In a bizarre, self-inflicted assault on Wikipedia’s credibility, Founder Jimmy Wales has actively prevented information about an American journalist kidnapped by the Taliban from appearing on the site. Now Wikipedia is not only behind traditional media in terms of authority, but also timeliness.
The journalist is David Rohdes of the New York Times, who was kidnapped on Nov. 10 of last year. The Times managed to keep this fact under wraps for seven months leading up to his escape.
Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists, says, “Traditionally, if you could convince people that were somewhat unsavory that you were there to listen to their concerns and convey them to the world, that could go a long way.” Simon also contends that this tactic isn’t always successful, especially when dealing with terrorists.
Still, the Rohdes story stirred up debate among journalists over ethics. Not only did the news organizations and Wales not publish the information, they also made an agreement that spanned a number of news organization.
One professor at the Poynter Institute who teaches ethics to journalists was “really astounded” by the blackout. “I find it a little disturbing, because it makes me wonder what else 40 international news organizations have agreed not to tell the public,” says Kelly McBride.
This isn’t Wales first involvement in questionable ethical behavior since founding Wikipedia. Last March “Jimbo” Wales was lambasted by the Wikipedia community for his involvement in editing the bio of his then-girlfriend Rachel Marsden.
This action by Wales violates the core values of Wikipedia as laid out on the Wikimedia Foundation site. These values are: freedom; accessibility and quality; independence, commitment to openness and diversity, transparency; and community is our biggest asset.
The move by Wales violates at least five out of the six values that the foundation claims to uphold. While it may have felt good for Wales to flex his editorial muscles, hell hath no fury like a community scorned.