The 2016 Republican Presidential primaries were closely contested and the last televised debate on the Saturday before the New Hampshire primary had the former governors attacking the non-governor candidates; trying to take Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz down a notch after their strong showing in Iowa; and the Washington outsiders attacking the Washington insiders. The candidates then fired off more attacks on the Sunday talk-show circuit, with each candidate using Monday to lay out their strategically formulated messages carefully crafted to swing last minute support in their favor the day before the critical Tuesday primary vote.
That Monday, February 8th, 2016, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush had his opportunity to make his closing case before the Rotary Club in Nashua New Hampshire with C-SPAN broadcasting his remarks. He started strong by first taking up an issue on the mind of everyone who reads this blog: Wikipedia’s unreliable biographies. Bush said:
Thank you all. Thank you very much. Did you go on Wikipedia to get that introduction? Yeah. So I got to tell my first story of being introduced by someone and they were trying to find things that they he… that they had in common… the guy gets up and says, ‘I’m tired of the regular kind of introduction, so I went on Wikipedia to find if I had anything in common with our guest speaker.’
And he proceeded then to go into this pretty lengthy introduction that I was an avid rock climber, and that I had a secret desire to be a movie star. Neither of which are completely true. I am from Florida, I mean, we don’t have rocks like you all have here in the Granite State, and I have no interest in being a movie star. You can tell that by my candidacy, can’t you?
So I get up and I have to tell the guy the truth, that I’m not any of this stuff. It turns out there are people, typically they’re probably unemployed kids with student debt you know that are stuck in their parents’ basement with Cheetos stains on their t-shirts that haven’t been able to get their first job so what they do is they play games to see how long they can edit Wikipedia pages in order to have games with their friends all around the world.
So my advice to you is, if you do have a Wikipedia page, check it once in a while, because you too may be an avid rock climber, or want to be a Hollywood movie star.
It turns out that Jeb Bush’s Wikipedia article did have “avid rock climber” added in 2008 by an IP editor, and the fact was removed in July 2012 by someone at Meridian Strategies, “the lobbying firm that double[d] as the management group for Jeb Bush’s controversial education reform nonprofits.”
Additionally, a variety of extra information appeared in earlier versions of the article that has been removed from the present version. The early Jeb Bush Wikipedia article was more rough and tumble than the speech suggests. For example, the article reported that Fidel Castro referred to Jeb as President’s Bush “fat little brother.” It was added (link) and quickly removed (link) on December 8, 2005. The article had a fake logo for a 2008 campaign that was added on November 16, 2005 (link) and removed on December 7, 2005 (link). Jeb’s article reported that Bush admitted smoking marijuana while in school from April 27, 2005 (link) to December 3, 2005 (link). The article also quoted Jeb Bush from the August 15, 1994 edition of The Miami Herald, describing his time at prep school as “a cynical little turd in a cynical little school”. That quote appeared from April 27, 2005 to January 24, 2007.
Since then vandals have added much worse, including unfounded sexual allegations. The Jeb Bush biography has been vandalized so many times that
currently it is semi-protected so that only established users may edit it during the four month period December 16 2015 to March 16 2016.
Bush’s vivid characterization of the editors who participate at Wikipedia may endure beyond his Presidential campaign. When he asserted that they were unemployed, Cheetos-stained basement dwellers playing just a “game”, the audience chuckled and generally accepted his view.
Of course, the Wikimedia Foundation has a big stake in dispelling this image, as it can affect new editor recruitment and fundraising. When I started editing Wikipedia, I had a mental image that my editing colleagues were college professors or librarians. Now, when Doc James tries to recruit a doctor to edit Wikipedia, the prospective editor may have the Bush-created image of an unemployed Cheetos-stained basement dweller doing it for the ‘lulz.’ Similarly, the image of Wikipedia being an unreliable reference work written by unpaid authors clad in Cheetos-stained t-shirts will not inspire donations.
In response, one editor has uploaded Bush’s quote to the Wikiquote website, where it remains intact despite the critical nature of the quote. Today before this article was published, the Signpost, Wikipedia’s internal newsletter, published a brief opinion piece about Bush’s comments. Other than that, the Wikipedia community has largely chosen to ignore Bush’s complaint about his biography.
If I were Jimmy Wales, spokesman for the Wikimedia Community, I would publicly invite Jeb Bush to meet for a “Cheetos Summit” just as President Obama held the famous Beer Summit. But our sole founder is off promoting a cell phone company (The People’s Operator) instead.
Jeb Bush had the nation’s attention in the short period between his favorable debate performance and Tuesday’s primary. From that platform, he created a vivid image that may become an internet meme, that may be as memorable as Sarah Palin’s claim that she could see Russia from the front porch of her Alaskan home.