By Peter Savodnik - 02/28/06 12:00 AM EST
The Wikipedia entry of Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) was changed late last year by a conservative op-ed writer now serving as the spokesman for the Republican challenging the incumbent, The Hill has learned.
The entry in the Web-based encyclopedia was edited to include information about Marshall’s position on a United Nations family-planning amendment, the estate tax, the congressman’s endorsement from the Sierra Club and a $5,000 contribution from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), said William Hagan, who made the changes.
He also linked one of his op-ed articles about the congressman, headlined “A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing,” to Marshall’s Wikipedia entry. The article was first posted Oct. 28, 2005, on the conservative Free Republic website. It was published the following day in The Houston Home Journal, in central Georgia.
Hagan works for former Rep. Mac Collins (R-Ga.), who is running against Marshall in the 3rd District. Collins exited the House in 2004 to run for Senate.
Hagan made the edits to Marshall’s entry in November. He said yesterday that it is difficult to say exactly how those changes originally read because there have been subsequent changes to the entry. Some of his original changes, including the references to the Sierra Club and Clinton, are still posted.
Marshall joins Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) as a lawmaker whose Wikipedia entry has been tampered with. In his entry, Terry was falsely accused of domestic violence.
Staffers for several senators have changed their bosses’ entries so that they reflect more positively on the senators.
In the entry for Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), for instance, a reference to a long-ago plagiarism scandal was erased, according to an article posted on Wikipedia. Similarly, the term “ragheads,” used by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), was airbrushed from the senator’s entry, Wikipedia reported. The term is a derogatory reference to Arabs.
Hagan, who said yesterday that he is no longer writing op-ed pieces and is focusing on the campaign, said he was simply exercising his freedom of speech when he edited Marshall’s entry.
Wikipedia permits people who log on to the site to edit the biographical entries.
Jimmy Wales, who founded Wikipedia in January 2001, said the nonprofit encyclopedia has “a very strong neutrality policy” opposed to any editing that skews public views one way or the other. But he added that “there’s a natural give and take in a free society of a discussion of an issue, and there’s no magic formula that says when something is and isn’t biased.”
Marshall spokesman Doug Moore countered that Collins had shown poor judgment by hiring “an acknowledged tamperer of someone’s Wikipedia entry.”
Emil Runge, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said: “It looks like the Collins campaign is endorsing the malicious tampering of publicly available information. I guess Mac Collins doesn’t think he can win on his own record. He has to distort Jim Marshall’s own outstanding record.”
Runge said Marshall would counter any negative impressions created by the Wikipedia entry by touting his record on rural healthcare, veterans affairs and national security.
Hagan expressed disbelief that Marshall cared about his Wikipedia entry. “During a time of war, when our country is facing some true economic problems, it’s absolutely amazing to me that Congressman Marshall is wasting his time checking out his encyclopedia entry. I actually thought freedom of speech was part of our country, but maybe Mr. Marshall disagrees with that.”
Marshall, like Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), is one of a handful of incumbents who could face a competitive reelection campaign this year. Although Barrow easily won a second term in 2004, beating Republican Calder Clay, 63 percent to 37 percent, President Bush won Barrow’s 3rd District with 55 percent that year.
Some of the territory of the former 8th District, once represented by Collins, overlaps with the 3rd. The ex-congressman has high name identification from his statewide Senate GOP primary race in 2004.
The man who won that primary and went on to become Georgia’s junior senator, Johnny Isakson, is backing Collins — no surprise, given that Collins is the only Republican in the race.
And Collins has a competitive fundraising operation. In the fourth quarter of the year, the Republican challenger raised $352,000 versus $246,000 raised by Marshall. Still, the congressman ended the year with $859,000 in the bank, compared to $542,000 for Collins.
Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, said that with 70,000 profiles of living people and at least another 70,000 entries on people who are dead, Wikipedia is constantly getting a stream of complaints. He said that Wikipedia editors investigate every one of them.