ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick. The online open encyclopedia that anyone can edit, Wikipedia, is less open today. a Massachusetts newspaper, The Lowell Sun, reported that the staff of a Democratic Congressman, Martin Meehan, changed his entry to erase a one time campaign promise that he'd leave office after eight years. Wikipedia went on to find many other examples of congressional biographies being embellished by people at the Capitol. It's now barring anyone at a congressional web source from making any more changes. NPR congressional reporter Andrea Seabrook joins us. Andrea a small scandal on Capitol Hill, but I guess this is how Wikipedia works, right? Anyone can make a change.
ANDREA SEABROOK, reporting,
Well, exactly. It calls itself a communal encyclopedia. That means that people like Congressman Meehan's staff can go in and change the campaign pledge you're talking about or erase the reference to the Congressman's huge war chest of campaign funds. He's got the biggest war chest in the House of Representatives. And it turns out that Meehan's Chief of Staff admitted that he authorized an intern to go and replace the entire bio of Marty Meehan on Wikipedia with one written by Meehan's staff.
CHADWICK: And what about other congressional staffers? What else are they doing?
SEABROOK: Well this, I think this is so fascinating. I mean, the people at Wikipedia, as you made reference to, went in and cross-referenced records they had of changes in congressional entries and biographies with where those changes were made from. Looking for computers on Capitol Hill and they found that more than a thousand changes had been made by presumably Capitol Hill staffers or perhaps the Senators and Congressmen themselves.
Wikipedia has now published a list on their site of changes that have been made and some are just kind of funny, I mean, you kind of have to snicker at, like Republican Jim Nussle's divorce has been erased. Any mention of his divorce is erased from his. Some of them are a little bit more serious. Like California Republican Richard Pombo, any connection that he has had to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and he has had connections to him, have been erased. And then there are lots of instances of just sort of deleting unflattering quotes or information that, you know, that you wouldn't want people to know about you if you had said these things on the campaign trail.
And apparently there is a, quote, "edit war," says Wikipedia going on about Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. Some people are putting in good stuff and some people are going back in and erasing the good stuff and putting in bad stuff. So there's a lot of also almost like schoolyard kind of libelous statements Wikipedia says being added to the entries of Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic Leader and other lawmakers. I mean, it's almost as if, you know, it's almost as if writing on the bathroom wall about some of these people.
CHADWICK: Andrea I wonder about the general credibility of Wikipedia with this. I mean, it's one thing to have these congressional staffers doing this, but why wouldn't a publicist for General Motors say go to the GM entry in Wikipedia and say these guys make the greatest cars in the history of the world?
SEABROOK: What Wikipedia says anyway is that when you have this sort of open free flow of information then they can come back when something like this happens and publish the list of the changes that were made. And in a lot of ways you learn a lot about these members of Congress. I mean, it says a lot about someone who's gone in and erased information that doesn't look so good about them. I think you're also learning something else from this and that is that the culture of Capitol Hill is really changing. I mean, the congressional staffers are so young. You know, America's run by people between the ages of 22-26. And they pay more attention to things like Wikipedia then they do the old standard, the Almanac of American Politics.
CHADWICK: NPR's Andrea Seabrook on Capitol Hill. Andrea, thank you.
SEABROOK: You're welcome.
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