User:One/Wales interview transcript

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The following interview appeared on CNN at approximately 3:20pm EST on December 5, 2005 (Video).


KYRA PHILLIPS: Online and under fire web resource, Wikipedia is an internet encyclopedia that anyone can use. The problem is, anyone can contribute to it, also. That’s raising concerns about where the facts are coming from, and if the facts are indeed facts. Journalist John Seigenthaler says that a malicious false biography was published about him on Wikipedia, He’s joining us, live from Nashville, Tennessee, and Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, defends his side, saying it’s accountable, but he’s also making some changes. He joins us from Saint Petersburg, Florida. Guys, great to see you both.

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: Thank you.

KYRA PHILLIPS: Alright.

JIMMY WALES: Thanks, good to be here.

KYRA PHILLIPS: Well, John, you- you logged on to this site, um, you wanted to see what it had to say about you, what did you discover about yourself?

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: Well, I was stunned and shocked, and angry to find that, um, Wikipedia for months had listed me as sus- suspect in the assassination of old President Kennedy and attorney general Robert Kennedy, and I had worked in the Kennedy – (stutters) Kennedy administration, and been the assistant to Robert Kennedy, and I was offended by it, and angered by it, and, um, I did what I could to, um, find out about it, then I found out I was on two other sites, and, uh, I read just recently on Wikipedia that I probably am on dozens of other sites, too, that same biography, uh, Mister Wales was very cooperative in taking it down when I finally reached him, uh, five months later, um, but I, uh – I still don’t know whether it’s on those mirror sites.

KYRA PHILLIPS: Well, we – we - we did log on a few minutes ago, and it’s been blocked, and - and Jimmy, when you got this call from John, I – I’m assuming it’s not the first time you’ve had someone call you with concerns about information that’s on this site. What did you say to him, uh, about this information? Because obviously, uh, it wasn’t true?

JIMMY WALES: Oh, yeah, well, our response is immediately to delete it and start looking into it and delete all the old revisions that had that information in it, uh, we’re, uh, just as upset as he is, and, uh, feel that there’s a, there’s a big problem with people, um, internet service providers who, uh, aren’t accountable, they, they won’t, uh, they won’t do anything about malicious customers who abuse our service. So, we’re left to defend ourselves as best as we can.

KYRA PHILLIPS: Now, you do have a general disclaimer on the site, it says that Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here, none of the authors, contributors, or anyone else connected with Wikipedia in any way whatsoever can be responsible for the appearance of any inaccurate or libellous information. (Wikipedia’s disclaimer is then projected on the screen as Kyra Phillips reads it.) Now, you know, you – you see the word Wikipedia, so you think encyclopedia and you think “Oh, okay, this is valid, good information.” But yet, if you look at what happened to John, that’s not the case, so, ah, what are you doing to make sure this doesn’t happen to people like John Seigenthaler, who has an incredible reputation and was far from being associated with any assassination attempt on J.F.K?

JIMMY WALES: Heh, heh, yeah, well, John’s really a hero to us, too, because he’s done a lot of, uh, work for the First Amendment over the years, and that’s one of the things that’s so upsetting about this. Uh, first of all, our disclaimer is really patterned after the disclaimers that you’ll find on any website, if you go to Britannica and read their disclaimer, (the screen shows Wikipedia’s disclaimer once more) the New York Times and read their disclaimer, uh, it’s a very standard type of disclaimer that you have on any website. Um, but what we’re doing is, um, we’re – we’re – we’ve just today, we’ve actually, uh, changed the site a little bit so that, uh, anonymous contributors aren’t able to start new articles, because we feel what really happened in this case was that the article was started, um, and made it – it basically slipped through our new pages patrollers, and, uh, didn’t get caught until, uh, until a viewer notified us months later.

KYRA PHILLIPS: John, -

JIMMY WALES: We’re trying to –

KYRA PHILLIPS: I’m sorry, go ahead.

JIMMY WALES: Go ahead –

KYRA PHILLIPS: Go ahead, Jimmy.

JIMMY WALES: No, we’re just trying to make some minor adjustments here and there, to – to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.

KYRA PHILLIPS: Uh, John, do you think that Wikipedia is a good idea, or is this a dangerous trend?

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: Well, I- you know, I don’t know enough about it, really, to tell you that. I’ve learnt a great deal in the recent past. One thing I’m not interested in, in any way, is giving the government more power to regulate any form of media. New media, old media, I’ve – I’ve always thought the best answer to bad speech was better speech, and I hope the column I wrote in USA Today today was better speech than what I found on Wikipedia. The problem that I think, um, uh, is that, first of all the disclaimer, if you read it, says “We’re not accountable”. There’s no other – there’s no other way to explain what that disclaimer says. “We’re not accountable.” (Cut to a split-screen of Seigenthaler and Wales. Wales looks angry.) And with accountability comes credibility, you know? And “Wikipedia is not accountable” ultimately means a marketplace will take care of Wikipedia, I’m concerned, deeply concerned, about the fact that in the five days since, uh, I wrote the article to USA Today, in those five days, they created a new biography. And there were some harmless errors, still some harmless error in what’s locked (referring to his page still being locked after the new bio was uploaded). But during –

KYRA PHILLIPS: What’s the error that’s still in there, John?

