There was quite a bit of brouhaha last week when computer science grad student Virgil Griffith created a program which allowed users to correlate changes made to wikipedia and who owns the computer which made the changes. For the left side of the blogosphere, the outrage was directed towards corporations like Wal-Mart that edited their own entries. For the right, the outrage was directed toward media companies who were editing various entries that revealed their own bias.
New York Times-owned computers were discovered to have been among those where embarassing changes originated.
And The New York Times Company is among those whose employees have made, among hundreds of innocuous changes, a handful of questionable edits. A change to the page on President Bush, for instance, repeated the word “jerk” 12 times. And in the entry for Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, the word “pianist” was changed to “penis.”
“It’s impossible to determine who did any of these things,” said Craig R. Whitney, the standards editor of The Times. “But you can only shake your head when you see what was done to the George Bush and Condoleezza Rice entries.”
And this is where Whitney is wrong. There is more that can be done than simply shaking your head. You can apologize for the juvenile cyber-vandalism. You can warn your employees that this type of behavior is unacceptable. And you can promise to fire anyone who does it in the future.
Or has the Times stopped caring even about appearances?