The Media

Tom Lutey Goes Reporting Again

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I don’t mean to continue to pick on a single reporter, but once again, Billings Gazette reporter Tom Lutey has done an incredibly sloppy job in his reporting, producing a story that is both inaccurate and one-sided in its description of the ongoing fight over Rick Hill’s Wikipedia page.

Lutey writes:

Wikipedia locked down former U.S. Congressman Rick Hill’s biography page Monday, after more than 30 attempts to add or scrub details about Hill’s past campaigns and his 1976 divorce.
Hill announced last November that he will run for governor in 2012.
The changes occurred over three days on the popular online encyclopedia written and edited by anyone who wants to contribute.

Depending on what time viewers read Hill’s Wikipedia biography between June 25 and June 28, his divorce was explained as “Rick divorced his first wife in 1976 and retained custody of his three boys….” Or, “Rick divorced his first wife in 1976 following an affair.”

Of course, a look at the Wikipedia history of Hill’s page shows that the battle over Hill’s messy personal history actually began in March, not days ago.

wiki

According to the same history page, the article was actually “protected” on April 24, leading to a month-long lull.

Lutey also writes:

The changes occurred over three days on the popular online encyclopedia written and edited by anyone who wants to contribute. Hill’s campaign manager, Chuck Denowh, acknowledges he had attempted to alter the website’s content, but that his try was futile.
“I don’t know who keeps changing it, who keeps throwing that crap out there, but whoever it is, they win,” said Denowh, who characterized the anonymous edits as vandalism.

A Google search would reveal that the MT Cowgirl blog first wrote about this issue on December 3, 2010, before addressing the issue a second time on March 4th, and finally again on April 30th, noting that Denowh was actually banned from editing on the page, given his close connection to the candidate.

After Denowh’s account was stripped of its editing powers, for violating Wikipedia policy, someone named Febessemer, who only edited Rick Hill’s page, started removing every critical (even cited) reference about the candidate. Fessebender was also subsequently banned.

How bad was this story?

  • It had significant factual inaccuracies.
  • It was months old, without any reference to original reporting.
  • It allowed one subject of the story (someone twice banned from Wikipedia for self-serving edits about Rick Hill) to paint himself and his candidate as some sort of victim.
  • It doesn’t even cite relevant Wikipedia policies about single-purpose accounts and sock puppets, both of which were used by Denowh.

Use Google. Attribute original reporting. Be accurate.

How hard would those be?

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate. In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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