Prizes

Debut Booker Longlister Subject of Controversy Online and Off

By posted at 3:34 am on July 30, 2009 2

Most of the Booker longlisters are fairly well-known, and (as of this writing) all of them, save three, have their own Wikipedia pages. However, one of those three has actually been the subject of a Wikipedia war over the last few years, and his page was deleted after months of contentious argument.

coverEd O’Loughlin is a first-time novelist, who was until recently Middle East correspondent for The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age. His book, Not Untrue and Not Unkind is about a former war correspondent looking back on years of reporting from Africa.

It appears that O’Loughlin was at the center of intense debate over his Middle East coverage for the Australian papers, where he was a target of critics who charged that he was biased against Israel. A note (scroll down) in The Australian gives a taste of the rancor O’Laughlin incited:

He walked away from journalism last year with impressive references. Federal MP for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby, for example: “There’s nothing funny about O’Loughlin’s systematic bias against Israel, which is indeed both intellectually lazy and politically intemperate.” Or journalist Tzvi Fleischer: “Ed O’Loughlin is obviously a talented journalist who brilliantly distorts facts and substitutes opinions for news.” O’Loughlin responded to such attacks saying there had been an “intensive lobbying effort to skew the Herald and The Age to a pro-Israeli position”.

Even as O’Loughlin was targeted by critics in Australia, a debate raged over his Wikipedia page in the back rooms of the online encyclopedia. One such page serves as something of an index to the ongoing dispute (the encyclopedia’s procedural intricacies can be notoriously difficult to parse for the casual Wikipedia reader, myself included). It appears that at one point, O’Loughlin himself requested that his page be removed from Wikipedia. His request, reprinted below, is taken from another page covering the debate over his entry:

Dear whoever you all are

My name is Ed O’Loughlin – this is my real name, I stress – and I am the subject of this article.

The article as it has appeared in its various manifestations in recent months is a starkly one-sided attack on my personal and professional character which is based entirely on highly partisan sources and falsehoods. The moving forces behind it are anonymous people who do not have the integrity to reveal their identities or interests, and whose malicious intent is quite clear from their contributions to the discussion pages and their vandalisation of posts expressing differing views.

I note that the article has already been deleted once on precisely these grounds, and I am puzzled as to why it has now been re-instated. If it were published in the “old media” – which is to say, by people who have to publicly stand over and justify what they say and suffer the potentially severe personal consequences, such as loss of livelihood – it would clearly be actionable.

Please note that my work has been repeatedly critiqued in the public domain in Australia for the past five years and in that time not one factual error or instance of bias has been substantiated. Please also note that every newspaper reporter covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to stand up to a level of vexatious attack from interest groups and ethnic partisans unknown in any other posting. Nevertheless, all the complaints against me to our internal ombudsmen and to the Australian Press Council have been dismissed as entirely without merit, including one (Press Council number 1305, December 2005) which went to full arbitration. My employers, whose commitment to truth in journalism comes second to no media organisation in Australia or indeed the world, has seen fit to extend my contract here from the original two years to five years and counting.

I am, overall, an admirer of the Wikipedia project but I am disturbed to see how easily it can be manipulated by those hell-bent on imposing their personal beliefs, without regard to balance or empirical truth. I recently watched an episode of the Colbert Report in which the presenter demonstrated the pitfalls of what he terms “wikiality” by editing the page on African elephants to assert that their numbers are exploding. I now understand what he meant.

I am requesting that this article be deleted. If anybody wants to write about me in future I would expect them to at least have the courtesy and guts to put their real name to their writing, as do I. If the article is not deleted I expect this letter be prominently displayed both on the front page and on the discussion page, and that the letter be protected from the vandalism which has been such a marked feature of this supposed debate.

Yours, Ed O’Loughlin, Middle East Correspondent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age

One assumes that after all this O’Loughlin is pleased to have graduated from foreign correspondent to Booker-nominated author.

Bonus Link: O’Loughlin has just completed his second novel.





Share this article

More from the Millions

2 Responses to “Debut Booker Longlister Subject of Controversy Online and Off”

  1. Emily
    at 5:35 pm on July 30, 2009

    There was actually a really good article on Wikipedia by David Runciman at the LRB a while back which was also a review of The Wikipedia Revolution by Andrew Lih.
    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n10/runc01_.html
    And there's a discussion of Wiki's 3 revert rule and and their recent changes patrol, which relate somewhat to O'Loughlin's case–though his seems much more complicated.

    It is interesting though, the rise of Wikipedia: When I first started teaching at Stanford in 2001, it was a forbidden source for undergrad research papers; now, a lot of professors have students read Wiki entries as part of the syllabus. By and large, it's a legitimate source these days, in spite of giving vandals and partisans the right to edit entries freely.

  2. sarekofvulcan
    at 7:33 am on August 4, 2009

    Actually, as a Wikipedia editor and admin, I would dispute the characterization of it as a "legitimate source" — after all, WP doesn't consider its own articles as "Reliable sources" for other articles. However, it's a good place to go to see what legitimate sources have said about a subject. If you run across an article that doesn't have sourcing, or references obscure sources not available on the web, take it with a large grain of salt.

Post a Response

Comments with unrelated links will be deleted. If you'd like to reach our readers, consider buying an advertisement instead.

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments that do not add to the conversation will be deleted at our discretion.