News agencies suggest that campaign operative for Republican Party edited article on vice presidential nominee

Monday, September 1, 2008

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Sarah Palin
Image: Tricia Ward.

Multiple news agencies, including the New York Times and CNET yesterday suggested that a campaign operative for Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, worked on the Wikipedia article on her in the 24 hours before the vice presidential candidate was announced. Wikinews has investigated the claim further, after seeing these allegations.

The user who added the content on Wikipedia was known as Young Trigg, and Wikinews has learned that the account was created at exactly 08:02 UTC on August 28. Just eight minutes later the user made their first edit to Wikipedia. In this first edit the user said that Palin "briefly worked as a sports reporter for local Anchorage television stations, while also working as a commercial fisherman with her husband, Todd, her high school sweetheart".

In the second edit Palin and her family were described as "avid outdoors enthusiasts." This edit also said that "Sarah and her father would sometimes wake at three am to hunt moose before school, and the family would regularly run 5k and 10k races".

Some of the other edits say that Sarah was "brought to statewide attention because of whistleblowing on ethical violations by state Republican Party leaders," she played in a "championship game despite a stress fracture in her ankle, hitting a critical free throw in the last seconds," and she won a "scholarship to help pay her way through college." Young Trigg also noted that "Palin holds a lifetime membership with the National Rifle Association".

The editor also said that her election of mayor came "despite the lack of support from party leaders and being outspent by her Democratic opponent." Other positive claims added included the statement that "Palin successfully killed the Bridge to Nowhere project that had become a nationwide symbol of wasteful earmark spending".

Young Trigg also removed the sentence that said that "critics [of Palin] included the state Republican party's chairman, Randy Ruedrich, one of her fellow Oil & Gas commissioners".

This unusual editing pattern aroused some suspicion among other editors of Wikipedia. One of these editors is Justen Deal, who told Young Trigg that "some of yours edits may have affected the article in such a way so as to reflect more favorably on the subject of the article." He also gave Young Trigg the following message:

If you have a close connection to some of the people, places or things you have written about in the article Sarah Palin on Wikipedia, you may have a conflict of interest. In keeping with Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy, edits where there is a conflict of interest, or where such a conflict might reasonably be inferred from the tone of the edit and the proximity of the editor to the subject, are strongly discouraged. If you have a conflict of interest, you should avoid or exercise great caution when:
  1. editing or creating articles related to you, your organization, or its competitors, as well as projects and products they are involved with;
  2. participating in deletion discussions about articles related to your organization or its competitors;
  3. linking to the Wikipedia article or website of your organization in other articles (see Wikipedia:Spam); and,
  4. avoid breaching relevant policies and guidelines, especially those pertaining to neutral point of view, verifiability of information, and autobiographies.

Deal described his reason for suspecting a conflict of interest to a reporter for Wikinews. He said that "It was clear to me that an editor very familiar with Wikipedia and the governor had made a single-purpose account that had made a significant number of edits that were universally favorable to the subject of the article. Given the fortuitous timing, it made sense to remind the editor of our conflict of interest guidelines".

After this message was sent by Deal, Young Trigg said that "I will acknowledge that I volunteer for the McCain campaign." The user did however state that "I did not know Palin was the nominee when I made my edits," and "no one instructed me to make these edits. No one knew that I made these edits. I did this on my own 'becuz' I like improving Wikipedia articles".

Below is an extract from Young Trigg's comment:

  • I am not Sarah Palin. I think it is obvious that I am not the five-month old Trig Paxson Van Palin. I am not a member of Sarah Palin's family, or even Michael Palin's family. To my knowledge, I have never even been in the same room as a member of the Palin family.
  • I did not "edit for five hours." I edited for a couple of hours over a five-hour span while I was reading the Internet. The timing was coincidental. I finished reading the Palin biography that day, went to her page, and saw a lot of "cite needed" places and thought I should improve the article and created an account to do so. There is a huge problem with Wikipedia in that editors are rely exclusively on Google and leave out stuff that can be found in books. Is it so strange that a biographical encyclopedia article should include cites to the only book written about the subject?
  • Ninety percent of the "whitewash" allegations made in the Daily Kos thread were edits made by other editors. The others are legitimate edits. No one has identified a single edit made by me that violates Wikipedia rules or was inaccurate.
  • I was not the person who added the claim that Palin was the vice presidential nominee. A vandal or Palin fan did that, perhaps based on Internet rumors that were going around at the time. The same thing happened on the Pawlenty page, the only difference was that the people editing the Palin page happened to be editing a page that ended up getting a lot of attention the next day.
  • No one instructed me to make these edits. No one knew that I made these edits. I did this on my own becuz I like improving Wikipedia articles. I create SPAs precisely for the sort of reason this to-do came up: crazy people making up conspiracy theories wanting to blame the editor for their own problems, and then huge games of telephone where people who don't understand Wikipedia blame one person for every edit that happened to an article. Have you seen some of the threats in the Daily Kos comments? One of my accounts is for editing hockey articles; another for articles about history; another for evolution; and so on. (Unlike Sarah Palin, I believe in evolution.) Forgive me that I want to remain anonymous rather than have my family exposed to one of those crazies or have Daily Kos auditing every edit I've ever made about the Whiskey Rebellion. (I have not actually edited Whiskey Rebellion, that was a hypothetical example. Don't waste time crawling through the contirbutors there.) Correction, this comment made me curious, and I just edited Whiskey Rebellion. Sorry.
  • I did not know Palin was the nominee when I made my edits. (According to the Wall Street Journal, McCain didn't make up his mind until Thursday, hours after most of my edits.) If there's a politician out there hoping for appointments who want to hire me to edit their articles, maybe they will have the same luck, but I doubt it. (That's a joke. Again, no one hired or asked me to edit this article.)

Young Trigg made a total of 43 contributions (many on talk pages) and announced they would retire from Wikipedia at 07:58 UTC on August 31. In addition to editing the article on Sarah Palin, the user also asked an anonymous contributor to Wikipedia about that person's edit that stated that Palin was the VP nominee, before the official announcement:

Where did you hear Palin was the VP nominee? I can't find anything online.

Wikinews contacted the McCain campaign a with a request for a statement regarding this issue; and, at the time of publication, had not received a response.


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.