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Wikidemaio: City councilmember spins his Wikipedia page

January 31, 2011 - 4:02 pm

UPDATED 9:24 p.m. January 31: A local Wikipedia editor (and self-identified conservative) has marked Carl DeMaio’s Wikipedia page as having “multiple issues,” including disputed neutrality. The page now includes a section on this controversy.

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You can’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia, the encyclopedia anyone can edit. That’s a given.

But you should give yourself an extra helping of salt when using Carl DeMaio’s Wikipedia page to research the District 5 San Diego city council member and mayoral candidate.

On Jan. 18, a user going by the handle “San Diego Watchdog” made significant edits to DeMaio’s page, including the insertion of uncited evaluations of the council member’s “government service.” CityBeat has learned that this user worked in DeMaio’s office, which is not a huge surprise since DeMaio openly describes himself as “San Diego’s Taxpayer Watchdog.”

What may be surprising to some is the way DeMaio exalts himself in the page with lines like this:

DeMaio has arguably been the leading voice for fiscal responsibility and reform on the City Council.

“At least he included ‘arguably,'”  Tony Manolatos, spokesperson for District 2 City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, said after CityBeat directed him to the page.

And Manolatos does argue the point.

“My boss is the leading voice on fiscal reform—I would never give that ground,” Manolatos tells CityBeat.  “Carl’s got some good ideas, but we all have some good ideas.”

Faulconer does not have an entry on Wikipedia, nor do first-term councilmembers Lorie Zapf and David Alvarez. Councilmembers Todd Gloria, Tony Young, Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner each have entries that are a bit tainted with editorial (Gloria’s is hardly sourced at all), but, unlike DeMaio’s, it’s difficult to tell whether the pages were created or edited by council staff.

DeMaio’s page declares that he “led the campaign against Prop D” sales tax—another point that Faulconer, as well as other local leaders like Richard Rider and T.J. Zane, might contend. In fact, the page promotes a variety of DeMaio’s positions, such as his “Roadmap to Recovery” and opposition to a new City Hall project, without citation or criticism. The entry also claims that the New York Times named DeMaio “San Diego’s Taxpayer Watchdog,” which is not backed up by the original source.

DeMaio’s spokesperson Jeff Powell confirmed that DeMaio’s office created and edited the page—a practice that is “strongly discouraged” by Wikipedia.  The open-source encyclopedia says that its neutral-point-of-view policy is “absolute and non-negotiable” and public figures who want to edit their page should post to the entry’s “talk page.” If they do choose to edit the page, it should be minor corrections and must not to be promotional. Wikipedia adds:

Even if you do manage to pull off a neutral, verifiable autobiography, the very fact that so many autobiographies have not been that way has trained Wikipedians to expect the opposite—and hence one may be wasting their time or effort if they become provoked by the fact it’s still an autobiography, regardless of policy compliance. Furthermore this may also result in a reputation hit not only because you violated the guideline but also because you may have wasted someone’s effort.

This isn’t the first time DeMaio’s page has been the source of controversy. A review of the page history indicates that over the last year and a half, several users have noted that the page had “severe” neutral-point-of-view problems and earlier edits included text copied verbatim from DeMaio’s website. MelanieN,  a regular Wikipedia user who has written pages for everything from Point Loma to Justin Halpern, overhauled DeMaio’s entry on Jan. 1 to make it comply with the site’s standards. The recent edit by DeMaio’s staff significantly altered her work.

“I apologize, I was not aware of Wikipedia’s policy,” Powell says in an emailed response to CityBeat‘s inquiry about the page. “Thank you for drawing its attention to me and I will work on making the proper changes.”

DeMaio might also consider making some amends with his fellow City Council members. Manolatos points out that both Gloria and Young have taken leadership roles on fiscal responsibility as chairmen of the city’s budget committee. But Faulconer really has been “the leader,” he says.

We gave him the opportunity to make his case:

“When Kevin first took office, the city had no audited reports, a suspended credit rate, was frozen out of capital markets and placed under a cease-and-desist order by the Securities and Exchange Committee,” he says. “Beyond that, we had an auditor that answered to the people that set his budget—in other words, no independent city auditor. So, Kevin took over as audit committee chair and he’s been chair of the committee ever since and they ushered in all these changes. The city is back in the bond market, an independent auditor, the credit rating is back. These are measured achievements. Now he’s working with Tony Young and the mayor on next year’s budget to protect core seo services. To me that’s leading on fiscal issues.”

DeMaio is merely vice chair of the audit committee.

And now that CityBeat has written about it, someone can cite that on Wikipedia. Just not Faulconer’s office.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. iantrowbridge permalink
    January 31, 2011 - 7:05 pm 7:05 pm

    Dave: Tony Yong rythmes with Tony Thong that boggles the imagination. Maybe you should make a correction 🙂

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