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National cable networks get in on the action arguing about what the first sentence of a Wikipedia article ought to say

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By Bri, JPxG, and Smallbones

Trump conviction causes kerfuffle

Then-president Trump (2017)

Despite our policy about not being the news, Wikipedians can be very fast in reporting it. On Thursday, May 30, they were quite speedy in editing to reflect the news that the prosecution of former U.S. president Donald Trump ended with a verdict to convict him on 34 New York state felony charges of falsifying business records to cover up a crime. While the jury was still in the jury box at 5:07 p.m Eastern Time (21:07 UTC), the first "guilty" edit hit the Donald Trump article, adding "convicted felon" in the article's first sentence.

The jury foreperson had started pronouncing the 34 individual guilty verdicts about 5:00 p.m., perhaps a bit earlier. Each juror confirmed their agreement with the verdict. Judge Juan Merchan thanked and excused the jurors at 5:11. By the time Trump walked out of the courtroom four or five minutes later, five different editors had each edited the article once.

After another fifteen minutes (and ten edits), editors had removed the words "convicted felon" from the article's first line, but not from the sixth paragraph of the introduction, where it had also been added. Nine minutes later, a Request for Comment was posted on the talk page, effectively forestalling an edit war on whether "convicted felon" should be in the first sentence and the sixth paragraph and the body text, as opposed to in only the sixth paragraph and the body text. The RfC will likely be closed by 10 June. So far the "Supports" (for including "convicted felon" in the first line) seem to have an edge in !votes, but the "Opposes" might have an edge in the style of their comments.

Bizarrely, the argument continued the next morning on CNN and on Fox, the latter of which headlined its story "CNN host suggests Trump conviction not mentioned prominently enough on former president's Wikipedia page". CNN host John Berman's first question to President Joe Biden's campaign co-chair Mitch Landrieu had included "read Trump’s Wikipedia page after the decision, noting that the historic conviction had not been entered into the entry until the sixth paragraph. And the very top line is, 'Donald John Trump, born June 14, 1946, is an American politician, media personality, and businessman … who served as the 45th president of the United States from 2017 to 2021.' That's the first paragraph. It’s not until paragraph six where it says he was convicted of a felony." While CNN has removed the actual video from their website, the Fox video includes this short segment from CNN.

The final part of Berman's question to Landrieu was "If it were up to you ... Where would 'convicted felon' appear in this entry?" . He responded: "Well, I'm not going to tell people how to write that (sic) Wikipedia pages." We can all be grateful that there is at least one sane person appearing on the news channels.


Trump's Truth Social borrows term "unified Reich" from Wikipedia

For many years, movies and TV shows have used spinning newspaper cuts, where the main plot points are depicted as the main headlines on a newspaper, with other filler articles below. Many B movies of the mid-twentieth century used the same prop for this, resulting in countless headlines about zombies and space aliens running above identical stories of "New Petitions Against Tax" and "Building Code Under Fire".

Recently, Donald Trump's account on Truth Social posted a video that showed images of the former U.S. president embedded in one of these — apparently a video stock template called "Newspaper Vintage History Headlines Promo". The trouble started when the Associated Press noticed that "at least one of the headlines flashing in the video appears to be text that is copied verbatim from a Wikipedia entry on World War I: 'German industrial strength and production had significantly increased after 1871, driven by the creation of a unified Reich.'"[n 1] The Trump campaign press secretary told AP "This was not a campaign video, it was created by a random account online and reposted by a staffer who clearly did not see the word, while the President was in court."[n 2]

The AP story, in addition to being run by major US news outlets like ABC News, and global media like The Times of Israel, was covered as secondary reporting by the Wall Street Journal, Politico, Axios, The Guardian and Reuters which noted the Wikipedia text connection, as did Newsweek's article "Where Trump's 'Unified Reich' Reference Came From".

So where did Wikipedia's sentence come from? Before July 8, 2009, there had been a sentence in World War I § Background about the growth of German industrial power, but it didn't mention any connection to the founding of the Second Reich in 1871. But the July 8 edit made this connection through the 1871 unification of Germany without mentioning the words "unified" or "Reich". Over the next 13 years, the sentence was rewritten – expanded and contracted – several times, with "unified" and "Reich" each appearing and then disappearing at least once, but apparently never appearing together. "Unified" stayed in the article after December 2021 until this May 22, after the video appeared and the paragraph was rewritten. "Reich" and the quoted word order appeared on November 15, 2022.[n 3]

One may surmise that Wikipedia provided an attractive source for filler text, as its permissive Creative Commons license allows liberal reuse — although here it wasn't given with the necessary attribution — although on the other hand maybe the use was de minimis — the guy who invented Godwin's Law used to be the general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation, maybe he'd know more about the copyright issue and the unified Reich. At any rate, maybe in the future the stock video makers should stick with lorem ipsum — or Signpost articles.

B, S, J

  1. ^ We confirm this is the first sentence at World War I § Arms race at the time of writing.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ revision 1122080181

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One thing that constantly bugs me every time the media brings up trumps talk page is that no one every bothers to point out the massive current consensus list, a feature that didn’t exist until his presidency. It would be nice to see it mentioned in at least one major news publication or broadcast, since it helps serve an important role in prevent the constant rehashing of arguments or proposals for main space edits. (talk) 17:03, 8 June 2024 (UTC)[reply]


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