March 01, 2007

Jimmy Wales Defends Wikipedia New Yorker Article Fabricator

[News! Not an echo!]

Jimmy Wales comments on the controversy:

In his "talk page" discussion, Wales states:

EssJay has always been, and still is, a fantastic editor and trusted member of the community. He apologized to me and to the community for any harm caused. Trolls are claiming that he "bragged" about it: this is bullshit. He has been thoughtful and contrite about the entire matter and I consider it settled. -- [[User:Jimbo Wales|Jimbo Wales]] 14:40, 1 March 2007 (UTC)

Wales' statement that "... claiming that he "bragged" about it: this is bullshit. He has been thoughtful and contrite about the entire matter ..." is utterly false. And is repeatedly refuted by references in the discussion where he made the comment.

"good job playing the part"

Actually, I did six hours of interviews with the reporter, and two with a fact checker, but I was really surprised that they were willing to do an interview with someone who they couldn't confirm; I can only assume that it is proof I was doing a good job playing the part. Essjay (Talk) 05:25, 6 February 2007 (UTC)

Essjay / Ryan Jordan has now posted a statement.

I'm not going to bother documenting all the dishonest aspects of his statement, such as that he began his fabrications way before any trolling was an issue, or that as a serial liar, he does not deserve any benefit of the doubt regarding his claims about the New Yorker reporter.

[Update: Some references for a fabulism pattern, for those interested in the gory details]

[Moved to main post from comments:]

I pointed out last night on one of Wikipedia's internal discussions that Jordan has been touting these false credentials since he started editing:

"Here's one from April 2005, referring to a book he cited as authoritative: 'This is a text I often require for my students, and I would hang my own Ph.D. on it's credibility.' If Wikipedia's willing to excuse this, what won't it excuse? The notion Essjay will sit in judgment of anybody on the Arbitration Committee is hilarious. [[User:Rcade|Rcade]] 04:18, 2 March 2007 (UTC)"


In response, an admin with 40,000 edits suggested I lose editing privileges:


So it's possible that someone will indeed face the music in response to this controversy -- me!

Posted by: Rogers Cadenhead at March 2, 2007 09:27 AM

Larry Sanger (the other Wikipedia co-founder, now doing an alternative, "Citizendium"):

For Jimmy not to "have a problem with" Essjay's identity fraud is essentially for him to declare: you can falsely claim all sorts of credentials you like on Wikipedia, and not have them. Truth-telling about yourself really doesn't matter on Wikipedia, and credentials (of course) don't matter either. Perhaps we already knew this. But nothing has ever more eloquently illustrated it.

The People In Charge Of Wikipedia And Wikia have obviously made a decision to brazen it out, that they have enough media popularity to snow anyone who matters, and to dismiss any evidence via ad-hominem attack.

Which, obviously, should really make you wonder about the whole effort, but also obviously, won't be heard enough to matter.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 01, 2007 10:00 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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This stream of posts & comments will certainly be fodder for my next Wikipedia commentary. The stuff in Wik. discussion pages is the most astonishing--particularly when one Wikipedian, defending this person's right to misrepresent his credentials, basically says anyone who believes anything related to Wikipedia is a fool.

Which does sort of put the controversy in perspective: If it's all just a MMORPG (or whatever), why is it being touted as an encyclopedia? And if it's an encyclopedia, isn't there some expectation that people involved with it don't tell massive lies about their qualifications, use those lies in letters to outsiders to defend Wikipedia's worth, and--after the lies are exposed--get punished by being hired by the organization?

Just to be clear: I don't give a d**n whether someone uses a pseudonym on Wikipedia. I do give a d**n when they lie about credentials and use those false credentials in supporting the project or their own expertise. And Wales' "who cares? he's great!" response, with the repeated notes in various discussions that, when push comes to shove, Jimbo's Word is Law...well, I don't know what to say.

Posted by: walt at March 1, 2007 11:11 AM

Just to put this thing in perspective, Essjay is playing with fire if he thinks he should have been able to get away with this. He said he spent six hours with Stacy Schiff, and two hours with TNY's fact checker.

Stacy Schiff is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and a guest columnist at the New York Times. The New Yorker's fact checker on the piece was Jessica Rosenberg, born in 1982, Harvard class of 2004. She's the daughter of Drew Gilpin Faust, the new president of Harvard. Ms. Rosenberg is a former co-president of the Radcliffe Union of Students.

Okay, I'm dropping credentials here, but unlike Essjay's credentials, these are real. You cannot represent Wikipedia or Wikia if you think that playing games with people like this is useful.

The biggest problem with Wikia and Wikipedia that I see right now is not Essjay, but with the fact that Jimmy Wales hasn't fired him from Wikia, and banned him from Wikipedia. But then, reading between the lines, I think it may have been Jimmy who recommended Essjay to Stacy Schiff. Jimmy's flickr site has a picture of Ms. Schiff:

It's too late for Jimmy on this issue; he's already thrown away any possibility of extricating himself.

Stacy Schiff and TNY were too trusting of Wikipedia, and they have to pay for it in the real word in terms of their reputations. But Jimmy thinks he can fly under the radar. The major media will skin Wikipedia alive unless Jimmy wakes up.

It's not nice to fool Major Media.

Posted by: Daniel Brandt at March 1, 2007 12:42 PM

I really dislike apologies for "any harm caused".

It implies the apologizer doesn't believe he did anything wrong.

I'm really sorry if I caused any offense; I can't be sure whether I did, because I have no conscience.

Posted by: Travis at March 1, 2007 01:25 PM

Check out the threads regarding the wikipedia at

Posted by: at March 1, 2007 01:29 PM

I don't blame Essjay. The fish rots from the head.

Posted by: Xed at March 1, 2007 06:13 PM

From the discussion link:

"I've been a Catholic scholar for years, and I couldn't tell you know how many times I've heard this myth, in and outside class."

Compare to:

"I've been a janitor at a Cathlic seminary for years, and I couldn't tell you how many times I've heard this myth, in and outside the classrooms I clean."

Doesn't have the same ring, does it?

Also, would the New Yorker interview a Wikipedia editor who was also a janitor in real life? Jimbo would like you to think so.

Posted by: anon at March 1, 2007 06:34 PM

In other news of Web 2.0 utopia gone to hell, I'm sure you are by now up to speed on this thrill-a-minute story, which is rending apart the Digg "community" as we speak...

Posted by: Tomas at March 1, 2007 08:06 PM

re: rotting from the head

this isn't the first time Jimbo's shown some very questionable ethics in protecting his valued wiki editors. Especially those who are published authors and former reporters for Business Week that create their own wikipedia entries to self promote books, for starters.

See this:

Posted by: Eliot Ness at March 2, 2007 01:00 AM

I've seen extracts from logs of chat forums that demonstrated Ryan Jordan bragging about how he'd fooled the New Yorker. I have no reason to believe that Jimbo was part of those conversations or is aware of those logs. However, he definitely has bragged about it, at least privately.

Posted by: Kelly Martin at March 4, 2007 08:06 PM