Everything CNN got Wrong about Newt Gingrich's Wikipedia Polishing

by David King on Feb 08, 2012

If you haven’t read about the CNN story on Newt Gringrich’s communications director Joe DeSantis polishing Wikipedia entries, go take a look (but don’t believe anything you read).

As one user on Wikipedia stated “CNN’s understanding of how Wikipedia works is not very good.” Through a series of errors and construed representations, CNN turned one of Wikipedia’s most ethical editors into the victim of a misinformed lynch mob hanging on year-old mistakes on Wikipedia CNN portrays as news.

Lets take a look at everything CNN said about Newt Gingrich’s communications director Joe and his Wikipedia editing.

Joe DeSantis has removed or asked to remove factual references to Gingrich’s three marriages as well as mentions of ethics charges brought against him while he served as speaker of the House.

The Facts: It’s been over a year since Joe edited Callista Gingrich’s article and even longer since he edited the Newt Gingrich’s article. However, he did repeatedly remove mentions of how many wives Newt had here, here and here in 2010, before he learned about Wikipedia ethics.

These efforts continued as recently as Monday.

The Facts: On Monday, February 6th, Joe made this comment and this comment. They were both reasonable requests and were both made on Talk pages, where editors like Joe are suppose to be welcome.

Wikipedia records show DeSantis has made over 60 adjustments to entries in the online, publicly-edited encyclopedia to the biographical entry on Gingrich, the similar page on his wife, Callista, and a separate page on one of their books, Rediscovering Good in America.

The Facts: Joe has made 126 edits total. This is a very small number on Wikipedia, since many of his edits are single-word changes and a majority of his edits are on Talk pages. He’s made 24 to the article on Newt Gingrich, 23 on Callista Gingrich and 5 on Newt’s book. The correct number is 52 adjustments, which were all over twelve months ago.

DeSantis has actively lobbied for changes to the articles since mid-December in a discussion forum called “Talk”

The Facts: This is true. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This is what editors like Joe are suppose to and are encouraged to do.

Last Tuesday, DeSantis drew the ire of an editor on the site.

The Facts: Note the word “an”, indicating a single person.

“Many editors have pointed out your straightforwardness as an example of honorable editing by an agent,” an editor known as Buster Seven posted. “I agree with their assessment.”

The Facts: He was also given an award for being an ethical paid advocate on Wikipedia and Jimmy Wales has thanked him for ethical Wikipedia participation. Jimmy even said that, as long as Joe sticks to Talk pages, (and he has) Jimmy will support his participation and use it as a model for others.

DeSantis’ edits, which began in October of 2008, included rewriting, removing, and editing lines, including several edits to references of Gingrich’s marriages, according to Wikipedia edit records

The Facts: Joe made edits of this nature (seen here, here and here), however all of these edits were from 2010. Joe has been clean ever since.

When a $500,000 credit line held by Gingrich at luxury retailer Tiffany’s made headlines, references to the account were added on Wikipedia, and DeSantis edited those references, including material supportive of his client published in news articles.

This is somewhat true. If you look at the edit in May 2011, he added that Newt’s account with Tiffany now had a zero balance. He didn’t remove any facts, his addition was well-cited and encyclopedic. The only mistake he made is that, since this is a controversial topic, Joe still should have used {{request edit}} to ask a neutral editor to add it.

In April 2009, he deleted several lines on a House ethics investigation of Gingrich, replacing them with material more favorable to the former House speaker.

This is basically true, though it’s two years old.

The website BuzzFeed recently noted 23 edits DeSantis made to Callista Gingrich’s Wikipedia biography.

The actual number is 24. While BuzzFeed may have only recently noted it, the last edit of this nature was in 2010.

In these situations, Wikipedia editors frequently restrict edit access to articles. Gingrich’s article is currently under one such level, “semi-protected,” which bars non-registered site visitors from making edits.

Articles are often locked to prevent paid editors from further editing wars. CNN seems to suggest the article was moved to semi-protected status to protect it against Joe, but this only prevents edits from anonymous IP addresses. Joe can still edit the article. Not that he has in over twelve months…

Call to Action

The level of misinformation about marketers on Wikipedia is abhorent. Join me now in ending Wikipedia ignorance.

Do something, anything, right now, this very moment, that will help put an end to Wikipedia ignorance.

  • Tell your professional organizations and events to provide informative content from credible sources.
  • Share something you learned from this article with your colleagues.
  • Got a question about marketeers on Wikipedia? Ask me at: David44357@gmail.com
  • Or ask Wikipedians a question on the Paid Editor Help page on Wikipedia.
  • Inform yourself by reading Wikipedia documentation like the CIO guideline, the COI essay or the instructions on Wikiproject Cooperation.
  • Start the movement at #endignorance. Tweet it if you demand to know more about ethical participation of marketers on Wikipedia.

Most of all, next time you read, hear or see someone talking about how awful it is about Newt’s communications director polishing his entries, tell them the facts.

** Update: I received a correction from an involved Wikipedia editor regarding the barnstar award given to Joe by user Buster7. It turns out Buster7 had later stated he was “a bit hasty” in giving Joe praise and wasn’t ultimately supportive of Joe’s discussions. He was also upset about a 6-7 word email response from Jimmy Wales on the topic.

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Post Author

David King is the founder of Ethical Wiki, a professional services organization that helps companies improve Wikipedia ethically by offering content, requesting corrections and discussing controversies. Learn more at ethicalwiki.com or read our eBook on Wikipedia & marketing....

  • Diane Lennox

    David – I read the CNN article and waited breathlessly for your comment, as I knew it would be informative. I had no idea, however, that you would turn the whole accusation inside out. Just goes to show that even a *somewhat* knowledgable news consumer can be duped by an uninformed (or intentionally unfounded) article. Thanks – and I’m breathing again.

  • David44357

    Thanks Diane. I didn’t pay it any mind until @John_Trader1 brought it up on Twitter. I probably come off more accusatory than intended at CNN. They aren’t displaying any level of misunderstanding that isn’t alarmingly common. I also owe thanks to users Michaeldsuarez and Kenatipo for contributing to the article indirectly through their participation on Wikipedia.