Wikipedia:The Daniel Brandt controversy

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An ugly far left sectarian dispute[1] reared its head in Wikipedia in 2005 with disastrous consequences for the site's credibility, and continues to plague the project. The feud had been dormant for many years until the need to elevate a “controversial and notable expert” above the level of “partisan and extreme” defined by its own policies became apparent which would have precluded the so-called “expert” as "a source for anything other than himself,” as Wikipedia's ever fluid policies dictate.

Col. L. Fletcher Prouty (1917 - 2001).

Chip Berlet built a career writing in various far-left revolutionary publications, including Guardian (NY) of New York,[2] founded by KGB agent Cedric Belfrage, whose writers at times included KGB operatives Anna Louise Strong, Agnes Smedley, and Wilfred Burchett. Burchett was a long time personal friend of Ho Chi Minh,[3] assisted in extracting confessions from American POWs in the Korean War[4] and spread disinformation about American use of germ warfare which Soviet Archives now conclusively have shown was a lie manufactured in the Kremlin.[5] Progressives for Obama webmaster[6] Carl Davidson was also a contributor who did not resign immediately at the time of the open break between Maoists on staff and Guardian's editorial management.”[7]

Berlet and Daniel Brandt wrote for the Covert Action Information Bulletin in the 1970s, and Brandt wrote for CounterSpy magazine, edited by Philip Agee and Timothy Butz. Butz was also on the editorial staff of The Public Eye[8] with Berlet as managing editor[9] and which Berlet describes as a "spawn of the first Counterspy."[10] CounterSpy magazine outed the names of several CIA agents,[11] including CIA Athens Station Chief Richard S. Welch who was murdered by the terrorist Revolutionary Organization 17 November in 1975[12] and gave the impetus for passage of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.[13] Berlet was also a member of Brandt's Public Information Research board of advisers, but Berlet's extreme leftism demands ideological purity from its followers. Berlet made an ultimatum to remove another Board member.

Daniel Brandt, founder of Namebase,[14] Google Watch, and Wikipedia Watch, removed Berlet from his Board of Advisors in 1991 when Berlet refused to sit on the same Board which included, in Berlet's words, "LaRouche-defender Fletcher Prouty." Prouty, a retired Air Force colonel whose intelligence career stretched back to accompanying President Franklin Roosevelt to the Teheran conference, was allegorically portrayed as the mysterious “Man X”[15] by Donald Southerland in Oliver Stone's film, JFK. Berlet considered Prouty a fascist. Brandt retorted, "When it came to making a choice between Prouty and Berlet, it was a rather easy decision for me to make."[16] Berlet further sought to undermine Brandt by convincing three others to quit, adding "He (Brandt) was mad"[17] but admitting "On the other hand, Brandt is highly critical of the LaRouchians."[18]

The WikiMedia Foundation retained Berlet - despite his penchant for excess,[19] to deal with the ceaseless barrage of idiosyncratic musings from the followers of Lyndon LaRouche- until July 2008 when Berlet requested that his account be deleted, and he appeared to stop editing Wikipedia[20]

Impugning critics

Neutral Point of View (NPOV) requires,

without bias all significant views (that have been published by reliable sources). This is non-negotiable and expected on all articles.

Berlet complained about criticism in his Wikipedia biographical entry,[17] and the organization he is associated with, Political Research Associates.[21] One critic was blasted in the article mainspace with an unsourced, unspecified rebuttal by Berlet as "unethical;" when an editor asked if the charge by Berlet could be substantiated the editor was rebuked and accused of "harassing a controversial expert."[22][23][24] Another reliable source in the article read,

one leftist writer mentions Berlet’s 'crusade' against Progressives who stray from Berlet's ideological fever swamps by working with non-leftist groups. In a fascinating conclusion, the leftist commentator warns that Berlet 'may try to undermine your work and isolate you.' [25]

Berlet stated, "This complaint was written by Daniel Brandt,"[17] and a Daniel Brandt entry on Wikipedia soon was created. Brandt describes himself as an "accountability activist"[26][27] and claims he originally began working with Wikipedia editors in good faith during October 2005 but any biographical information he revealed was spun against him to depict him in a negative light. Brandt states,

I soon realized that it was also about Berlet, who was still bent on undermining me. Berlet was using Wikipedia as part of his political agenda, and he was successful in this.[28]

Berlet's biography underwent an extensive revision with most of the substantive NPOV criticism cut out. The revising editor commented, "I kept Daniel Brandt, not because I feel he's a credible source, but because there's so little published criticism of Berlet, that I felt I had to retain something."[29] This is an extraordinary statement and raises the question why the same high-level Administrator and author of several of Wikipedia's core content and citation policies, including Wikipedia:Reliable Sources and Wikipedia:Biographies of Living Persons (BLP),[30] would use a source she did not consider credible. Brandt observed, "I soon discovered that she had slimed me in defense of Chip Berlet several months earlier."[28][31][32]

Wikipedia:Reliable Sources/Self-published sources states,

Berlet inserts highly inflammatory, guilt by association material cited to himself; the slanders remained for at least 16 months.
Self-published sources should never be used as sources for controversial, derogatory, or otherwise unverifiable statements about living persons other than their author;[33]

Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons/Reliable sources states,

Without reliable third-party sources, it will violate the No original research and Verifiability policies, and could lead to libel claims....Material about living persons available solely in questionable sources or sources of dubious value should be handled with caution, and, if derogatory, should not be used at all in biographies of living people, either as sources or via external links...Self-published books, zines, websites, and blogs should never be used as a source for material about a living person that is controversial, or derogatory...[34]

Brandt is also a registered user at Wikipedia, hence No Personal Attacks and Civility clauses apply, in addition to What Wikipedia is Not, a vehicle for propaganda, advertising or self-promotion, and Wikipedia is not a battleground.[35]

Wikipedia:No Original Research, which has undergone several revisions, at the time stated, "This policy prohibits expert editors from drawing on their personal and direct knowledge...If an expert editor has published the results of his or her research elsewhere...the editor can cite that source while writing in the third person...They must cite reliable, third-party publications... bearing in mind that specialists do not occupy a privileged position within Wikipedia."[36][37] Wikipedia:Ownership of articles prohibits asserting ownership over articles, particularly where a conflict of interest may arise. Chip Berlet has been cautioned by the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee on several occasions about over involvement in his Wikipedia biography.[38][39] When Berlet was unable to have criticism sourced to Brandt removed from his entry, Berlet dredged up a 16 year old highly inflammatory and vicious guilt by association smear against Brandt to elevate Berlet's own personal credibility and further undermine Brandt as a reputable critic of Chip Berlet. Berlet himself placed the slanders in Wikipedia entries about Brandt, citing himself, and using his own in-house self publishing source. Despite rigorous protestations and appeals to the WikiMedia Foundation Board of Trustees and the ultimate arbitrator Jimbo Wales himself, the slanders remained in for a year and half.

What is a reputable source?

Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America, John George and Laird Wilcox, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1992, Chapter 9, Guardian, pgs. 125-131. (ISBN 0-87975-680-2)

Several official Wikipedia policies were rewritten[40][41] and modified at various times to exempt Chip Berlet from provisions and applications. Enforcement of basic civility clauses and no personal attacks regarding Berlet's conduct are routinely ignored. Berlet considers himself an expert on the subject of anti-Semitism, but was unanimously rejected by several key and influential Wikipedia Administrators[42][43] as a reputable source[44][45] for the Wikipedia mainspace article, "Roots of Anti-Semitism" in 2005. As of October 2007, Wikipedia's Reliable sources/Extremist sources policy stated,

Organizations and individuals that are widely acknowledged as extremist, whether of a political, religious or anti-religious, racist, or other nature, should be used only as sources about themselves and their activities in articles about themselves, and even then with caution.[46]

High level Wikipedia Administrator SlimVirgin, in a remarkably transparent action removed herself as a defendant[47] from Wikipedia's internal policy making and self-regulatory process governing user conduct known as Arbitration. The Arbitration Committee voted to accept a complaint filed against her[48] to review her conduct. SlimVirgin made the Complaining party the defendant, removed herself, and placed a third party, User:Katefan0 in her place. SlimVirgin then presented evidence in the same case which stated,

'An extreme political website should never be used as a source for Wikipedia except in articles discussing the opinions of that organization or the opinions of a larger like-minded group,' a passage I (SlimVirgin) was the author of back in March. [466] What I meant by "extreme" was political groups like Stormfront, Hamas, or the Socialist Workers Party"[49]

The Complaining party stated,

the section you cite giving the Socialist Worker's Party as an example of an extreme source actually seems to solidify my case against Mr. Berlet, as his biography openly boasts that he has done work with that group! If the Socialist Workers Party is not a reputable source as the section you quote states, would not the same be true of political activists who openly and proudly align with the Socialist Workers Party and dozens of other equally extremist organizations?[50]

Nonetheless, reprisal actions were taken against the Complaining party who exposed the duplicity of Wikipedia internal regulatory processes and favoritism granted to an extreme leftist writer.

Jimbo Wales chooses sides in the dispute

The negative publicity engendered by the Seigenthaler and Brandt cases put Wikipedia into crisis management mode. Contrary to popular belief, Wikipedia:Biographies of Living Persons did not come into being because of the Seigenthaler scandal, but rather over the Brandt controversy, as the originating editor noted in an edit summary.[30] Brandt requested Wikipedia delete his biographical entry, and ceased working with editors he suspected of working to further the propagation of false information about him.

Editor & Publisher magazine bills itself as the nation's oldest trade journal serving the newspaper industry with roots dating back to 1884. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales responded to questions from Editor & Publisher in a prepared statement on December 1, 2005 about Daniel Brandt saying,

I don't regard him as a valid source about anything at all, based on my interactions with him. I tried very hard to help him, and he misrepresented nearly everything about our conversation in his very strange rant. He considers the very existence of a Wikipedia article about him to be a privacy violation, despite being a public person. I find it hard to take him very seriously at all. He misrepresents everything about our procedures, claiming that we have a 'secret police' and so on.[51]

Wales comments had an immediate threefold effect:

