Monday, January 30, 2006

Disappointing, Rep. Meehan

Representative Marty Meehan is a moderately liberal Democrat from Lowell, Massachusetts, a working class town on the Merrimack River 45 minutes north of Boston (Massachusetts 5th Congressional District). He's not the greatest, a middle of the roader. If we could replace all Republicans and a good number of Democrats with Meehans we'd be better off, although he could use a little more backbone. OK. End of the nice stuff.

It turns out members of his staff were directed to rewrite his bio on Wikipedia. He's not the only one to do so, apparently, but he's the one I know about, courtesy an article in The Lowell Sun. So I'll use it as an opportunity to say that I think what Meehan did is reprehensible.

Wikipedia is a collaborative project that harvests the collective wisdom of the world's mind hive. It is remarkably accurate and up to date, but like newspapers and other media (Lowell Sun take note!) it sometimes has inaccuracies, sometimes accidental or out of ignorance on the part of the writer/reporter (Lowell Sun take note!) or out of ulterior or malevolent motives (Lowell Sun take note!), but usually out of carelessness (Lowell Sun take note!).

In this instance, Meehan's staffers went into his Wikipedia bio (whether it was good or not I can't say) and replaced it with his official bio, which was much longer but also deleted information the CongressThing thought unflattering.
Matt Vogel, Meehan's chief of staff, said he authorized an intern in July to replace existing Wikipedia content with a staff-written biography of the lawmaker.

The change deleted a reference to Meehan's campaign promise to surrender his seat after serving eight years, a pledge Meehan later eschewed. It also deleted a reference to the size of Meehan's campaign account, the largest of any House member at $4.8 million, according to the latest data available from the Federal Election Commission.

"Meehan first ran for Congress in 1992 on a platform of reform," the pre-edited entry said. "As part of that platform Meehan made a pledge to not serve more than four terms, a central part of his campaign. This breaking of the pledge has been a controversial issue in the 5th Congressional District of Massachusetts."

The new entry reads in part: "Meehan was elected to Congress in 1992 on a plan to eliminate the deficit. His fiscally responsible voting record since then has earned him praise from citizen watchdog groups. He was re-elected by a large margin in 2004." (The Lowell Sun)
It is fine for Meehan to correct incorrect information. It's more than fine. It's the thing to do. What is not the thing to do is delete factually correct information.
"To knowingly remove a truthful statement is just wrong," [Geoffrey Bowker, director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University] added. "It's not the place of any special-interest group to tamper with the facts available to the public."
Maybe I feel so strongly about this because I am a founding editor of The Flu Wiki. There is an honor system there and on Wikipedia. Marty Meehan dishonored himself by violating that honor system.

Yes, he's a liberal Dem and it's good to have them in Congress. And yes, this isn't the worst crime. Unlike those of many of his Republican colleagues, it isn't even indictable.

But it still stinks.

Addendum: Micah Sifry has posted a much longer list of CongressThings that have similarly sanitized their bios. It's just that Meehan is the first to admit it. If you live in their districts, let them know you don't like it. As Micah notes, it appears there are many more Republicans than Democrats (probably because they had more stuff that "needed" editing out). At the top of the list is Richard Pombo (R.-Calif.) whom I will deal with in a post tomorrow.