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Wikipedia and the Assassination of JFK

John Simkin

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Assassination accusation leads to new Wikipedia rules


December 6, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO -- Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute, is tightening submission rules after a prominent journalist complained that an article falsely implicated him in the Kennedy assassinations.

Wikipedia will now require users to register before they can create articles, Jimmy Wales, founder of the Web site, said Monday.

The change comes less than a week after John Seigenthaler, a one-time administrative assistant to Robert Kennedy, complained that a biography of him on Wikipedia claimed he had been suspected in the assassinations of the former attorney general and his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

Wikipedia, often cited as a prime example of the type of collective knowledge-pooling that the Internet enables, has some 850,000 articles in English. The volume is possible because the site relies on volunteers who submit entries.

Seigenthaler said he wasn't convinced the new registration requirement would stop the practice of vandals posting content that is slanderous.

''The marketplace of ideas ultimately will take care of the problem,'' Seigenthaler said. ''In the meantime, what happens to people like me?'' AP

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Here is an interesting article on this story that appeared in the Tennessean:


It should be noted that a member of this Forum, Daniel Brandt, was partly responsible for exposing this story.

Local man who linked Seigenthaler to Kennedy assassinations apologizes


Staff Writer

The mysterious person behind an "Internet character assassination" of veteran local journalist John Seigenthaler is a Nashvillian who said yesterday he never imagined that what started out as a joke would cause pain and ignite national debate.

Brian Chase, 38, said he created a fake online biography of Seigenthaler in May — linking the man to the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy — to play a trick on his co-worker. He said he didn't know that the Web site, a free Internet encyclopedia called Wikipedia, was used as a serious reference tool.

Chase, who has been an operations manager for a local delivery company, said he learned of the controversy Tuesday after Seigenthaler publicized it in newspapers. He hand-delivered an apology to Seigenthaler on Friday, and they spoke on the phone that night.

"I knew from the news that Mr. Seigenthaler was looking for who did it, and I did it so I needed to let him know in particular that it wasn't anyone out to get him, that it was done as a joke that went horribly, horribly wrong," said Chase yesterday.

"I'm very sorry that I wronged the man. He's a great guy. He's really a champion for freedom of speech, and to think that I used the thing that he champions, in a way that made him look bad and hurt him, I'm really sorry I did that."

Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center, is the chairman emeritus of The Tennessean. The controversy over his fake biography started when a friend told him that a slanderous article about him was floating around the Internet, accessible to millions around the world.

The biography, which has since been taken off the site and replaced with a flattering version, said that Seigenthaler lived in the Soviet Union, started a successful public relations firm and was linked to the Kennedy assassinations.

Because Wikipedia allows anyone to add onto existing postings or create new ones, Chase's original note on Seigenthaler had been changed several times since May, adding vulgar epithets, Seigenthaler said yesterday. He said there may be Web sites that still post the original Wikipedia profile of him.

Seigenthaler said he doesn't plan on pursuing legal action against Chase but said the experience has left him hurt.

"I was a close friend of Robert Kennedy, and I worked closely with the president. I had lived with Robert Kennedy and helped edit his first book. We were close friends until his death, and the most painful thing was to have them suggest that I was suspected of their assassination," Seigenthaler said.

"I do not favor more regulations of the Internet, but I fear that Wikipedia is inviting it by its allowing irresponsible vandals to write anything they want about anybody."

The incident has raised questions about the reliability of information on Wikipedia, a popular research tool, and the Internet, and how those wrongly portrayed can hold Web sites accountable, especially when access is unrestricted.

Jimmy Wales, who founded Wikipedia, told The New York Times that the site would make more information about users available to make it easier to lodge complaints. He said the episode does not indicate a systemic problem. "We have to continually evaluate whether our controls are enough," he said, the newspaper reported.

While Seigenthaler tried to track down the author of the biography through Wikipedia's creator and the author's IP address, a unique number assigned to a computer connected to the Internet, a man in Texas was doing the same.

Unbeknownst to Seigenthaler, Daniel Brandt of San Antonio also traced the biography author's computer to BellSouth Internet Services provider in Nashville and later to a local courier firm, Rush Delivery. Both men separately called the business to find out whether anyone was aware of the case, with no success.

"When Seigenthaler's case came along, I was instantly sympathetic," Brandt said yesterday in a phone interview. He, too, fought Wikipedia to remove an unflattering biography of himself from the Web site.

"I contacted Seigenthaler with the information, and he called me back Monday night. Then I had a brilliant idea of using a fake e-mail address to e-mail Rush Delivery to see whether the IP number matched with what I tracked down. I told Seigenthaler I got a match."

Chase said he and his co-worker spoke about Thomas Seigenthaler, John's brother, in May, but he couldn't recall specifically how the topic came up. Thomas Seigenthaler, who died last year, was the founder of Seigenthaler Public Relations firm and was one of Rush Delivery's clients, Chase said.

