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The Daily Fray

The Wikipedia War of Paul Revere and Sarah Palin

June 6, 2011

Sarah Palin will not relent in defending her revisionist history of Paul Revere's ride from Boston to Lexington, in which Revere "warned the British." And her supporters similarly will not relent in revising the history of the event on Wikipedia in order to reflect Palin's version. Wikipedia editors are fed up with the flood of poorly sourced changes to the Paul Revere page--many point to Palin herself as a history expert--and have called for a lock on the page and an end to the discussion. 

Charles Johnson reported the volley of Palin-inspired changes to Paul Revere page and Dave Weigel offers a quick snapshot of the controversy. Here's a quick summary. Last week, Palin claimed that Revere warned the British not to take Americans' arms by "riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells." In questioning Palin's understanding of the Revere's midnight ride--an event historians have undeniably studied in depth, leading to ample academic debate over the specifics--critics point out that Revere definitely warned the colonists and probably did not do so by firing guns. This likely would've spoiled the clandestine nature of the mission. Here, one editor points out how a Palin supporter's attempt at bending the narrative towards her version:

In the article on Paul Revere, someone has added false information in an effort to support Sarah Palin's FALSE claims about Paul Revere.

"Accounts differ regarding the method of alerting the colonists; the generally accepted position is that the warnings were verbal in nature, although one disputed account suggested that Revere rang bells during his ride.[8][9]"

This must be removed as it is a LIE designed to mislead.

 

The behind-the-scenes discussion on Wikipedia starts here but rages as editors deleted false claims, users added them back pointing to Palin as a source, and everyone argued over who was less wrong. As replies to the post above reiterated, Wikipedia requires users to cite reliable sources when making claims and also to remain neutral in depicting historical events. The case for Palin-as-reliable-historian is pretty thin, but Palin's defenders sure tried. Here's an abbreviated thread in reply to the original complaint: 

I kindly remind people that it's not our job here at Wikipedia to decide what's true, but to report what reliable sources say, such as the LA Times, WDHD TV in Boston, numerous others. And they quoted an American politician saying that bells were used. --Tomwsulcer (talk) 15:09, 5 June 2011 (UTC) 

It's not the LA Times that's questionable as a reliable source, it's Palin herself. Even if the Times (& others) quoted her accurately, her off-hand, poorly-informed view doesn't belong here, per WP:UNDUE, and I have reverted. Hertz1888 (talk) 15:30, 5 June 2011 (UTC) 

Sarah Palin is a former governor of Alaska as well as a presidential candidate of one of the two national parties in the United States. Her account of Paul Revere's famous ride has achieved national attention from most mainstream media -- LA Times, CNN, you name it. There are numerous reliable sources quoted her exact words on this subject. This article has HUGE attention (55K readers in one day) as a result. Clearly, there should be some mention given its obvious importance. And I remind people, kindly, that it's not up to us contributors to determine who is and isn't a "poorly informed view" and to try to determine truth. Rather, Wikipedia is about verifiability.--Tomwsulcer(talk) 15:37, 5 June 2011 (UTC)

As soon as the site's administrators closed down the above debate, another group fired up a new discussion that not only renewed the defense of Palin's statements but lambasted the site's editors for censoring the discussion. They sound frustrated: 

Sarah Palin's army needs to go away

Your version of history is NOT what really happened and I refuse to allow you guys to twist the truth to fit your ideology. Sarah Palin is the dumbest politician in American history. Not only does she lack the ability to retell history correctly (like Paul Revere's ride) but she can't even name specific magazines and newspapers she reads. All of them? Really, Sarah? Biden makes gaffs but he's certainly not stupid. Sarah is the perfect example of stupid. THIS IS A TALK PAGE, STOP CENSORING ME. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Azwe (talk • contribs) 21:58, 5 June 2011 (UTC)

You're being "censored" because the purpose of this talk page is the improvement of an article on Paul Revere. If your comment actually said something germane to to that subject, rather than politically charged rhetoric, it wouldn't be censored. (Keeping opinion of Ms. Palin to self.) Magic♪piano 22:04, 5 June 2011 (UTC)
Telling Sarah Palin's grizzly-robots to stop vandalizing an article is improving it. 216.41.243.9 (talk) 23:20, 5 June 2011 (UTC)

Of course, this isn't the first time that Palin's army has attacked Wikipedia in the face of a big election. In the 24-hours before the surprise announcement that she would be John McCain's running mate in 2008, one fan using the name "Young Trigg" overhauled Sarah Palin's page to offer a more positive portrait of the then-Alaska governor. The updated entry called Palin, among other things, "a politician of eye-popping integrity" before an NPR report on the changes led Wikipedia administrators to lock her page.

The current debate is still on-going and illustrates well the Wikipedia conundrum of an open site. Despite being hidden behind a link, the debate over itemized changes in stories seems like a healthy string in which even the mainstream sometimes stops short of engaging. At least somebody is keeping track.

A humble suggestion for Sarah Palin fans

If you want to find a source to work into the article, you should search for sources that agree with what Palin said BEFORE she said it. Sarah Palin doesn't belong in this article, because it's an article about Paul Revere not about Sarah Palin, but if you want to bolster her position retroactively you just need to go back to anything released a week ago or more that counts as a RS and bring that to the forefront. --Opcnup (talk) 00:56, 6 June 2011 (UTC)

Hang onto those sources that are quoting Palin about this Revere comment. They could come in handy in creating a well sourced article on Palin's verbal missteps. They've certainly received sufficient in depth coverage in reliable 3rd party sources.--RadioFan (talk) 01:32, 6 June 2011 (UTC)
 
Somebody PLEASE lock this article! SemDem (talk) 01:39, 6 June 2011 (UTC)
Why? NW (Talk) 01:46, 6 June 2011 (UTC)
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