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WorldNetDaily's War on Wikipedia

In yet another attack on the popular website, WND's Aaron Klein builds a story around a user trying to edit Barack Obama's Wikipedia page, but doesn't disclose that he told that person what to do -- and then WND scrubs all references to that user from Klein's story.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/13/2009

A March 8 WorldNetDaily article by Aaron Klein asserted that Wikipedia "has been deleting within minutes any mention of eligibility issues surrounding Barack Obama's presidency, with administrators kicking off anyone who writes about the subject" -- curiously failing to mention that Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to Obama citizenship conspiracies. Klein related the experience of "Wikipedia user 'Jerusalem21'" in trying to add the information to Obama's page.

What you won't learn from Klein's article: His personal link to "Jerusalem21."

As the posting history of "Jerusalem21" documents, the only other Wikipedia article "Jerusalem21" had ever edited before taking a crack at Obama's page is the one on ... Aaron Klein. Indeed, "Jerusalem21" created the article on Klein and added numerous links and pictures -- 40 different alterations in all. This alone strongly suggests that "Jerusalem21" is either Klein or someone close to him acting on his behalf, if not his direction.

We're not the only one who noticed the close link between Klein and "Jerusalem21." Here are a couple comments from the discussion area for Klein's Wiki page and its puffery-laden claims:

  • "We might surmise that the subject is once again editing his own article."
  • "This article in its current state is absolute garbage. It reads as a total puff piece and was obviously heavily influenced by Klein himself and cronies/sockpuppets at WND."

Full disclosure: I've previously attempted to add factual information about Klein to his page that I've previously reported at ConWebWatch -- for instance, his sympathies for far-right Israelis and examples of his bad reporting -- only to see much of it deleted shortly thereafter by "Jerusalem21."

It's not the first time Klein has been involved in manufacturing a controversy around Obama. Klein was responsible (along with right-wing radio host John Batchelor) for the interview of Hamas official Ahmed Yousef which was portrayed as an endorsement of Obama. Klein has yet to disclose what possible motivation a Hamas political adviser would have to not just chat up a pair of right-wingers who support Israel and oppose Hamas, but to actually further the agenda of those right-wingers.

Also during the 2008 presidential campaign, Klein demonstrated an aversion to reporting actions by John McCain that, when done by Obama, drew swift attacks from him. For instance, Klein repeatedly bashed Obama's alleged ties to Rashid Khalidi -- whom he described as "a harsh critic of Israel and apologist for Palestinian terror" -- but was mum about McCain's ties to Khalidi until after the Huffington Post reported it -- and then Klein served as McCain's press agent by minimizing the link.

Klein got the attention he craved from his manufactured controversy: Matt Drudge linked to it, and it was the talk of the right-wing blogosphere for hours after Klein's article was published.

After the unusual and undisclosed closeness between Klein and "Jerusalem21" was first reported on ConWebBlog, then spread to other blogs such as Pandagon, Wired's Threat Level and Gawker/Valleywag, Klein suddenly felt moved to come clean -- but not before Threat Level noted that Klein's WND story "was scrubbed clean of the name Jerusalem21." But Klein didn't respond at WND or even to ConWebWatch. From his response sent to Gawker:

First, I am not "Jerusalem21," but I do know the Wikipedia user (he works with me and does research for me), and I worked with him on this story, which focused on investigating allegations I had received from others of Wikipedia scrubbing Obama's page. I wanted to personally oversee whether indeed criticism of Obama was being deleted. For your information, often investigative journalists engage in exactly this kind of testing – like seeing if they can bypass mandatory disclosures while donating to a candidate (several newspapers did this prior to the November election), or if they can register a dog to vote in Illinois. Thus, even if I had personally edited Obama's page as a test to investigate allegations of scrubbing, this is entirely legitimate journalistic practice.

Then again, reporters typically fully disclose the extent of their involvement in such stunts in their articles -- something Klein did not do until we reported on it and it spread across the Internet . His obviously close relationship to "Jerusalem21" should have been disclosed.

