Brilliant prose

Campaign manager resigns over Wikipedia edit

Morton Brilliant, campaign manager for Cathy Cox (a candidate for governor of the U.S. state of Georgia), has resigned after reports that he edited the Wikipedia article for her opponent in the Democratic primary, Lieutenant Governor Mark Taylor. One of these edits raised ethical concerns by focusing on Taylor's family (an automobile accident involving Taylor's son in which a passenger was killed), a subject Cox had specifically instructed her staff to avoid during the campaign. However, the information was factual and the incident had received considerable coverage in local news media.

Along with a handful of other edits, all of this activity on Wikipedia took place last November. As the edits were made without registering an account, they could be traced back based on the IP address, and this indicated that the computer being used belonged to Cox's campaign headquarters in Atlanta. Some news reports indicated that the origin of these edits had been "confirmed" by Wikipedia or by Jimmy Wales personally, but in reality the information needed to trace them was publicly available to anyone looking at the article's history.

Although the technical evidence was only specific enough to identify the campaign, circumstantial evidence pointed strongly to Brilliant. Aside from editing the articles about Taylor and Cox, the only edits from the IP address had been to two other politicians, Dino Rossi and Mark Sanford. What these two have in common is that they were both gubernatorial candidates (Sanford successfully in South Carolina, Rossi unsuccessfully in Washington) who ran against politicians on whose campaigns Brilliant had worked. The changes were generally factual and backed up by sources, albeit presented in somewhat unflattering terms. The most salient difference, however, was that those campaigns were already long over by the time the edits were made.

The statement announcing Brilliant's resignation did not indicate that he had admitted to making the edits personally, but Cox said in accepting the resignation that Brilliant "is responsible for all the work in my office". On Friday, Cox named Chris Riggall, a senior aide in her current office as Georgia's Secretary of State, to replace Brilliant as campaign manager.

Bill Shipp reported in the Gwinnett Daily Post that Taylor's aides had known for months about the edits and had already traced them back to Brilliant. However, they held back on publicizing the news until this past week to coincide with a speech by Cox that her staff called a "major policy address". As a result, Shipp said the scandal effectively upstaged part of the kickoff to her campaign.

Apparently prompted by this high profile story, Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey submitted "Wikipedia Ripe for Political Dirty Tricks", which was picked up by over a hundred media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC News and more.

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