  1. This was exactly what Berlet wanted, an official statement declaring Brandt was not a reliable source of criticism on Chip Berlet
  2. It fueled the already existent anti-Brandt sentiment within the Wikipedia Admin community
  3. Wales comments added undue weight[52] (WP:UNDUE) to criticism of Brandt when placed within his biographical entry, yet another systemic violation of Wikipedia's own written policies. All hope for a civil and equitable resolution to the impasse was lost, and many unwitting dupes in the Wikipedia Admin community picked up the anti-Brandt torch to retain Brandt's biography simply because Brandt wanted it deleted. As in the Seigenthaler controversy, Brandt once again demanded accountability, this time from the army of unnamed, unidentified Wikipedia Administrators furthering Berlet's agenda to destroy Brandt's credibility, and elevate Berlet's own as a Wikipedia "expert," while concealing the extremist roots of Berlet's own background which would deny him inclusion as a source on anything other than himself.
From WikiTruth, the inscription reads,
"The Big Bad Brandt is Gonna Getcha!

Brandt became known as the scourge of the Wikipedia Admin community. WikiTruth says in its Brandt the Boogeyman entry,

he dates back to a time when people would look up facts in books and would verify information without just doing a copy and paste from an AP news article and thinking they were done. He compares writing styles, he calls government agencies, and he writes letters. And when he's done, he tends to know. Or at least, he knows where he stands in terms of information. He's rather tenacious about getting stuff right.

Wikipedia, of course, doesn't do this much at all: depending on the day, they'll laud a link to a website as being absolutely useless (it's on the WEB, of course) and then the next minute link to a different website to back a "fact" up. Citing books and printed materials is often a no-go, because nobody can read the original citation, so it gets swept away as well. Really, you have no idea what's good and what's bad, and it's all one big happy soup-hug.

Therefore, guys like Daniel Brandt are horrible for Wikipedia: he researches. He finds laws that pertain to situations. He asks the tough questions that could upset the whole Wiki-cart.

First casualty: a Congressional correspondent gets canned

The first casualty in the war between Brandt and the Wikipedia Admin community[53][54] was a reporter for Congressional Quarterly and accredited to the U.S. Senate Press Gallery.[55] User:Katefan0 was a member of the Association of Immoral Wikimedians[56] founded by Jimbo Wales.[57] Brandt stated,

Katefan was accredited to the U.S. Senate Press Gallery; ArbCom knew of some her conflicts of interest.
One thing that a professional journalist must always do is properly and completely identify themselves to those they interview, before the interview starts. I think it is safe to assume that her employer does not know that she became an anonymous administrator on Wikipedia last September. It's also safe to assume that she did not inform the standing committee that her gallery press pass application needed to be modified when she became active on Wikipedia.

On Wikipedia, she was making edits on articles about Congresspeople, and about Congressional politics and political issues. Wikipedia is arguably much more influential than the Congressional Quarterly, even though CQ has a good reputation. Anonymous administrators at Wikipedia have tremendous power to shape the content of articles.

It is clear to me that she should have identified herself as an administrator at Wikipedia to everyone in Washington DC that she came in contact with professionally. Her position at Wikipedia was an obvious conflict of interest to the extent that it was not disclosed.[55]

Katefan outed herself[58] but Brandt conceded the circumstances surrounding her exit from Wikipedia damaged his reputation. Meantime the issue of accountability at the forefront of the Seigenthaler scandal was all but forgotten as privacy concerns of anonymous Administrators surmounted defamations of innocent real life people whose identity was known.

Katefan initiated Wikipedia:Dispute resolution with a knowledgeable conservative editor over various controversies on the Houston Chronicle article, including references to the Chronicle's coverage of Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay. Katefan had in fact worked for the Houston Chronicle during many of these controversies,[59] was using Original Research and admitted to being friends with editors and reporters on the Chronicle staff.[60][61] Katefan removed properly sourced examples of the Chronicle's Editorial Board and her former co-workers hate speech,[62][63] which included references to prominent Republicans as a subhuman species. Katefan's conflict of interest was made known to the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee.[64][65] For her assistance in silencing, and ultimately harassing a knowledgeable conservative editor out of the project with an Arbitration ruling of "tendentious editing,"[66][67] Katefan was promoted to Admin.

Not long after, another professional journalist politely protested Wikipedia's exceedingly biased entries about Paul Weyrich. Patently false information about Weyrich was cited to none other than Chip Berlet, with the customary alleged "links and ties" to "fascist" Dominionism,[68] Berlet's latest ideological crusade. The user admitted to being a member of the same Melkite Catholic parish as Mr. Weyrich,[69] and offered to volunteer his professional expertise to improve Wikipedia's Dominionism series and bring neutral balance. The editor was instructed point blank by high level Wikipedia Administrators, "people with a vested interest in the content of an article should not edit it,"[70][71] and of course, profiled as a conservative, was banned for "tendentious editing."[72]

By March 2007 Katefan's name was no longer on the Senate Press Gallery list.[73]

Second casualty: Wikipedia "experts" called into question, the Essjay Scandal

On April 29–30, 2005 a conference of radical leftists to discuss the "real agenda of the Christian right" [74] was held a CUNY. Berlet spoke at the forum and Doug Ireland reported,