Of course, even Klein's begrudging disclosure here is not sufficient. How do we know for sure that "Jerusalem21" is not Klein? Why take Klein's word for it? After all, the only thing "Jerusalem21" has edited at Wikipedia before this is Klein's own bio -- where we know criticism of Klein is swiftly deleted -- and Klein is still protecting "Jerusalem21's" identity, for which he has not given a reason for doing so.

Klein further defends his story: "My article from yesterday noted what is clearly a major trend at Wikipedia and is a very legitimate piece. ... Do not simply and misleadingly update your article just by stating that I know 'Jerusalem21' and leaving in the defamatory portrayal that I somehow invented a controversy, when indeed there is indisputably a much wider, documented trend."

But as we also noted, Klein failed to provide proper context. In neither of his articles -- his original one, plus a follow-up -- did Klein mention that a separate Wikipedia page exists regarding Obama birth certificate conspiracies. Nor does he acknowledge that other Wikipedia pages are similarly monitored by editors and critical claims deleted -- like Aaron Klein's. Nor did Klein make any apparent attempt to investigate whether other Wikipedia pages of prominent politicians, like George W. Bush or John McCain, are similarly closely policed by supporters, in order to put the edits on Obama's page into a more accurate context.

Klein sent a similar response to Threat Level. As blogger Kevin Poulsen summed it up:

What's missing from this treatise on investigative journalism is the reporter's obligation to disclose when he's engineered events on which he's reporting. In a follow-up e-mail, Klein acknowledges that he should have made that disclosure, but suggests he's guilty of nothing more than an accidental omission in a hastily written story.

"It just slipped my mind," he writes.


That's a lot of mind-slippage. You'd think at some point in the writing, Klein would have a revelation, slap his head and say, "Silly me! Here I am writing about my researcher following my instructions, and I'm making it sound like I don't even know the guy! Glad I caught that."

Further, if Klein is so proud of this story and his association with "Jerusalem21," why did someone -- either him or someone else at WND -- remove all references to "Jerusalem21" from his article after the fact? As Threat Level noted, as of early afternoon on March 10, Klein's original article "was scrubbed clean of the name Jerusalem21, who's now referred to only as 'one Wikipedia user.'" There is no notice on the article to indicate that it has been altered from the original -- another thing a real, conscientious journalist would do.

Fortunately (though perhaps less so for Klein), ConWebWatch saved a copy of the original.

As tortured as this attack has become, this is not the first time WorldNetDaily has attacked Wikipedia.

In December, WND editor Joseph Farah let loose an anti-Wikipedia screed after someone had edited his Wiki bio to claim he was "noted homosexual." Farah called Wikipedia "wholesale purveyor of lies and slander unlike any other the world has ever known," a "vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit," "a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution," a "wholly unreliable website run by political and social activists promoting their own agenda" and, last but not least, "pseudo-journalistic terrorism and character assassination." You know, kinda like WND itself.

Farah concluded by calling Wikipedia "an electronic graffiti board under the control of high-tech Crips and Bloods." If so, then WND is run by the same gang, with Farah as its chief thug.

Last May, WND reporter Chelsea Schilling accused Wikipedia of promoting pornography by including "detailed photos of nude homosexual men engaging in sex acts and a variety of other sexually explicit images and content" as well as, among other things, offering the definition of a "fluffer" and including an image of the European cover of the 1976 Scorpions album "Virgin Killer," which features a naked girl. At no point does WND concede that the images and content occur in the context of an encyclopedia, or that child nudity is not the same thing as child pornorgraphy. WND promoted the story with the blurb, "Wikipedia or Wikipornia?" As one observer at the porn blog Fleshbot put it (warning: link is NSFW, since they show some of the pictures Schilling was too afraid to), WND demonstrates "a shocking misunderstanding of how Wikipedia actually works":

Take that infamous 1976 Scorpions album cover, which could be considered child pornography: it might have been banned, but one could also argue that it has some sort of historical relevance. If the community doesn't agree, then the community of Wikipedia users can remove it ... which they eventually did. (Here's the discussion about it, which predates the WND article.)

Tattling to the FBI about nudie pics on the internet is like complaining to Congress about evolution. Hating it enough won't make it go away. Besides, one way or another people have to learn about strippers—so it's either on Wikipedia or in a strip club. Take your pick.

