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...a sweatshop of moxie

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Insidious Wikipedia

After Honest Reporting, a fairness-in-reporting watchdog, exposed the Anti-Israeli hijacking of Wikipedia entries, I was reminded of a similar topic.

Wikipedia has a project website called "Simple English".

It is like its better known brother, an user-generated encyclopaedia which allows anyone to add or to change entries. The only caveat is, it has to be in...Simple English.

Wordy is in. Verbose is out. Literally.

So far, so good.

And who knows, maybe it might help foreigners just learning English; or immigrants to the US who 40 years hence, still don't speak a lick of the local language -- but that's just me the ex-English instructor talking snarkily.

Our original point was that Wikipedia had an anti-Israel bias, but I contend it's part of a larger bias: one to do with a progressive bias.

There are so many articles I've screen-captured in the past to illustrate my point, in hopes I would write precisely this type of post, but sadly, my database imploded when my last Hard Drive went to meet its Maker.

But I do recall two entries which do give you a flavour of what I mean.

Without further ado, I give you two Simple English entries -- one for ex-President Bill Clinton. The other for President George W. Bush.

(Remember, this is most probably intended for children doing their homework, or foreigners trying to grasp the complexities of topics in their simplest English terms)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH - 43rd President of the United States

George Walker Bush (born July 6, 1946) is the current President of the United States of America. He is a Republican, and Dick Cheney is his Vice President. He is from Midland, Texas. He has a ranch in Crawford, Texas, which is near Waco.

He is the son of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush. Before he was President, George Bush was Governor of Texas. He is married to Laura, and they have twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara.

Early years

Bush was born in Connecticut. He went to school at Yale University, which is famous for a high standard of education. He lived briefly in Midland, Texas on a ranch. He joined the Texas Air National Guard (part of the United States National Guard) during the Vietnam War, but did not fight in Vietnam.

2000 election

During the 2000 United States presidential election, Florida was a state where the election was not clear. It took more than a month to know who won. The Supreme Court made a decision to stop recounting votes, and at that time Bush was declared the winner. The election is still controversial.

2004 election

In the 2004 United States presidential election, Bush won again. His opponent was Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a Democrat.


After the attacks of September 11 2001, Bush ordered an invasion of Afghanistan. Later he wanted something done about Iraq. Bush asked the United Nations to take away all Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. The United Nations refused because there was no proof Iraq had any weapons. He sent the United States Army into Iraq on March 20, 2003 and took control of the country. Saddam Hussein was captured and Iraq killed him as punishment for War Crimes. Even today, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. Elections happened for the first time in the country, but violence continues.


Bush sometimes has trouble speaking in public, and sometimes makes a mistake or says something opposite to what he means. These mistakes have lead to the creation of the phrase "Bushism". Many websites on the Internet collect Bushisms.


A lot of people have made arguments against Bush because of his views, mainly on the War in Irag.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON - 42nd President of the United States

William Jefferson Clinton (born August 19, 1946), better known as Bill Clinton, was the 42nd president of the United States. He served from 1993 to 2001. He was 46 years old when he was elected. His major opponents were George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole. Clinton was the first president from the Baby Boom generation and was the third youngest president in the U.S. He is a Democrat. Clinton's supporters say he helped bring the economic boom of the 1990s. His presidency was very controversial to most Republicans.

Before he was president, Clinton was also governor of Arkansas (1979-1981 and 1983-1993).

In 1994, during Clinton's first term in office, the Congress switched to a Republican majority. However, Clinton still beat Republican Bob Dole in the 1996 election.

President Clinton was accused of wrongdoing by the U.S. House of Representatives in December 1998 during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Although he lied that she did not give him oral sex, he was found to have done nothing wrong by the U.S. Senate in February 1999. The scandal had little effect on his popularity, and he left office with some of the highest approval ratings of any president.

He is married to Senator Hillary Clinton and now lives in New York.

...the differences in tone between these two entries are as chalk and cheese.

In the Bill Clinton entry, gone are the niggling details regarding controversies with the exception of the Monica Lewinsky case. But they could have hardly avoided mentioning HER.

Simply nothing about Whitewater, his law licence suspension for 5 years in Arkansas stemming from his perjury charges, his ignominious last day in Office Presidential Pardons. Nada.

In the George Bush entry, the emphasis is completely different. Let me give you a few examples.

- Bill Clinton gets a pass for being a draft dodger, but George Bush's entry mentions that though he served in the National Guard, he didn't fight in Vietnam.

- Bill Clinton is "controversial" to most Republicans, without mentioning he was controversial to a whole slew of people, regardless of affiliation, making it seem it was an one-way street of hatred.

- George Bush's handling of the Iraq War is, of course, fair game. However, it would be helpful if they could actually spell the country's name correctly...

But no mention of Bill Clinton's diplomatic failures as President are mentioned at all, even for purposes of historical clarity. The entry for Iraq ends on a sour note, by noting violence still continues. Since none of President Clinton's foreign policies are mentioned, we can only speculate how they would've been phrased.

