What kind of an idiot would pay any attention to Wikipedia after this?

Anyone who can watch this February 2015 vid (“Astroturf and manipulation of media messages”) by news veteran Sharyl Atkisson and still have any respect for Wikipedia had better start figuring out what kind of idiot they are. For their own protection. Know thyself, and all that.

(Wikipedia is only part of the astroturf story, but it’s a pretty sizeable part. And to think we thought pages on ID were a special bad case.)

In this eye-opening talk, veteran investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson shows how astroturf, or fake grassroots movements funded by political, corporate, or other special interests very effectively manipulate and distort media messages.

Sharyl Attkisson is an investigative journalist based in Washington D.C. She is currently writing a book entitled Stonewalled (Harper Collins), which addresses the unseen influences of corporations and special interests on the information and images the public receives every day in the news and elsewhere. For twenty years (through March 2014), Attkisson was a correspondent for CBS News. In 2013, she received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for her reporting on “The Business of Congress,” which included an undercover investigation into fundraising by Republican freshmen. She also received Emmy nominations in 2013 for Benghazi: Dying for Security and Green Energy Going Red. Additionally, Attkisson received a 2013 Daytime Emmy Award as part of the CBS Sunday Morning team’s entry for Outstanding Morning Program for her report: “Washington Lobbying: K-Street Behind Closed Doors.” In September 2012, Attkisson also received an Emmy for Oustanding Investigative Journalism for the “Gunwalker: Fast and Furious” story. She received the RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting for the same story. Attkisson received an Investigative Emmy Award in 2009 for her exclusive investigations into TARP and the bank bailout. She received an Investigative Emmy Award in 2002 for her series of exclusive reports about mismanagement at the Red Cross.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

Personally I (O’Leary for News) don’t think the problem can be fixed. Wikipedia’s basic premise is wrong.

The whole world is not going to edit an encyclopedia for free.

If it is not edited by the usual literary hacks, it will be edited by flacks, trolls, and dullards.

See also: How Wikipedia can turn fiction into fact (Sourced enough times, the fiction becomes “troo”)

Wikipedia hacked by elite sources now (The main problem is that the people who use Wikipedia do not care whether it is false or true. “Wikipedia is my library” is the new diagnostic for irresponsible laziness.)


Mathematician complains Wikipedia is promoting “pseudo-science” of multiverse (Then there were the minor revelations that core articles “don’t earn even Wikipedia’s own middle-ranking quality scores” and that some “editors” are paid by outside sources.)

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

My comment Uncommon Descent (this is crossposted):

UprightBiped at 1: What Atkisson is doing used to be called “investigative journalism.” You know, Woodward and Bernstein?
That was before fact morphed into “narrative” and media into PR for progressive government.

awstar at 2: New media make the research task much easier. Put seriously, if you were not on Uncommon Descent, would you know all that stuff about Wikipedia? Who was going to tell you, for free? The trick is learning to use the free news services and search engines prudently. Please do remember us at Christmas though. We don’t have “lifestyles” but we do have costs.

jimmontg at 3: Excellent example, thanks! People sometimes think we are only sore because of the crappy and uninformative poisoned-well pages on ID. Those people are mistaken. Our experience caused us to start accumulating evidence from the experience of others, resulting in some damning indictments.

If anyone cares, that is. One still hears lazy teachers explaining that Wikipedia is “free” or “easy”or “a good source.”

It should not be allowed on school servers, nor should students be permitted to source to it directly, unless “Wikipedia” is the topic.


  • My suspicion is the much of the professed approval of the Syrian refugees is astroturfing.

    • Drunk_by_Noon

      I was having the same thought too.

    • kkruger71

      I know very few people that are supporting bringing in as many as we are, and pretty much all of those are people in positions where they either will not have to deal with them (like not currently living in Canada), or will likely only see them when they can make money from the situation (doctor, politician).

      That is why they went all the way to France and made a big deal about Le Pen insulting the Canadian government plan. After spending years promoting her basically as a neo-nazi, they point out she disagrees with this, effectively saying “Look, you don’t want to agree with a neo-nazi do you? That’s the sort of person you will be agreeing with if you oppose bringing all these ‘refugees’ in”.

    • luna

      Very likely wealthy gulf counties have historically been big spenders in Washington, now the ninety is going through PR firms to manipulate increasingly online media.

  • CodexCoder

    The note of caution is appropriate. But not all information on Wikipedia is bogus – just opinions. For example, if you do research on anatomy, and are trying to discern the relationships between bones and muscles, the information is most likely correct as it is easily verified from other sources outside Wikipedia. But Sharyl Atkisson’s point is apt – always crosscheck, and if possible, verify from a published, printed source as verification. So in my study of anatomy, I have a published, printed set of flash cards used by medical students as a study aid. I don’t take Wikipedia as the final arbiter.

    And as a engineer, assumptions are dangerous because if you assume, you make an a$$ out you and an a$$ out me and in my line of work, you lose your right to practice if you screw up badly enough.

    • Waffle

      Agree — I am as guilty as the next person of using Wikipedia — usually to check birthdays of famous people and other trivia like that. I have learned, through experience, NEVER, EVER to trust it for historical accuracy — too many agendas at work here.

      • El Martyachi

        It’s handy and I use it heavily. If one is aware of bias tendencies it’s not a big deal to navigate through.

        • Waffle

          Yes — I also find that the footnotes can be very helpful.

          • El Martyachi

            Even the bias is helpful 😉

  • barryjr

    Years ago when my 4 kids were entering middle school in different years we always got a note home from the school saying in effect, that any paper handed in citing wikipedia as a source would receive an automatic F. It went on to say that this was the policy for the whole district in Middle School and High School. To this day none of us will use wikipedia and I won’t debate anything with anybody using it as a source for their arguments.

    • Minarchism Leads To Freedom

      I’ll bet their school books were/are just as biased.

  • kkruger71

    About all I will use wikipedia for is pop culture, like when was a certain song released, what was the name of the bass player in a band, etc.
    Wasn’t that long ago I got into a debate on a friends Facebook page with one of his friends when I offhandedly said wikipedia was a very left-wing spun source and this other guy went off about how great it was, untrue about a bias, etc. Worst part was this friend of a friend is a university graduate in…you guessed it, journalism.

  • John

    I see from this website http://www.whistlefiles.ch/andy-lehrer/lehrer-kijiji.pdf someone was actually selling wikipedia pages and links from their website.

  • luna

    Snopes debunked this ted lecture as myth.