This style of attack is reflective of WND's attitude toward any person or organization with an opinion it doesn't like: WND will do its best to discredit and destroy that person or organization. Farah's own vitriolic reactions to his critics is a prime example.

Indeed, Farah reacted to ConWebWatch's criticism of Klein by attacking the messenger.

In a March 11 column, Farah endeavored to smear me as a "fulltime anti-WND blogger" (as if that's a bad thing; in addition to grossly overestimating the time I spend writing about WND, Farah is flattering himself about the monetary reward of watchdogging his website) who "also works for George Soros-backed Media Matters" (in fact, Soros does not fund Media Matters), Farah asserted that I "claim[ed] falsely that Klein himself was the Wikipedia user dubbed Jerusalem21. In fact, Klein's Jerusalem bureau research assistant is Jerusalem21. Oooooooh. Big scandal, right?"

Farah is lying; I never asserted that Klein was Jerusalem21. I merely presented the facts of the case -- which Farah does not contradict -- and offered the two most likely possible conclusions, that "'Jerusalem21' is either Klein or someone close to him acting on his behalf, if not his direction." Klein and Farah have admitted the latter is correct. Besides, whether Jerusalem21 is Klein or someone controlled by him is a distinction without a difference -- he set in motion the events he wrote about and didn't disclose it.

(Klein copied Farah's description of me as "a fulltime anti-WND blogger ... who also works for George Soros-backed Media Matters" for a defense of his work posted at the conservative blog The Jawa Report.)

Farah also refused to acknowledge that the "scandal" is not that Klein was the man behind Jerusalem21; it's that he didn't follow sound journalistic practice by disclosing this to his readers. Instead, he left the false impression that he had no personal connection to Jerusalem21. Farah further failed to discuss WND's scrubbing of Klein's article of all references to Jerusalem21, or Klein's hypocrisy of complaining about removal of negative information from Obama's Wikipedia page when Klein (or Jerusalem21) has been similarly quick to remove critical information from Klein's own Wikipedia page, or Klein's laziness in refusing to take a wider look at Wikipedia editing.

Nevertheless, Farah continued to hurl insults: He claimed I was taking "libelous shots at Klein" (actually, given his lies about me, I'm the one with cause to file a libel lawsuit against him) and adding, "Normally no one pays too much attention to Krepel, recognizing him for what he is – an ideological crusader masquerading as a press watchdog, determined to expose the slightest break in the ranks of the Obama media amen chorus."

Neither Farah nor Klein have pointed to a false claim I've made about this controversy (not one they didn't make up first, anyway). They seem to think belligerent bluster will throw me off their scent. In this case, bluster equals cowardice.

What are they afraid of? Why can't Farah admit that some (if not most) criticism of him and WND is legitimate? Why can't Klein have the same live-and-let-live philosophy on his own Wikipedia bio that he demands be done to Obama's bio?

Farah demonstrated even more cowardice by refusing to link to the original ConWebWatch item on Klein. That's not surprising -- Farah similarly deleted links to ConWebWatch in an op-ed I submitted to WND in response to Farah's attack on me last September (in which he denigrated me as a "talent-challenged slug") over a Huffington Post column I wrote telling a history of WND he would rather his readers not know.

Farah then writes: "I tell you all this because, in my business, reputation and credibility constitute our lifeblood. And, I know from personal experience that when your reputation and credibility is being gang-raped like this – even by people with no reputation or credibility of their own – it causes real damage." Of course, I have a reputation and credibility to uphold as well, and I will defend myself against false and unfounded accusations like the ones Farah is spewing.

ConWebWatch stands by what it has published about Klein's Wikipedia stories; what's reported here is what WND won't tell its own readers. Farah, meanwhile, has not only lied about what I've written, he has already demonstrated he doesn't trust his own reporter or his readers by surreptitiously scrubbing Klein's stories after publication. So, which one of us has "no reputation or credibility of their own"?

Indeed, the person who has seen the biggest hit to his reputation here is Klein, and not just because of his shoddy reporting, undisclosed link to Jerusalem21 and WND's after-the-fact edits to his work.

As of this writing, Klein's Wikipedia page carried a notice that it was "being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedia's deletion policy."

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