Nobody at the national level is tracking these Christer[75] censorship and pressure campaigns in a systematic way, to quantify them or assess their impact, so that strategies to defeat them can be developed. 'People for the American Way used to track this stuff, but they stopped doing so systematically in 1996. We at Political Research Associates would love to do it,' says Berlet, 'but we don’t have the resources. Groups like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute or Americans United for Separation of Church and State could easily do this sort of work. But none of us has the money to do it ....' [76]

Wikipedia had the resources, Political Research Associates began tracking them, and the “strategies to defeat them” were carried into the battleground of Wikipedia. Berlet's massive, “Dominionism” series, a compendium of anti-Christian screeds best characterized by Stanley Kurtz of the National Review, who also reported on the conference, claims the "real agenda" of the Religious Right is to,

suppress other religions ...reestablish slavery. ...reduce women to near-slavery by making them property. ...execute anyone found guilty of pre-marital, extramarital, or homosexual sex and bring back the death penalty for witchcraft.[77]

Ten days later on May 10 Essjay posted on his user page,[78][79]

I am a tenured professor of theology at a private university in the eastern United States; I teach both undergraduate and graduate theology.

My Academic Degrees:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (B.A.)
  • Master of Arts in Religion (M.A.R.)
  • Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology (Ph.D.)
  • Doctorate in Canon Law (JCD)

Essjay was nominated for Admin on July 13, 2005 and in accepting he wrote, "Most of my edits have been to theology related articles; I am a theology scholar after all. I’ve added a good bit of material to articles, particularly material related to Roman Catholicism."[80] An anonymous IP commented, "I have read several of Essjay's articles on Catholicism and I am very impressed with how thorough and clear they are. Many scholars try to be "thick" in their language, but not Dr. Essjay."[81] His Adminship was completed one week later with near unanimous support.

After serving in the leadership of various Wikipedian associations such as Administrator General of Esperanza and official contact for Wikimedia with Freenode, the IRC network that hosts most of Wikimedia's IRC channels, Essjay was elected a Bureaucrat on March 31, 2006.[82]

Hoaxes perpetrated against academics and mainstream media

On April 7, 2006 one week after moving into his new role as a Bureaucrat Essjay sent an email to a professor in response to her comments on using Wikipedia as an academic source. The professor had told her students, "PLEASE NOTE THAT WIKIPEDIA is not to be considered a reliable source." The email is not of a personal nature and Essjay clearly represents himself as speaking for Wikipedia and posted a verbatim copy for others to use. The letter stated:

I am an administrator of the online encyclopedia project Wikipedia. I am also a tenured professor of theology... I find it very disturbing that you included the statement "it is my understanding that anyone can put anything there, and it is not vetted for accuracy." ... Well credentialed individuals (myself included) participate in the project in the hopes that our involvement will help to make Wikipedia a better source, and dispel the misconceptions held by the public. ...

Wikipedia has recently experienced some bad publicity over the John Seigenthaler Sr. affair (I know the issue extensively; I was the administrator who deleted the inappropriate revisions when Mr. Seigenthaler contacted our founder, Jimmy Wales); it is quite unfortunate that a relatively minor issue on a relatively minor figure has provided so much negative publicity. ...It is never the case that known incorrect information is allowed to remain in Wikipedia; we strive to provide a resource that is both accurate and expansive. As we approach one million articles (far more than any other encyclopedia could ever hope to attain) on the English Wikipedia alone (there are hundreds of thousands of articles in the projects that make up the Wikimedia Foundation in dozens of different languages), we prove ourselves as a resource like none ever known before. (bolden added) [83]

Of the two hundred thousand registered users, and the nearly one thousand administrators with powers to block others from editing, Essjay was one of only 14 with Checkuser rights, a responsibility which has always been the cause of grave privacy concerns and only given to those who have earned the trust of the WikiMedia Foundation. Essjay was recommended to Pulitzer Prize winning author Stacy Schiff of The New Yorker by a member of Wikipedia's management team[84] and would not identify himself other than confirming the biographical details that appeared on his user page.[85] In a piece entitled, Know it all: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?, Schiff wrote,

Pulitzer Prize winning author Stacy Schiff was hoaxed by Essjay and Wikipedia's management team.[9]
One regular on the site is a user known as Essjay, who holds a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law and has written or contributed to sixteen thousand entries. A tenured professor of religion at a private university...

Wales also appointed an arbitration committee to rule on disputes. Before a case reaches the arbitration committee, it often passes through a mediation committee. Essjay is serving a second term as chair of the mediation committee. He is also an admin, a bureaucrat, and a checkuser, which means that he is one of fourteen Wikipedians authorized to trace I.P. addresses in cases of suspected abuse. He often takes his laptop to class, so that he can be available to Wikipedians while giving a quiz, and he keeps an eye on twenty I.R.C. chat channels, where users often trade gossip about abuses they have witnessed...

Wales recently established an “oversight” function, by which some admins (Essjay among them) can purge text from the system, so that even the history page bears no record of its ever having been there.

The New Yorker unwittingly published the deceptive information on Essjay's credentials in its July 31, 2006 issue. The same month Brandt pointed out at Wikipedia Review,[86] a forum frequented by prominent Wikipedians, including many who have been blocked from editing Wikipedia, "something... doesn't add up" regarding Essjay's claim of being a college professor despite editing Wikipedia as much as 16 hours per day.

