Once again, the WNYC podcast of On the Media alerted me to a media story that was getting more attention in the US than in the UK: the revelation that Wikipedia had gone along with the blackout on news about the kidnapping of the New York Times reporter David Rohde. Apparently the Times asked Jimmy Wales to intervene personally. So I took a look at the 'Talk' page on his Wikipedia entry. That page has about two hours of discussion, before the topic was archived, and redirected to the policy discussion pages, 'The Village Pump'.
Now I don't know if it was, in fact, necessary to keep news of Rohde's kidnapping out of the media, for his safety. And I don't have the day-to-day editorial expertise to day whether Wikipedia needs regular procedures for dealing with this sort of situation (as suggested by some at 'The Village Pump') or whether such a case can only be handled on an ad hoc basis.
What strikes me reading over the arguments, both the first hot reactions and the later more thoughtful and extensive discussion, is that this debate is different from many other running controversies at Wikipedia. In my book, I discuss controversies around the article '7 World Trade Center', which turned mainly on issues of which facts were relevant, which sources established these facts, and how they were to be interpreted. In other controversial articles, for instance 'Vaccination', there is much invocation of Wikipedia Principles. Here there seems to be a difference between those who see this as a case in which two principles conflict (openness of information vs. protection of a life) and those who see it as a matter of a single absolute principle.
Here is the one mention of earlier attempts to include the information:
Who the hell is removing the bit about him being kidnapped? It's confirmed by several sources and even if it's not on the news, doesn't make it a false statment, someone should really look into this. 220.127.116.11 (talk) 02:32, 12 March 2009 (UTC)
After the news was out, we get exchanges like this:
- Yes, because suppressing information is what the internet is for...... 18.104.22.168 (talk) 13:53, 30 June 2009 (UTC)
Some more early comments (edited):
Wikipedia hits bottom; keeps digging
What happened is just ridiculous. A man's life doesn't justify censorship of informations on Wikipedia. What are good reasons for censorship? The ones that Jimmy Wales chooses? What if someone who has 'power' decides that something must not be published, for his alleged "good reasons". A life perhaps has been saved (are we sure that it was because of the media blackout?), but Wikipedia's neutrality and freedom has been seriously undermined. Not counting the fact that the New York Times editor, with only several phone calls, succeeded in making all the other media not to publish the news...
The suppression of relevant facts to please powerful outside interests proves that this leftist propaganda site is just that.
- I am appalled that Wikipedia would violate its published principles to prevent publishing the truth. It will be the beginning of the end.
These statements are made with the assumption that others will recognise and agree with the principle at issue. What is that principle? That all statements that are true should be published? That all censorship is wrong? Or is it a matter of equality: everyone has the right to post on Wikipedia, and no one person has the right to remove it? There is certainly a enormous resentment of both Jimmy Wales and the Times. I can understand the resentment of Wales; Wikipedia is based on the work of many people, and his tendency to intervene in some cases is anomalous. I have never understood the anger in the blogosphere directed at the Times.
At least the discussion led me on to a page on the 'Argumentum ad Jimbonem', which is 'the logical fallacy that "what Jimbo said" is The Truth™' ('Jimbo' here being Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia).