ABC Covers Wikipedia Scandal; Ignores Role of NYT and BBC

On Monday, "Good Morning America" reporter John Berman ignored any role that journalists might have in the developing scandal of anonymous individuals altering Wikipedia entries. On the ABC program, Berman alerted viewers to the fact that companies such as Wal-Mart and Starbucks have changed sections in their Wikipedia bios. However, he skipped the recent revelation that both the BBC and New York Times have been linked to derogatory, childish alterations in President Bush’s entry. (CNN covered the story on August 16.)

Berman began the segment by asking viewers how they would feel if they knew "the entry on Wal-Mart was edited by someone inside Wal-Mart? The Starbucks entry? By someone inside Starbucks." He also noted that the CIA has changed its section. However, the ABC reporter failed to explain that a new computer program, which can determine who alters Wikipedia information, traced the culprit behind the addition of the words "jerk, jerk, jerk" to President Bush’s Wikipedia profile. The source? A New York Times computer. There was also no discussion of a similar incident involving the insertion of the word "wanker" to Bush’s entry from a BBC computer.

Berman closed the report by quoting from Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales. He intoned, "Wales says, ‘People should understand you are not necessarily as anonymous as you think,’ not even the CIA." Apparently liberal journalists with a grudge against President Bush aren’t anonymous either.

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:17am on August 20, follows:

Robin Roberts: "Now to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that's quickly becoming a household name, a favorite of anyone looking for an obscure fact or just some help with their homework. It is written entirely by anonymous authors, anonymous until now. Because those shadowy Wikipedia authors are being thrust out into the open and their identities may surprise you. John Berman has the story."

John Berman: "Wikipedia has more than 10 million people visiting its site every day looking for the truth. But what if you knew that the entry on Wal-Mart was edited by someone inside Wal-Mart? The Starbucks entry? By someone inside Starbucks. Even the CIA is in the game. Most people know that anyone can edit Wikipedia entries. But now, for the first time, we're learning where some of the changes are coming from. 24-year-old Virgil Griffith wrote a program, Wikiscanner, that can match edits to Wikipedia entries to the computer networks they come from. We spoke to him by web phone."

Virgil Griffith (Wikiscanner creator): "Companies are trying to manipulate things if they can. As for the CIA, they, they added very large sections. Another one is congressmen whitewashing all their pages so they will remove things like campaign promises."

Berman: "His program found that someone at a Wal-Mart computer apparently changed this line. It used to say, ‘Wages at Wal-Mart were 20 percent less than other stores.’ The new entry says, ‘The average wage at Wal-Mart is double the minimum wage.’ Or how about this one? What happens when someone from a Democratic Party computer edits the entry on Rush Limbaugh? He goes from ‘a popular’ entertainer and talk show host to an ‘idiotic’ one. Last year I spoke to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales."

Jimmy Wales: "We value openness. We value participation, but openness and participation can take a lot of different forms."

Berman: "Wales says, ‘People should understand you are not necessarily as anonymous as you think,’ not even the CIA. For ‘Good Morning America,’ I'm John Berman, ABC News."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org