Wikipedia is biased on the whole, as that it is so constructed as to allow bias to intrude on its individual parts. What Wiki does to counter that is to provide a place to post your objection, correction or argument on another part of the entry. It’s not much, but it is there. At the top of the page on Bruce Ohr are links to “TALK” and “VIEW HISTORY,” the latter of which will take you to “REVISIONS” which include items tagged for things like “unverified content.”

      • Alexander Cheezem

        I probably should have said “partisan” in this context — referencing your headline — but I was way too tired thanks to some annoying medical issues and am generally too used to thinking of bias in the statistical sense (where it’s differentiated from error by being systematically directional, something you can’t show without demonstrating a pattern).

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