Washington Gadfly

NY Times Revises Wiki Entry On Discredited Story

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Evan Gahr Investigative Journalist
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Never underestimate the human capacity for stupidity — especially online.

Some dunderhead or dunderheads at the New York Times keeps revising the Wikipedia entry of reporter Sarah Maslin Nir to whitewash her clumsy little hit pieces earlier this year that depicted Asian nail salons as oppressive sweat shops with abysmal pay and working conditions.

New York Post gossip columnist Richard Johnson reported Sunday that 20 anonymous edits from the Times IP address trashed critics of the two part-story, even though the Times’s own public editor just concluded that it “went too far in generalizing about an entire industry.”

Only a dope does not realize that trying to get something removed from the Internet or significantly altered only brings more attention to it. Case in point: earlier this summer, somebody removed from Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple’s Wikipedia page references to the arrest of his wife for allegedly throwing dog feces at a neighborhood shop owner.

It seems Mir or her acolytes are as dumb as Wemple’s. Messing with her Wiki page has re-kindled an embarrassing episode in New York Times left-wing activism that most folks were starting to forget.

One edit painted criticism of the story as some kind of conservative conspiracy, referring to “minor controversies from right wing and libertarian outlets, as well as several protests from salon owners unwilling to abide by the new laws created by the Cuomo administration in the wake of the story.

The flagship libertarian publication Reason did just publish an exhaustive take-down of the Times story. But the first critique, penned by former New York Times reporter Richard Bernstein, appeared in the left-leaning New York Review of Books. It is hard to imagine that anybody except a communist would consider that storied publication “right-wing.”

Another revision called, “Bernstein a white salon owner and former Times reporter, author of a widely-panned book that highly sexualized Asian women.”

If people at the Times want to race bait they should at least get their facts straights. For starters, Bernstein is actually co-owner of two nail salons with his Chinese wife. So even from the perspective of somebody with a diversity fetish Bernstein’s partnership with an Asian woman should mitigate his sinful whiteness.

More importantly, the Amazon page for his supposedly bigoted book, “The East, the West, and Sex: A History of Erotic Encounters,” makes it sound widely praised not “widely panned.” Favorable reviews from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and even the left-wing Salon.com are quoted.

Those revisions have since been removed but who are the dunderheads responsible? Johnson reports that besides the edits from the New York Times IP address, “there were six from California last summer when Nir was on the West Coast. Another seven were from an AT&T mobile IP address.”

The gossip monger quoted an anonymous friend of Nir saying, “She’s human. It’s possible she edited her Wikipedia a couple times, but she’s not party to this endless back and forth. She has lots of friends.”

As of early Monday evening all the spin was removed. New York Times spokesandroid Eileen Murphy and Nir did not reply to requests for comment.

Note for so many of those Washingtonians consumed by a conflict of interest fetish: Bernstein was something of a friend and mentor to me from right after I graduated from college until we lost touch in 2003. The fact that I need to write this shows the foolishness of demanding “full disclosure” by journalists.

I would have written the exact same item even without knowing Bernstein. Articles should stand or fall on their own merits. The real conflict of interest in journalism is when reporters like Nir put political considerations and naked personal ambition ahead of honest reporting.

UPDATE: Asked on Twitter late yesterday afternoon if the Johnson story was true true and whether she revised her Wikipedia page, Nir replied close to Midnight, “No.”  She then deleted the tweet, giving new meaning to the classic Washington term, “non-denial denial.”

Nir did not immediately reply when asked why if the story is untrue she waited so long to dispute it. Johnson’s item was published Sunday and appeared earlier online.

It is possible somebody at the Times pressured her to do so.

I am a big believer in public shaming.  Shortly before filing the piece, I asked New York Times standards editor Philip Corbett if he objected to  reporters revising their own Wikipedia pages.  Corbett did not reply but could have forwarded the email to Nir.