March 11, 2009
A right-wing pundit has been caught red-handed manufacturing controversy after claiming US President Barack Obama's Wikipedia page was being whitewashed, in a scandal that fooled big news outlets including Fox News.
Aaron Klein, the Jerusalem bureau chief at online news publication WorldNetDaily (WND), reported that Obama's Wikipedia entry was far too positive and did not mention his claimed links with controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright and "Weatherman terrorist" Bill Ayers.
The entry also did not mention concerns surrounding Obama's eligibility to serve as US commander-in-chief due to an alleged lack of proof that he was born in the US, Klein said. But Klein neglected to mention that there was an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the Obama citizenship claims.
The claims are regarded in the US as conservative conspiracy theories.
Klein claimed Wikipedia's army of volunteer editors were quickly censoring edits on the Obama entry and appeared on Fox News airing the claims.
He reported that a Wikipedia user, Jerusalem21, had attempted to add in the missing details but they were quickly deleted by a Wikipedia administrator for being "fringe" theories. When the user attempted to add the details a second time he was suspended from Wikipedia for three days.
Klein did not identify who owned the Jerusalem21 account but further digging by the ConWebWatch blog discovered that the only entry the user had tried to edit other than Obama's was Klein's. Jerusalem21 had created Klein's entry and edited it 37 times, adding several links and pictures.
Claims that Jerusalem21 was Klein himself are backed up by discussions by Wikipedia administrators on the talk page attached to Klein's entry.
"It reads as a total puff piece and was obviously heavily influenced by Klein himself and cronies/sockpuppets at WND," one wrote.
Further, when questions were raised about the identity of Jerusalem21, Klein edited his original story to remove references to Jerusalem21, replacing them with "one Wikipedia user".
Eventually, in response to emailed questions from Wired News, Klein admitted he had a hand in engineering the facts used to stand up his scandal. But he blamed the Jerusalem21 edits on his researcher.
"I am not 'Jerusalem21', but I do know the Wikipedia user (he works with me and does research for me), and I worked with him on this story," Klein said.
It is not clear whether he was referring to Klein but Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales recently wrote on his Twitter page: "Conspiracy theorists are exhausting. The facts mean nothing to them; their pursuit of a villain trumps all. Any response only brings ire."
WorldNetDaily has a history of attacking Wikipedia and Obama. At the time of writing, two of the lead stories on the site are headlined "Obama earns an 'F' on performance" and "Has Obama been snubbing U.N. chief?".
In December, WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah, miffed that his Wikipedia entry had been modified to include a line that he was a "noted homosexual", wrote an opinion piece labelling the free encyclopedia "a provider of inaccuracy and bias" and a "wholesale purveyor of lies and slander unlike any other the world has ever known".
In May last year, another article accused Wikipedia of promoting porn by including "detailed photos of nude homosexual men engaging in sex acts and a variety of other sexually explicit images and content".