Media circus

Media flurry leads to identifying writer of Seigenthaler "prank"

A week of heavy media coverage about Wikipedia, the complaint from John Seigenthaler Sr. (see archived story), and the experiment restricting "anonymous" article creation (see archived story), culminated in a New York Times story identifying the author of the article Seigenthaler complained about.

The shift in Wikipedia practices was covered by the Associated Press and widely reported as a result, but some outlets also provided their own reporting on these events. USA Today, where Seigenthaler wrote the piece that set the media in motion, published a new article, "It's online, but is it true?", bringing his story together with that of Adam Curry (see archived story) and exploring the reliability of information on Wikipedia and the Internet in general. CNET focused on Wikipedia repeatedly throughout the week, with articles that ranged from contrasting Wikipedia's editing system with the processes of open-source software, to reviewing some of the legal implications of the incident (law professors quoted here and elsewhere have suggested that Wikipedia is, like most internet service providers, largely immune from liability here).

Wikipedia on television, radio, and in newsrooms

The coverage extended beyond online and print stories to television and radio as well. Seigenthaler and Jimmy Wales appeared together twice, first Monday with Kyra Phillips on CNN's Live From... show, then Tuesday on NPR's Talk of the Nation. In addition, Wikipedia user David Gerard was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 programme PM on Thursday, 8 December.

In his interviews, Seigenthaler repeated some of the concerns about Wikipedia that he first raised in USA Today, emphasizing the problem that offensive or defamatory material could be preserved in the article history. CNN host Phillips also criticized the article about her, saying it made her look like a "right-wing commie". The complaint naturally prompted a flurry of edits on this article as well as Seigenthaler's, which has been the focus of intense editing since his column first appeared.

Some stories last week, like one in The Times of London, drew heavily on the rewritten Seigenthaler article in providing biographical information about him. But at the same time, a New York Times editor told fact-checkers at the paper that they should stop using Wikipedia to verify information. On the Wikipedia side, the fact that this even needed to be said surprised a few, who noted the potential circularity in which a newspaper could verify facts in Wikipedia that the Wikipedia editors got from the newspaper in the first place. Meanwhile, The Times of London also ran an opinion piece harshly criticizing Wikipedia, and a letter to the editor defending it in response.

The culprit tracked down

Seigenthaler hinted on Talk of the Nation that some investigative reporter might still find out who was responsible for the false information originally posted about him. And as it turned out, Katharine Seelye reported in Sunday's New York Times that the entry had been traced to a man in Seigenthaler's home town of Nashville, Tennessee. Based on technical information provided by Daniel Brandt (a Wikipedia critic dissatisfied with the handling of his own article on Wikipedia), Seelye said that the culprit had been identified as Brian Chase, an operations manager with a company named Rush Delivery.

Chase, who reportedly resigned after this came to light, apparently had wanted to "shock a colleague with a joke" when he wrote the entry about Seigenthaler. Seelye indicated that Chase had now met with Seigenthaler and apologized, and as had already been indicated previously, Seigenthaler said he has no interest in suing Chase.

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