Friday, December 22, 2006


I could give a damn about Donald Trump or Rosie O'Donnell, let alone why they're bickering — but a friend of mine, a reporter for a local newspaper, e-mailed me the following excerpt from an Associated Press report because it made him snicker.
In an entry posted Wednesday night on her Web site, O'Donnell duplicated an excerpt on Trump's rocky financial history from his biography on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which is written by users. (Emphasis added.)
Every so often, Wikipedia gets mistaken for a legitimate reference. Last year, Nature published a study claiming that Wikipedia had only slightly more errors than Britannica. It was rather obvious this study would be debunked — and it was, quite thoroughly, when Britannica issued its 20-page response just three months later — but for those three months, Wikipedia got respect. Folks took it seriously.

It was kind of like, at Thanksgiving, when you offer the children a sip of wine; and it's fun and all, that for a moment they get to pretend they're grown-ups, but then it's finished and you send them back to the kiddie table. That's where Wikipedia belongs. Its founding principle is idiotic (rejecting the idea that "expertise" exists), and its primary defense ("Through collaborative edits, the truth will emerge") was best answered by Jerry Holkins: "What you've proposed is a kind of quantum encyclopedia, where genuine data both exists and doesn't exist depending on the precise moment I rely upon your discordant fucking mob for my information."

Yes, the AP is throwing a sucker punch. "We would never cite Wikipedia; but since we think it's ridiculous that Rosie O'Donnell did, let's report that fact — and we'll append it with the observation that any 10-year-old with a modem can 'write' Donald Trump's biography on Wikipedia."

When you spend six hours daily reading wire reports, this is exactly the sort of drop-in that you keep your eyes peeled for. If you ask anyone who has worked in intelligence, he'll list a half-dozen street corners in Washington, D.C. where you can, on any given day, spot chalk marks left by covert operatives. This is the same principle in action. Wire services are designed to be dry and devoid of opinions — but they're usually written by people who are anything but. If you're paying attention, you can usually find the proof.