Curious about the family, Chase said he did an online search for Seigenthaler and ended up at the Wikipedia site. He noticed a disclaimer that said anyone could contribute to the site, created a fake biography of John Seigenthaler and showed it to his friend, he said.

"It wasn't too long after that I told him that it was a joke, that I found this crazy Web site that anyone can put anything on, and that's all it was," Chase said. "I had no idea that anybody ever relied on that for truthful information, considering the way that anybody in the world with a computer can put anything on it at any time."

Chase said he worked for Rush Delivery first as a driver, then a dispatcher and most recently as operations manager. He quit Friday morning. Seigenthaler said he called Chase's boss to ask him not to accept the resignation, but Chase said yesterday he didn't know whether he was still employed by Rush Delivery.

The only true information in the profile that Chase created about the veteran journalist was that he was the administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960s and also one of his pallbearers.

"He was very apologetic; he said it was a practical joke," Seigenthaler said yesterday. "Of course I accept the apology, but it doesn't lessen my frustration that anybody can put anything on Wikipedia."

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John, of course I sympathize with the man given that there are several Internet sites that post "The Taking of America 123". I plan on sending them Mr. Turner's comments and request (demand) that they correct this.

I think what happened to this gentleman on the Wikipedia site could also be happening here with respect to Jenkins and Quintero who might very well be as pure as the driven snow (at least as regards the JFK case). You are right, of course, to bring to the attention of the assassination research committee, all of the facts concerning Wheaton's allegations against them. But I think it is way too early to brand them assassins. But to repeat myself I do believe Wheaton's allegations should receive the most careful consideration and research.

Edited by Tim Gratz
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Yesterday I received this email from Stewart Alsop.

Apparently you are the author of this, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOCKINGBIRD. You might be interested to know that there is identical language in a column written by Alexander Cockburn in The Nation magazine recently. http://freepress.org/columns/display/2/2005/1269.

It is interesting to me that he doesn't give you or Wikipedia credit for his statement, "One of the most important journalists under the control of Operation Mockingbird was Joseph Alsop, whose articles appeared in over 300 different newspapers. Other journalists willing to promote the views of the CIA included Stewart Alsop (New York Herald Tribune), Ben Bradlee (Newsweek), James Reston (New York Times), Charles Douglas Jackson (Time Magazine), Walter Pincus (Washington Post), William C. Baggs (Miami News), Herb Gold (Miami News) and Charles Bartlett (Chattanooga Times)." While you say that your entry does not violate copyrights and I know that Wikipedia is published under Creative Commons, I still think it is usually respectful to cite sources than to borrow them wholesale, which I was taught to categorize as plagiarism.

I am interested to know how you conclude that my uncle, Joseph Alsop, was "under the control of the CIA", or that my father, Stewart Alsop, was willing to "promote the views of the CIA". You might want to do more than cite other sources when making disparaging remarks about people who have been dead for more than 30 years and who had pretty significant reputations for both intellectual and moral honesty. Perhaps you might even want to imagine being their son and seeing these kind of accusations made about your father and uncle when they are no longer around to defend themselves. Indeed, you might even want to do some research and read what they actually wrote rather than depending on third and fourth-hand sources.

Stewart Alsop

My reply to Stewart Alsop:

As I point out in my Mockingbird article for Wikipedia (note 6) this quotation comes from Deborah Davis’ book, Katharine the Great, 1979 (page 226). It is possible that Alexander Cockburn did get his information from my Wikipedia article or the Operation Mockingbird page on my website:


However, Cockburn acknowledges that he got the information from Carl Bernstein’s Rolling Stone article (20th October, 1977). This was indeed the breakthrough article and definitely inspired the passage that appeared in Katharine the Great. For example, the article includes the following passage:

“In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America’s leading syndicated columnists, went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the CIA. Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services - from simple intelligence¬ gathering to serving as go-betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors-without-portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested it the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles, and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements America’s leading news organizations.”

I am not sure if you are accusing Alexander Cockburn or me of plagiarism. However, it is clear you do not understand the meaning of the word. The passage you refer to in the Wikipedia entry is in quotation marks. It also provides a note that explains it is taken from the book Katharine the Great. The passage in Cockburn does not include quotation marks but he makes it clear that he is relying on Carl Bernstein’s article that appeared in Rolling Stone.

You are clearly upset by the fact that Cockburn and myself have pointed out that the writings of your father and uncle came under the influence of the CIA. I think you should take this matter up with the person who made the original accusation. Carl Bernstein is still alive and I am sure he would be willing to defend what he wrote in 1977.

If you are interested in this issue you should read what is commonly called the Frank Church report (Foreign and Military Intelligence: Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities) that was published on 14th April, 1976. See section X, pages 191-200, on the CIA and the media (the report is cited in my article). The report does not actually name the journalists concerned but I suspect Bernstein got his information from members of this committee.

My fear is that Stewart Alsop is trying to persuade Wikipedia to take my entry for Operation Mockingbird from the website (he must have contacted Wikipedia to have got my name). Considering that at first they kept on deleting my article, I don't suppose it will remain for much longer.

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