In August 2006, a professional journalist who attended the same Catholic parish as Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation protested the patently false information about Weyrich. Weyrich was politically profiled as a right-wing "theocratic dominionist." Wikipedia's Dominionism entry, authored by Berlet, stated in its opening sentence, "Dominionism is a trend in Protestant Christian evangelicalism and fundamentalism."[87] There was one big problem, Weyrich is Catholic.[88] By now Essjay was becoming established as Wikipedia's leading scholar on Catholicism.[89]

The Wikipedia Review forum

On January 7, 2007, Essjay outed his own true life identity on his user page at Wikia.[90] A site administrator at Wikipedia Review posted on January 11 the Essjay user page at Wikia had been changed to include the "Staff" reference, normally given only to paid Wikia employees and noted there was no explanation given for why Essjay would leave a tenured faculty position to work as a Community Manager for Wikia. The same administrator posted further details [91] of discrepancies between Essjay's Wikia user page and his Wikipedia user page on January 19, after Essjay added still more personal-background information to his Wikia user page that bore little similarity to the credentials he had claimed on Wikipedia since April 2005.

Essjay claimed on February 2 he provided all his real life information to Jimbo Wales and Angela Beasley, and then the same information to Brad Patrick, Wikimedia Foundation General Counsel before he accepted the position.[92][93][94] It was apparent Essjay had lied.[85] Brandt sought to contact Stacy Schiff with the information, and expressed disillusionment over the next several weeks at not receiving a response.

Brandt sent several letters regarding his own biography to the Foundation Legal Department and never received a response. On February 3 Florence Devouard, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation announced Brad Patrick would be resuming his role as General Counsel exclusively after serving as Interim Executive Director and to now "focus on developing the role of General Counsel, and addressing a backlog of complex legal questions the Foundation faces moving forward."[95]

The 2006 WikiMania Conference was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, August 4–6.

Ken Myers, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School and author of Wikimmunity: Fitting the Communications Decency Act to Wikipedia[96] presented at the August 2006 Wikimania conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts[97] is known in the community as Ksm10. Myers registered an account at Wikipedia Review on February 21, 2007[98] and spent several hours which included a discussion with Brandt on Section 230 issues. Brandt had been arguing for months that Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act does not provide immunity to the WikiMedia Foundation, due to the fact that the Foundation's entire structure is designed to moderate the content on Wikipedia and that the Foundation functions as a publisher rather than a service provider. Only internet service providers are immune from liability for libelous content under Section 230.[99] Brandt's efforts to get Wikipedia to remove the libelous information about him attracted a lot of attention, and was even being studied in a Cyberlaw class at Harvard.[100]

Two days later one of the lesser known occurrences in the explosive maze of events of February 23 happened when Wikipedia Administrator Yanksox registered an account at Wikipedia Review.[101] Curiously enough, Yanksox spent several hours perusing the site where the background material on Berlet and SlimVirgin's efforts to discredit Brandt is laid out but never posted anything in Wikipedia Review for still another two months. In a bizarre turn of events and without discussing with anyone, Yanksox suddenly executed what Brandt had been asking for 15 months: invoking Ignore All Rules (IAR) policy, Yanksox deleted the Brandt biographical entry.[102][103] The page had been nominated for deletion numerous times, but always failed to win the necessary support in Wikipedia's mind-numbing bureaucratic processes. Yanksox stated his reasons as "privacy concerns, more trouble than it is actually worth. Are you people even human?",[104] then performed a "kamikaze dive" by deleting his own user page.

It was now common knowledge among critics at the Wikipedia Review forum and many of Wikipedia's so-called "inner cabal" that gross distortions and lies had been used to advance Essjay within the organization and perpetrated against a mainstream news source with a good reputation for fact checking. Many of the more mature Wiki Admins now saw the wisdom of ending the dispute with Brandt which was claiming more and more dupes with no understanding of the root of the dispute. In the midst of the firestorm over Yanksox out of process deletion that same day, Jimbo Wales announced Essjay's appointment to the Arbitration Committee.[105]

Three days later, on February 26, Brandt received and posted a response from the Deputy Editor of The New Yorker stating a retraction would be published in the March 5 issue including the comment, "which comes out today."[106] Wikia's public relations firm made Essjay's response to The New Yorker.[107]

The scandal breaks

When the scandal broke it was international in scope with ABC News,[108] Associated Press,[109] BBC,[110] USA Today,[111] London Daily Telegraph,[112] London Guardian,[113] Le Monde,[114] The Register,[115] Newsweek,[116] BusinessWeek,[117] CNSNews,[118] Boston Globe[119] and Sydney Morning Herald[120] all reporting on it. The reaction within the Wikipedia Community was largely a feeling of shock, anger, and betrayal. Many bona fide experts and academics quit in disgust.[121]

Jimbo Wales' handpicked Arbitrator of civility began name-calling and attacked "Brandt and his Wikipedia Review cronies;"[122] however this excuse rings hollow since Essjay posted the bogus credentials long before the Katefan controversy, and shortly after the campaign against Brandt's credibility began months before Brandt was ever involved, or even aware of it. Essjay also blamed The New Yorker :