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: It’s inconsequential. There are a couple of places where they mixed up my son John’s name with mine, um, but I don’t worry about that. What I do worry deeply about is the fact that during those five days, some vandals came online, contributed to that encyclopedia, that biography of me, and it was – I’ll tell you, it was salacious, homophobic, it even took me from the position of being a suspect murderer to being a murderer, and all of that can be found by any schoolchild that knows how to work Wikipedia, in the history. Today.

KYRA PHILLIPS: Wow.

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: It’s there. And, and, you know-

JIMMY WALES: Nope, all – all of that’s –

KYRA PHILLIPS: Jimmy, it sounds like –

JIMMY WALES: All of that, it’s already –

KYRA PHILLIPS: It, it sounds like such an abuse of power, I mean, where do you get the – uh – why not screen the individuals who contribute to this or have some sort of controls over how this information is put together?

JIMMY WALES: Well, what we do is that we lock pages that are particularly prominent, so, we’ve got, uh, his page in particular is on a watchlist now of dozens of really good editors. The revisions he’s concerned about have already been removed from the site. They’re not even on the site anymore, and of course the article’s protected right now since we’re on television, and lots of people would log on and try to do some pranks, at the moment, but generally we find most people out there on the internet are good, I mean that’s one of the wonderful humanitarian discoveries on Wikipedia is that most people only want to help us build this free, non-profit charitable resource, um, and so the problems that we have are relatively minor so locking the entire site down doesn’t seem like a solution so what we try to do is we --

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: Could I just ask, Jimmy –

JIMMY WALES: Yeah, sure.

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: With all respect;, the day before yesterday, the fellow put on the website three times your editors reverted it, which means they put it in history where it can be found -- he said 20 times, more than 20 times, he killed Kennedy, he killed Kennedy, he said it over again and then concluded with the words “murdering expletive” and um that’s in the history as of right now, I think -

JIMMY WALES: That would have been -

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: It was there this morning.

JIMMY WALES: This morning, yes.

KYRA PHILLIPS: Interesting, too, but what’s interesting, too, is that, you know, John’s a big name. He can write an article and create a discussion like we’re having right now because of who he is and his reputation. Uh, uh, I mean, there are so many people who don’t have the opportunity to do that, and so their names and reputation can be on the line there. I have to say, my producers, we even logged on, I ran my name, I was shocked to see what was under my name. I was pretty disappointed that I saw that my bio was on there, which of course comes from CNN, but then there was stuff about how liberals I’m accused by liberals of showing right-wing bias and then it links onto other blogs with a bias and I look like a right-wing commie if you were to look at my name on this Wikipedia site and I’m telling you right now, Jimmy, that’s not how I want people to see me and understand me and what I’m about and what I write about and my interviews and etc., so you know it’s not just individuals like John, but me and other individuals who have concerns that this is creating gossip that can be very harmful and people go to these sites thinking that this is the truth.

JIMMY WALES: Well, I mean, I think the real key is that the site matures over time and, all of the articles are edited over time and anyone is free to contribute. You’re free to go and contribute, and we are very, very responsive to complaints and concerns, so all you have to do is go and click on the discussion page and add a note saying, hey, this isn’t right, could you fix it, and a group of editors will look at it and change it. I don’t think that’s something you can say for most public internet forums. I mean, these kinds of problems, um, exist on any sort of open discussion as long as you’ve got the general public commenting on mailing lists, message boards, all these kinds of things. I’m sure you can find mailing lists about CNN that accuse you of all kinds of things as well. The difference here is you can actually correct it.

JOHN: Actually, I just…

JIMMY WALES: There’s actually a method and community to fix it.

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: Where I’m worried about this leading next year, we’re going into an election year. Every politician is going to find himself or herself subjected to the same sort of, um, outrageous commentary that hit me and hits others . I’m afraid we’re gonna get regulated media as a result of that and I tell you, I think if you can’t find it, both fix the history as well as the biography pages, I think it’s gonna be real trouble and we’re gonna have to fight to keep the government from regulating it.

KYRA: John, do you have fact checkers, people that you trust that are smart, that do their research, constantly check up on everything that goes into your website?

JOHN: That’s for Jimmy?

KYRA PHILLIPS: I’m sorry, Jimmy…

JIMMY: Well, we’re an all-volunteer effort, so the answer to this question, to the part about have we hired people, the answer is no, we’re thousands of volunteers. Do we have people? Absolutely. We have administrators who are constantly monitoring the site, we have tools for locking pages so, for example, if you know the kind of case he’s talking about, if a politician’s page comes under attack, which wouldn’t be all that surprising, we can temporarily protect the page, we can block the vandals, uh, we can delete revisions from revision history if they’re particularly bad in some way, we have a lot of tools to deal with it.

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: But if you don’t find out about it for four or five months, you know, the election’s gonna be over. Mine was up there for more than four months, and I didn’t know it. Nobody knew it. I would have called you the day I found out if I’d known

JIMMY WALES: Absolutely right.

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: And you responded very quickly.

KYRA PHILLIPS: I tell you what, gentlemen, why don’t we continue this conversation after the election…John, what do you think? Jimmy?

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: That’d be fine.

(they all laugh)

KYRA PHILLIPS: See what goes from there. John Seigenthaler, Jimmy Wales, thank you so much, interesting excellent discussion, I’ll be interested to see how many hits Wikipedia gets today but we’ll continue the conversation. I appreciate both of your input very much.

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, SR.: Thank you very much.

JIMMY WALES: Very good. Thank you.

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