By T.D. ADLER
A report in Huffington Post recently revealed the case of Wikipedia editor Ed Sussman, who was paid by media clients such as NBC and Axios to help diminish critical material. Paid editors operating in a similar manner to Sussman have worked on behalf of CNN contributor Hilary Rosen and the CEOs of Reddit and Intel, among other clients.
Other conduct by Sussman not covered by the Huffington Post shows him authoring fluff pieces for NBC executives and getting his proposed changes approved by another paid Wikipedia editor.
The report by Ashley Feinberg detailed former journalist Ed Sussman’s work as a paid Wikipedia fixer for clients such as Axios, NBC, and Facebook. Sussman did this work through the firm WhiteHatWiki, which he argues follows Wikipedia policies. Sussman disclosed his paid editing on Wikipedia and ostensibly worked within the rules by having other editors approve proposed changes.
However, Feinberg’s article noted several of Sussman’s requests involved removing or watering down potentially damaging material about clients, even when citing sources considered reliable on the site. Such removals would appear to violate Wikipedia’s neutrality policy, which states:
All encyclopedic content on Wikipedia must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV), which means representing fairly, proportionately, and, as far as possible, without editorial bias, all of the significant views that have been published by reliable sources on a topic.
In one example Feinberg cited, Sussman requested changes to the page of Axios journalist Jonathan Swan regarding a false report he made last September claiming Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was resigning. A line noting the incident in Swan’s article was replaced with a paragraph hyping that Swan was “the first to report” Rosenstein’s offer to resign, despite the offer being refused. Sussman backed this spin with a New York Timesarticle treating the incident as a failure of the Axios reporting model, a fact not mentioned in Sussman’s proposed edit.
Many of Sussman’s approved changes to the pages of his clients engaged in this subtle spin and cherry-picking. Changes to the NBC News page defended the network’s refusal to air Ronan Farrow’s story, subsequently published by The New Yorker, on the sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, despite the very sources citedbeing more critical and Farrow’s own criticism of the network’s refusal to air the story. Feinberg identifies similar spin in Sussman’s portrayal of NBC’s handling of sexual assault allegations against the network’s own Matt Lauer.
Not all of Sussman’s work for NBC was noted in Huffington Post’s report. Feinberg mentions Sussman worked on NBC News chairman Andrew Lack’s page, but he also created the initial draft of the page, which another editor approved in its entirety. Sussman’s article notes Lack became NBC chairman amidst controversy over anchor Brian Williams, who was caught lying about his experiences during the 2003 Iraq War. His article did not mention the close relationship Lack had with Williams as noted in one of the article’s cited sources. Lack reportedly even advised Williams during the controversy and lobbied on his behalf with executives.