I’m also sorry the New Yorker chose to print what they did…no respectable publication would print it.”[123]
The New Yorker retraction quoted Jimbo saying, "I don’t really have a problem with it."[124] Estranged co-founder Larry Sanger, who is probably recognized as Wales most respected critic, confronted Wales,
Look, either you hired him thinking he was a tenured professor, or you hired him knowing he was a fraud. There wasn't a third option.[125]

A longtime editor from the very earliest days of the Wikipedia project, named JHK, after hearing Andrew Schlafly[126] founder of Conservapedia speak told Jimbo Wales,

he is right about there being a cadre of people who tend to get their way on editorial matters. Perhaps that's part of the social engineering experiment that is part of Wikipedia. But when a member of that cadre has clearly abused his position based in part on lies he told to get that position, and the cadre circles wagons ...?[127]

The Chronicle of Higher Education noted,

Like most of the controversies that swirl around Wikipedia, the incident has wider ramifications than a simple personal dispute....the incident is clearly damaging to Wikipedia's credibility -- especially with professors who will now note that one of the site's most visible academics has turned out to be a fraud.[128]

Six weeks after Foundation Chair Florence Devouard announced Brad Patrick resuming his role as General Counsel to focus on addressing "a backlog of complex legal questions the Foundation faces," Patrick resigned.[129]

What did Jimbo know and when did he know it?

On April 11, 2007 the Wikimedia Foundation published as part of its Privacy policy for Checkuser rights a requirement for disclosure of the identification of Administrator to the Foundation. At the time of Essjay's appointment to Checkuser, several prominent Wikipedians expressed concern over the trustworthiness of Checkusers. Here is how Essjay addressed the gravity of their concerns:

We have users from all over the world. Not all of them live in countries where their safety is guaranteed; there are, most assuredly, editors from regimes where if their personal information was discovered, they could be imprisoned and perhaps even killed. That terrifies me, because I don't want anybody dying over Wikipedia, nor do I want them to end up in prison. If checkuser falls into the wrong hands (I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I don't think it's too hard to imagine foreign governments wanting to hunt down our contributors; after all, at least two have blocked us flat out already), the result could literally be a matter of life and death. Life and death.[130]

An editor asked, "I am really curious as to the reasons why Essjay and [another Admin] are any better candidates for checkuser status on en.wikibooks than the current two candidates on the request for checkuser status, and all I can say is that they enjoy somewhat better relationships with the Foundation board." The other Checkuser Admin responded,

the fact that Essjay and I are well known to the Foundation makes us more appealing to the Foundation, not specifically because we have done most of our work on Wikipedia (although this is true for me and to a lesser extent for Essjay, who has more meta experience than I do) but because we have become known to the Foundation as reliable, trustworthy individuals.[131]

Cracks in the dam

Wikipedia reached a milestone in its history on October 12, 2007, when Wikipedia "controversial and knowledgeable expert" Chip Berlet received his first block for incivility.[10] Berlet, who had written for extremist publications[132][133] throughout his career, had achieved a special "controversial expert" exemption from virtually all Wikipedia's written policies. This exemption from policy extended to citing self, no original research, no self-promotion, incivility and personal attacks, and other policies.

In the wake of the Essjay scandal, and questions surrounding Berlet's conduct toward non-LaRouche editors, Wikipedia appears to be moving away from the "expert" designation, and now uses the term "knowledgeable editor."