- Whilst George Bush's linguistic laspes and popularity receive their own specialised, inherently negative entries, Bill Clinton has NO sub-categories; in fact, though as mentioned, the Lewinsky scandal is noted, the entry ends with a cheery:

"The scandal had little effect on his popularity, and he left office with some of the highest approval ratings of any president."

Wikipedia, on paper, is a fantastic and handy online guide for people who need quick information on topics. I use it all the time.

But to ignore their slithering insinuations, no matter how many times they cite certain topics have been flagged for their controversial or biased tone, the fact remains:

Many of their entries tend to highlight the negative whenever a conservative subject is referenced, and they are more forgiving when the liberal viewpoint is being discussed.

Transferring the blame to the users should not fool anyone.

Bias is always top-down.


Pope Benedict/Margaret Thatcher's Entries Hijacked
Anti-Israeli Subversion on Wikipedia
BackSpin's Commenters Weigh In
Matt Sanchez' Wiki-Whacked Exposé
Avid Editor Notes Similar Behaviour on Digg.com

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  • Well, when writing about the worst and the best American presidents in recent history, you'd expect some bias to creep in, even if the writers tried to be neutral. Let me see you write Wiki entries about Castro and about John Paul II (for example) and keep the tone similar in both.

    In any event, I'm sure that in most cases this bias (to the extent it exists) is involuntary; I didn't notice anything untoward in both entries while reading them, until I reached your explanations. In fact, I could have written these entries, thinking they were fair and objective.

    Anyhow, Vicks, I'm worried about the direction your thoughts have taken lately - too much politicizing and bushing, too little jeu de vivre, soccer and fun reading. Here are two prime reading grounds, in case you didn't already know about them: Half Sigma and Damn Interesting. They are on both sides of Sundries in my Reading bookmarks section, which should give you an indication of how highly I think of them (or, conversely, how highly I think of Sundries). :)


    By Blogger El Kot, at Thu May 15, 05:56:00 am GMT-4  

  • my database imploded when my last Hard Drive went to meet its Maker.

    Gosh! Gloria got sick in transit on Monday!

    -- Simple English version...

    By Blogger Ron, at Thu May 15, 08:14:00 am GMT-4  

  • While el kot makes an interesting point about your Castro/JPII Wiki entries, I still think you're a hoot-and-a-half, Vic...

    I just missed the Carnivale blogging...

    By Blogger Ron, at Thu May 15, 08:16:00 am GMT-4  

  • Well...
    *completely ignores gist of the post*

    my database imploded when my last Hard Drive went to meet its Maker

    You do have a knack for imploding computer stuff, don't you ;-)

    By Anonymous madcynic, at Thu May 15, 10:10:00 am GMT-4  

  • Let me see you write Wiki entries about Castro and about John Paul II (for example) and keep the tone similar in both.

    Elko, I am not angry with you, but I am hurt about your insinuation.

    Not only am I am Historian by training, and can speak about any topic without TOO much bias creeping in when necessary, but this shows me that after all these years, you still don't understand what kind of a person I am.

    Maybe you'd like to scroll down a few posts, to my article praising the Obama-supporting Caroline Kennedy, for you to get your response on my possible tone and bias.

    Again, I'm not angry, though I sound abrupt in my reply.


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu May 15, 02:24:00 pm GMT-4  

  • As an aside, I've decided last month that my return to blogging coincides with writing on politics until the election year is over.

    Then, with that hopefully out of my system, I'll return to more moxie-like topics.

    However, I'll try to combine the irreverent style and unusual topics with politics whenever possible. Stay tuned for one such post, soon!


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu May 15, 02:27:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Elko, I am not angry with you, but I am hurt about your insinuation.

    Vicks, please don't feel hurt! You know I had no intention of insinuating anything. I just happen to think that total objectivity and lack of bias is not humanly possible, even in the best of us. We are so immersed in our belief systems, that even when trying our best, there are aspects we remain blind to. I am constantly reminded of that (and humbled) when discussing stuff on a Russian forum with some very religious (Christian orthodox) people. Their worldview produces perspectives that I instantly grok, but being agnostic, would never be able to produce on my own. Their unattenuated opinions appear biased to me, as undoubtedly mine do to them, before we equalize terms. Being Catholic, you'd be better able to remove any bias with them, in this particular example.

    I'd be happy to be proven wrong about your objectivity however. I think highly of you anyway, so there is but a small step to accepting that you truly transcend the prejudices that flesh is heir to. :)


    By Blogger El Kot, at Fri May 16, 02:01:00 am GMT-4  

  • Elko, no worries! Thanks for saying that though. :)

    I just happen to think that total objectivity and lack of bias is not humanly possible, even in the best of us.

    I agree, but that doesn't mean one can't point stuff out, and try to correct it, when you see it happening.

    My point is not about the users' opinions, but the tolerance and therefore tacit encouragement these kinds of things receive by the powers-that-be.

    It is they I hold accountable, first and foremost.

    Of course, my most important point is that it happens. I gave you reasons in my two examples, of those differences.

    But I want to know why it happens, and is allowed to remain.

    BTW, I wouldn't alter any Wikipedia article. That's a little too geeky even for me. :)


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri May 16, 04:14:00 am GMT-4  

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