After learning Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election found neither collusion with the Trump campaign nor President Trump obstructing the investigation, anti-Trump editors on Wikipedia downplayed the investigation’s conclusions.
Of particular focus was Mueller “not exonerating” Trump on obstruction, despite Attorney General William Barr and his deputy Rod Rosenstein agreeing evidence did not show obstruction. Some Wikipedia editors also went to articles related to the origins of the investigation to defend its pretext, including the Steele Dossier used as the primary basis for the collusion allegations.
The problem was first picked up Newsbusters, a project of the Media Research Center, who criticized the fact many pages related to Trump and the investigation had not been updated with the result or didn’t place it more prominently. While many articles were eventually updated to include the results or place them more prominently in the article, they also criticized an effort to downplay or misrepresent Barr’s letter announcing the results.
Editors noting how Trump stated the Barr letter exonerated him were quick to misrepresent the letter by pointing to Barr’s quote of Mueller saying he did not exonerate Trump on obstruction. The cited sources for the claimed falsehood note that in the letter Barr stated he and Rosenstein evaluated the evidence and determined Trump’s conduct was not obstruction after Mueller declined to make a recommendation.
Many of the updates to Wikipedia about the investigation omitted the fact Barr and Rosenstein concluded Mueller’s evidence was not sufficient to claim obstruction. The page on Mueller himself excluded this detail when the investigation’s result was added. When the results were added to a timeline of events noting Barr stated there was not sufficient evidence to support claims of obstruction or collusion, another editor wrongly claimed that Barr had not exonerated Trump.
Articles on Trump also omit the critical detail about Barr and Rosenstein’s evaluation of the obstruction issue. In the article on Trump’s presidency, it is only stated that Mueller’s report did not exonerate Trump on the issue. Even then, another editor sought to cast doubt on this by noting it was what Barr was stating, emphasizing that he was appointed by Trump. While Trump’s page includes Barr and Rosenstein’s evaluation on obstruction later in the article, the intro again only notes Mueller did not exonerate him. Another editor had removed mention of Barr and Rosenstein’s determination from the intro.
Despite the conclusion of Mueller’s report, some editors also continued to suggest there was collusion with Russia. Editor Volunteer Marek attempted to add to the intro of the article on Trump’s presidency that Trump had advance notice of the DNC leaks citing his former lawyer Michael Cohen, failing to note this referred to Roger Stone’s dubious claims to have insider information at Wikileaks rather than a Russian connection. Another editor, BullRangifer, repeatedly argued over several discussions that Steele’s dossier had not been debunked by the investigation yet also sought to minimize its role in the investigation.
Wikipedia’s article on Spygate, a term that has become associated with allegations of improper surveillance of the Trump campaign, has drawn considerable attention as critics of the collusion claims have called for investigating the investigators. Marek and Rangifer have both been active in discussions at the article along with other anti-Trump editors. The Spygate article itself was locked to prevent editing as anti-Trump editors repeatedly fought to retain material claiming the Spygate “conspiracy theory” is false.
Coverage of the investigation and criticisms of it on Wikipedia have largely fallen in line with the predominant mainstream media narratives, which have overwhelmingly treated allegations of treasonous collusion with Russia as credible and allegations of investigatory misconduct as baseless conspiracy theories. For nearly a year the article on the Special Counsel investigation has claimed allegations of misconduct were “raised and almost immediately debunked” citing, among other things, the Carter Page FISA warrant discussed by Representative Devin Nunes in a House Intelligence memo. The warrant reportedly relied heavily on the Steele dossier as evidence.
Several commentators have noted FISA surveillance warrants often authorize access to past and present communications, not only of the ostensible target, but anyone with whom the target communicated and anyone with whom those people have communicated. These commentators also note that such access, if granted in the Page warrant, could potentially give investigators extensive access to Trump campaign communications. As large parts of the FISA warrant application remain redacted, it is not known whether this form of authorization was sought. Despite this, mainstream media claims that allegations of the Trump campaign being improperly surveilled were “debunked” are given priority on Wikipedia.
Articles covering Trump-Russia collusion have been a major point of contention on Wikipedia since the investigation began, though partisan editors have typically succeeded in slanting articles in their favor, including by having sources critical of the Russia hacking narrative “purged” from articles. One Trump associate, Michael Caputo, went so far as to hire a paid editor to remove false claims of him being a “consultant” for Putin, but the claims were restored and the editor banned for violating policies on paid editing and using multiple accounts. Unbeknownst to Caputo, the editor who added the false allegations was using an account created to evade a ban on editing about living political figures.
Wikipedia’s unreliable handling of the results of the Special Counsel investigation highlights problems, as noted by Newsbusters, with Big Tech’s use of Wikipedia to inform their users. Such cases are typical of the political bias regularly demonstrated on Wikipedia.
(Disclosure: The author has been involved in disputes with several of the parties mentioned in the article)
T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.