  1. Laird Wilcox, The Watchdogs: A Close Look at Anti-Racist "Watchdog" Groups, Second Edition, Part 2, Editorial Research Service, 1999, p. 21. ISBN 0-993592-96-5.
  2. Right Woos Left: Populist Party, LaRouchian, and Other Neo-fascist Overtures To Progressives, And Why They Must Be Rejected, Chip Berlet, Preface & Acknowledgements. Berlet writes, "John Stockwell gave an interview even though he felt my "Guardian" article on Craig Hulet implied Stockwell was an ally of "Bo" Gritz. That was not my intent, and I regret any misunderstanding and appreciate Mr. Stockwell's patience. Dan Brandt, whose Namebase research database software remains very useful, originally attempted to keep my criticisms of his defense of Fletcher Prouty in perspective." The Guardian article is cited at, "Right-wing Conspiracists Make Inroads into Left," The Guardian (NY), September 11, 1991, p. 3. [1]
  3. Losing it in Nam, The Australian, October 20, 2007.
  4. A Rebel Reporter, Book Review by Bertil Lintner, Asia Pacific Media Services, August 2006.
  5. Bruce B. Auster, Unmasking An Old Lie: A Korean War Charge Is Exposed As a Hoax, U. S. News & World Report (16 November 1998), p. 52.
  6. Carl Davidson,, retrieved March 13, 2010.
  7. Chronology of Political Events, Part Four 1975-1980. Max Elbaum. Retrieved from Revolution In The Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che, March 18, 2010. Text reads, "1975- March–April: Break between the [October League] OL and the Guardian, bitter private meetings and internal staff struggles; an exchange of public polemics on foreign policy, International Women’s Day actions/”no united action with revisionists” line; finally OL pulls its cadre out of the staff - Renee Blakkan, Martin Nicolaus, Nancy Nikcevich and Rod Such resign; Carl Davidson is also associated with the OL position but does not resign at this time/check this. (self-published material in BTr-3; Guardian, April 16, 1975 in BTr-4)"
  8. "Public Eye Staff," The Public Eye (Vol II, Issues 1 & 2, 1979), 3.
  9. The Public Eye, Volume III, Issues 1 and 2 (1981).
  10. Chip Berlet and Linda Lotz, Reading List on Intelligence Agencies and Political Repression, (NY:National Lawyers Guild Civil Liberties Committee, Rev. 1/14/91).
  11. Dirty Work, Time magazine, Monday, Oct. 02, 1978.
  12. Washington Post, Obituary: Richard S. Welch, 29 December 1975, A16. ISBN 01908286
  13. For The Record, Washington Post, 27 July 1980
  15. Leroy Fletcher Prouty, Jr., Colonel, United States Air Force, Arlington National Cemetery Website, Retrieved November 4, 2007.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2
  18. Right Woos Left: Populist Party, LaRouchian, and Other Neo-fascist Overtures To Progressives, And Why They Must Be Rejected, Chip Berlet, Part 033 The JFK Conspiracy - November 22, 1993. Retrieved from the Nizkor Project, October 29, 2007.
  19. Brandt notes, "Berlet, from Political Research Associates, is always denouncing folks as right-wing, fascist, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic, sexist, cultic, or conspiracist." [2]
  25. Chip Berlet: Leftist Lie Factory, By Chris Arabia, October 16, 2003.
  26. Believers, Negativists Debate Wikipedia’s Trustworthiness, by Mark Glaser, 20 April 2006. Retrieved from October 29, 2007.
  27. Wikiquote/Daniel Brandt#Sourced
  28. 28.0 28.1
  29. Chip Berlet/Talk, SlimVirgin 00:19, 7 January 2005.
  30. 30.0 30.1
  32. SlimVirgin stated on stated 21:57, Dec 28, 2004, "Daniel Brandt is not a reputable source." Talk:Chip Berlet/Archive 1, and at 23:47, Jan 4, 2005 (UTC) "I removed Daniel Brandt. He's not a credible source"[3]
  40. Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Willmcw and SlimVirgin/Workshop/Request of finding for ex post facto policy changes.
  41. Wikipedia:No original research, Revision as of 00:21, 17 December 2005; SlimVirgin removes the language, "Wikipedia welcomes experts and academics. However, such experts do not occupy a privileged position within Wikipedia."
  42. "I, Jayjg, hereby award you this Barnstar for your scrupulous adherence to Wikipedia policy and standards, most recently in your brilliant use of reliable sources at Holocaust Denial. 03:34, 26 February 2006 (UTC)" [4], retrieved from WP/User:Goodoldpolonius2, October 14, 2007.
  43. Talk:Roots of anti-Semitism, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Revision as of 00:01, 8 August 2005. [5]
  44. Talk:Roots of anti-Semitism/What counts as reputable?
  45. Talk:Roots of anti-Semitism/Deep problems with the article, Revision as of 07:17, 5 August 2005, Goodoldpolonius2; "the whole article is essentially original research. The only source cited (besides Chip Berlet's chart, which, whatever its merits, has remarkably little to do with the roots of racial anti-Semitism in the 19th century)....The racial anti-Semitism section is not factually correct."
  46. Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Extreme sources, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved October 14, 2007.
  47. Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Willmcw and SlimVirgin, SlimVirgin (→Rangerdude - moved Katefan's); SlimVirgin made involved third party: Katefan0 a full party to take her place in the case after ArbCom voted to Accept. Katefan0 it was discovered later was Kathryn Wolfe of Congressional Quarterly[6][7] accredited to the U.S. Senate Press Gallery. Wolfe lost her Senate press credentials when an undisclosed conflict of interest came to light regarding her activities as an anonymous Wikipedia Administrator. Wolfe was promoted to a Wikipedia Administrator after her role in the frame up of the complaining party. Wolfe initiated Wikipedia Dispute Resolution Procedures over an article about a former employer, the Houston Chronicle. The facts were made known to ArbCom. At the time, WP:Assume Good Faith was a policy, and not a guideline. Several parties were known to enter Wikipedia Dispute Resolution Procedures, signing an agreement to participate in Good Faith, only to be viciously defamed in a public forum accessible to Google search engines, without recourse, and both the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee and WikiMedia Foundation turned a blind eye to the situation.
