Wikipedia habitually delivers unflattering content about conservative media figures while giving liberals a much lighter treatment. That's the result of an informal survey of the site. According to alexa.com, Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia project that can be edited by just about anyone, is currently number 12 in worldwide traffic rankings on the Web.
When one thinks of a conventional encyclopedia entry, one expects to find rudimentary information: full name, birth date, birthplace, family, education, and career highlights. Wikipedia takes it one step further - especially with conservatives.
Unflattering personal episodes, embarrassing revelations, and factual missteps are frequently a major staple in entries about conservative figures; they are most often filed under the heading of "Controversy" or "Criticism." Meanwhile, entries on liberal personalities rarely contain such headings; unflattering episodes by liberals are often non-existent or downplayed.
Take the entry on Bill O'Reilly. Major space in the article is dedicated under the heading "Sexual harassment lawsuits." Major space is devoted to debatable comments that O'Reilly has made on the air over the years. An anti-O'Reilly web site is promoted within the article. Readers can also click on separate entries called "Bill O'Reilly controversies" and "Critics and rivals of Bill O'Reilly." And a fourth article under the heading of The O'Reilly Factor gives critics of the show a prominent voice. (By the way, you'd think an article on The O'Reilly Factor might want to mention the fact that the show has had the largest audience in all of cable news for several years. This fact is buried about a third of the way down in the article on Bill himself.) The Andrea Mackris lawsuit is mentioned in three of the four articles related to Bill O'Reilly. Finally, while the entry on the liberal Rosie O'Donnell devotes an entire section to her charitable causes, no mention is made of the thousands of dollars that billoreilly.com has raised for charity over the years. There's a lot more to this, but I think you get the point.
At this point, supporters of Wikipedia may shout, "But the content in there is true! It's factual!" Yes - but this is not the point here. The point is that Wikipedia entries on liberal personalities often avoid similar unflattering portraits.
Take the entry on the liberal Al Franken. To be honest, I think this is what a decent encyclopedia entry should look like. Anyone wishing to find a wealth of information on the life of the Minnesota Senate candidate (-to-be) won't be disappointed. However, when compared to conservative counterparts, Franken's article is simply a puff promotional piece. Unflattering episodes are minimized. (A small paragraph tells of Franken tackling a heckler at a 2004 Howard Dean fundraiser, but the article puts a nice, gentle spin on it.) On the flip side, how about any of the following? Franken acknowledging cocaine use during his years in the offices of Saturday Night Live. (See pp. 119-120 of Live From New York by Shales and Miller; See also, Playboy, Feb. 2006, p. 131) ... Franken yelling the f-word into a mic onstage at a 2004 Dean fundraiser. (link, with video) ... Charges of plagiarism against Franken. (link) ... Franken's relationship to the Air America-Gloria Wise scandal. (link) ... Franken joking that war hero Sen. John McCain "sat out the war" because he had been captured. (Playboy, Feb. 2006, p. 46; see also this interview) ... Charges of racist and homophobic sketches written by Al at Saturday Night Live. (See pp. 65-66 of Do As I Say by Peter Schweizer) ... Franken writing in his book that "Republican politicians are shameless d!cks." (Page 58 of The Truth) ... The point is that there are plenty of unflattering episodes that could be cited when writing about Al Franken, but almost none are mentioned. If the name were Limbaugh, Coulter, Malkin, or Ingraham, you could safely bet that most of these tidbits would find prominent space in the article.
This disparate treatment is par for the course at Wikipedia. (Elizabeth Vargas, anyone?) And it's what we call bias. (Yes - there are exceptions. The entry on Michael Medved, for one, is a rare example of a straightforward article about a conservative.) Some more simple examples:
... The article on George W. Bush spotlights criticism of his military service during the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, the entry on Bill Clinton merely states, "While at Oxford he also participated in Vietnam War protests, including organizing an October 1969 Moratorium event." There is no mention of the various ways that Clinton allegedly maneuvered to avoid his military service (such as those highlighted in this article).
... The ACLU entry makes no mention of its defense of pedophile group NAMBLA in relation to the gruesome murder of youngster Jeffrey Curley.
... An entry called "Fox News Channel controversies" is quite lengthy and challenges the network's conservative slant. So you'd probably think that the entry on "CNN controversies and allegations of bias" would present several examples of its liberal slant, right? Sorry, folks. Much of the article actually promotes allegations of a conservative bias and suggests that the network has taken "a lenient approach to the Bush administration." Good ... freakin' ... grief ... Are you getting the picture? (By the way, in less than a year-and-a-half, CNN is a topic or a related topic in over 450 articles at NewsBusters.)
I could go on and on ... But here is one final example to drive home the point: Compare the articles about Media Research Center (MRC, the operator of this site) and a liberal group, Media Matters (MMFA). Fully half of MRC's entry is devoted to unflattering "Controversy" and "Criticism"; no examples of the site's content are provided. Meanwhile, there is nary a syllable of "criticism" or "controversy" found in the body of Media Matters' entry. And unlike the entry for MRC, examples of MMFA's content are prominently displayed.
Bias? Of course. In the "discussion" board at Wikipedia's Media Matters article, a user wrote, "There is a definite slant to this article ... [T]here is no section about criticisms of MMfA or of its website." When another user replied, "So fix it," a third user named "Equinox" responded, "Fix it? Are you kidding? Attempting to 'fix' it would be dealt with very swiftly and strictly by the libs here" (bold added). Unfortunately, Equinox is completely right. My personal attempts on a number of occasions to add an honest balance to entries for MRC and MMFA have been rapidly and unceremoniously scrubbed by Wiki users. The articles were immediately reverted back to their biased accounts.
My humble advice to Wikipedia: Scrap the bogus "Controversy" and "Criticism" headings. They are waaay too susceptible to abuse, vandalism, and bias. Unflattering personal episodes and anecdotes can be linked at the bottom of entries under the "External links" heading. The credibility and reliability of Wikipedia is dubious enough. Just stick to the basics.
[IMPORTANT NOTE: Articles at Wikipedia can be changed in a matter of seconds. The content of my article should be entirely correct as of the days of my research, February 1 and 2, 2007.]
(Also: Matthew Sheffield addressed the debate of Wikipedia bias in this April 2006 post.)