  48. Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Willmcw and SlimVirgin, Revision as of 15:45, 13 October 2005, Mindspillage (→Arbitrators' opinions on hearing this matter (3/0/0/0) - accept);Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Rangerdude, Revision as of 15:46, 13 October 2005, Mindspillage (→Arbitrators' opinions on hearing this matter (3/0/0/0) - accept and merge)".
  49. Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Willmcw and SlimVirgin/Evidence/Response to suggestion that I violated NPOV and AGF, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 22:24, 14 November 2005 (UTC).
  50. Talk:Roots of anti-Semitism/What counts as reputable?, Revision as of 21:49, 4 August 2005, Rangerdude.
  51. Wikipedia Founder, Readers Respond to Seigenthaler Article, Jay DeFoore, Editor & Publisher, December 01, 2005.
  55. 55.0 55.1
  69. Talk:Paul Weyrich#Well referenced but biased sources
  70. User talk:Pravknight#Paul Weyrich
  71. ; Berlet circumvented official WP:Dispute Resolution by posting "I freely confess I have a vested interest in this..." at Wikien-1 and asked someone else to nominate Category:Soviet spies for deletion while the issue was being Mediated. At the time, WP:Assume Good Faith was policy and participants signed a Mediation pledge to participate in Good Faith [8]. Berlet's conflict of interest can be seen in (1) personal association with Guardian of New York, (2) personal association with Harry Magdoff, (3) personal connection with CounterSpy magazine. CounterSpy magazine outed the true identities of living CIA officials, and lead to creation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Berlet it appears never had a problem with exposing the real life identities of living CIA agents but has fought strenuously to keep deceased identities of KGB agents out of Wikipedia. Two years after Berlet circumvented policy, Category:Soviet spies has not been deleted.
  72. Wikipedia:Requests for comment/Pravknight#Question: Why is Leftism NPOV? The editor stated, "why is it that only Left-wing POVs are permitted on Wikipedia? Why is it that I constantly get harassed, picked on and intimidated for trying to bring things back to the center by excising the hate-filled, bigoted rhetoric that populates the articles about Christians in politics? This is extremely personal and hate-filled, and I'm sick of this harassment."
  74. Public university sponsorship of conference on "Examining the Real Agenda of the Christian Right"
  75. Religious Right Watch July 10, 2005.
  76. The New Blacklist: Corporate America Caves In to the Christers, Doug Ireland, June 09, 2005.
  77. Dominionist Domination, The Left runs with a wild theory. Stanley Kurtz, National Review Online, May 02, 2005.
  83. User:Essjay/Letter. Retrieved from WikiTruth, November 3, 2007.
  84. Know It All, Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?, by Stacy Schiff The New Yorker, July 31, 2006; Editor's Note appended.
  85. 85.0 85.1
  88. Talk:Paul Weyrich#Inaccurate information
  89. User:Essjay/RFC/Outside finding of fact by Doug Bell, 2 March 2007.
  92. Essjay (Talk) 06:07, 2 February 2007 (UTC), User:Essjay/Archives/52
  93. "his_positions_of_trust"_over_nonexistent_degrees&oldid=382962 Jimmy Wales asks Wikipedian to resign "his positions of trust" over nonexistent degrees, Wikinews.
  95. [Foundation-l] [Announcement] Executive director, Florence Devouard, Feb 3 21:47:48 UTC 2007.
  96. Wikimmunity: Fitting the Communications Decency Act to Wikipedia
  100. Cyberlaw: Internet Points of Control, Day 3. A Potential Solution: Intermediary Liability 2007 Winter Term.
  108. ABC News broadcast on Essjay. Retrieved on 2007-03-08.
  109. Bergstein, Brian. "Sanger says he co-started Wikipedia", ABC News, Associated Press, March 25, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-03-26. 
  110. "Fake professor in Wikipedia storm", BBC News, March 6, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-03-16. 
  111. Bergstein, Brian. "Citizendium aims to be better Wikipedia", USA Today, March 25, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-03-25. 
  112. Jardine, Cassandra. "Fount of all wisdom – and foolery", The Daily Telegraph, March 8, 2007, p. 21. Retrieved on 2007-09-29. 
  113. Finkelstein, Seth. "Read me first", The London Guardian, March 8, 2007.
  114. Wikipédia, à visage découvert, Olivier Dumons, LE MONDE.FR 08 Mars 2007.
  115. Orlowski, Andrew (March 6, 2007). Farewell, Wikipedia?. Music and Media. The Register. Retrieved on 2007-03-18.
  116. Levy, Steven. "Invasion of the web amateurs", Newsweek, March 26, 2007, p. 16. 
  117. B.L.Ochman (2007-03-22). Wikipedia's Not the Net Police. BusinessWeek. Retrieved on 2007-09-29.
  118. Bozell III, L. Brent. "Not Your Father's Encyclopedia",, March 21, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-29. 
  119. Beam, Alex. "Tricky truths behind Wikipedia", Boston Globe, March 12, 2007, p. E5. Retrieved on 2007-09-29. 
  120. "More than just a war of words", The Sydney Morning Herald, April 21, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-04-23. 
  121. Sand Castles of Knowledge, Kyle Gann, May 5, 2007.
  125. User talk:Jimbo Wales/Archive 20, March 2–5, 2007.
  128. Read, Brock. "Essjay, the Ersatz Academic", The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 2, 2007. 
  129. [Foundation-l] [Announcement] Brad Patrick Resigns as General Counsel, Brad Patrick, Mar 22 19:01:14 UTC 2007
  130. [Foundation-l] Stewards are ignoring requests for CheckUser information?, Essjay Mon Apr 17 06:14:53 UTC 2006.
  131. Foundation-l new checkuser policy Essjay, Fri Apr 21 19:22:21 UTC 2006
  132. "experts":+leftist+media+organs+selectively+use...-a097822451 Expertly using "experts": leftist media organs selectively use so-called experts to propagandize the masses on behalf of a statist agenda. (Expert Opinion).
  133. John George and Laird Wilcox, Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1992, (ISBN 0-87975-680-2), pgs. 125-131.