Wikipedia Discourages Editors from Using Fox News as a Source on ‘Contentious Content’

Fox News (Kevin Hagen / Getty)
Kevin Hagen / Getty

Following a month of discussion involving over 150 Wikipedia editors, Fox News is no longer deemed “generally reliable” as a source on political and scientific topics, a downgrade from its prior status. The official finding by a three-person panel of administrators, users with advanced privileges on Wikipedia, was that “no consensus” existed on Fox’s reliability in those areas. The finding came in an election year despite a plurality of editors believing Fox should retain its status as a generally reliable source alongside CNN and the Guardian, one of Wikipedia’s third most-cited sources.

While not found unreliable, Wikipedia administrators discouraged using Fox News for any contentious political or scientific claims. In the past few years, numerous conservative news outlets have been outright banned as sources for facts on Wikipedia, including Breitbart News. The finding against Fox News came after numerous prior attempts to downgrade the company’s status. Given wide participation, any further change favorable or unfavorable to Fox would require a similarly wide discussion and such discussion would likely not occur for months, leaving the current decision standing past the 2020 election.

The decision by administrators “Rosguill”, Lee Vilenski, and “Primefac,” reviewed the opinions expressed in the discussion of over 150 editors before issuing its finding that no consensus existed on whether Fox News was generally reliable for political and scientific content. Due to this finding, administrators cautioned against using Fox for contentious content in those areas, but found it otherwise reliable. Fox was previously upheld as generally reliable for all topics, meaning it could be used for any factual claims except medical claims where press sources are generally discouraged. An inconclusive finding provides ammunition for left-wing editors opposing the use of Fox News on political and scientific topics. Under site policy, “questionable” sources are considered inappropriate for claims about third parties.

Although a plurality of editors voted Fox News was generally reliable on all topics, on Wikipedia a “consensus” as determined by administrators considers more than the number of votes cast in favor of a position, such as the perceived quality of arguments. Most discussions where an overwhelming majority of editors support a single position tend to result in a decision favoring that position, but where there is significant opposition, decisions will often find “no consensus” for any particular stance. With roughly 60 percent of editors doubting the reliability of Fox News and nearly 70 percent believing the outlet was somewhat reliable, administrators consequently decided they were unable to find sufficient support for declaring Fox News reliable specifically on political and scientific topics.

Editors arguing against Fox News tended to be left-wing or associated with past efforts at slanting articles against conservatives. Guy Chapman, an administrator, cited Yochai Benkler’s Network Propaganda to argue Fox News was unreliable. Benkler, who works at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, previously co-authored a study of partisan media for the center that pulled a quote from Wikipedia’s page on the Gateway Pundit, while falsely crediting Politico. Numerous editors cited Benkler’s book or Chapman’s argument to support deeming Fox News unreliable. Chapman has a long history of bias on Wikipedia helping slant articles on Antifa and on the Ukraine controversy behind the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Chapman also initiated the discussion leading to Breitbart’s ban.

“Snooganssnoogans”, the editor who wrote the line quoted by the Berkman Klein study, was another editor whose argument against Fox News was widely cited. Previously sanctioned for anti-conservative bias, Snooganssnoogans is prolific in smearing conservatives having added much of the negative material about regular Fox News guest Candace Owens, Fox News pundit Mark Levin, and top-rated Fox pundit Tucker Carlson. Smears of Owens and Levin even get repeated by news media. Snooganssnoogans further added much of the negative material to Fox’s own article with criticism and controversies now well over half the page. He has also smeared other conservative outlets such as the Federalist, Gateway Pundit, and Zero Hedge.

Other editors opposing Fox News have a history of bias. “Volunteer Marek” repeatedly aided Snooganssnoogans, such as against Carlson who Marek accused of “promoting Neo-Nazi slogans” in one edit and then attempted to censor the Antifa attack on Carlson’s home in another. Marek, along with other Fox opponents, also heavily censored the article on CNN Controversies to remove negative examples about the outlet from the page. Editor “Valjean” as “BullRangifer” tried to slant content regarding the Mueller Report and the Ukraine controversy and was previously involved in banning conservative sources, even suggesting Fox News would be a target during the Breitbart ban discussion. The editor who initiated the Fox News discussion previously got the term “Wuhan virus” removed from the intro to the page on the coronavirus behind the current pandemic.

Arguments editors specifically gave against Fox often dwelled on its coverage of climate change where Fox News reports criticism of the theory in a way editors deemed misleading. A Fox News report alleging late DNC staffer Seth Rich may have been the real WikiLeaks source for the DNC e-mails leaked during the 2016 election, rather than Russia, was also raised frequently. Though the story was retracted due to doubts about its accuracy, editors saw it as proving Fox News unreliable. Supporters of Fox noted many of its competitors deemed reliable on Wikipedia, including CNN, BuzzFeed News, and the Guardian, have reported significantly false stories related to the Russia collusion claims against Trump and the collusion theory they propagated itself was debunked.

Fox’s coverage of protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody was also raised against the outlet. A case of Fox taking an image of an armed civilian at the now-defunct “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” and editing him into various images of the zone was cited against Fox News. Other editors noted images do not undergo similar editorial review as articles. More serious issues with images also occur with outlets Wikipedia finds reliable, such as ABC News. One editor provided a list of articles from the left-wing Media Matters group accusing Fox News of false or misleading coverage on the protests, though an editor reviewed and debunked several of the articles.

Those arguing against Fox News being deemed unreliable cited its status as one of the only conservative American outlets still allowed as a source. Editor “Ad Orientem” expressed concern over “an insidious drift towards creating an ideological bubble into which all sources to be considered [reliable] must fall” and warned “widespread suspicion among conservatives of a leftwing bias” would increase by targeting Fox News. Another editor, “Thucydides411”, acknowledged Fox’s conservative bias, but argued CNN and MSNBC had an opposing bias and were no more reliable. He stated neither was likely to be challenged regardless “because their political biases better align with the views of most Wikipedians.”

Particularly concerning for those wanting Fox News found reliable was the fact editors opposed have repeatedly started discussions on getting it deemed unreliable. Ad Orientem stated on these repeated efforts: “I realize that Fox’s editorial biases are unpopular around here but this never ending attempt to blacklist Fox is getting old.” Editor “Atsme” noted several discussions over the previous two years on having Fox News declared unreliable to support the objection that editors were simply re-voting as many times as necessary on Fox News to get their desired result. The no consensus finding likely means future discussions will occur, though with the expectation they involve similarly widespread participation and such discussions are unlikely to be allowed for months, putting off any change until after the 2020 election.

Conservative news outlets have increasingly come under fire on Wikipedia as the Wikimedia Foundation, which owns the site, promotes the online encyclopedia as the solution to the so-called “fake news” epidemic many on the left blame for Trump’s election. Many outlets, such as Breitbart, have been banned as sources for factual claims, a process that started with the Daily Mail. Outlets such as the Daily Caller, the Epoch Times, and Gateway Pundit, have received similar bans with Zero Hedge and FrontPage Magazine being the latest. Such efforts have often been preceded by smear campaigns against the outlets by left-wing editors.

Highlighting Wikipedia’s left-wing bias, even criticized by the site’s own co-founder, is Wikipedia’s heavy reliance on more left-leaning outlets. A 2018 analysis of Wikipedia sources showed the left-wing Guardian was the third most-cited outlet on the site, being cited over 100,000 times. Fox News was cited only around 13,000 times behind outlets such as NPR and Rolling Stone. While Wikipedia expunges conservative media and relies increasingly on left-wing media, it is in turned relied on by not only Big Tech and scientific literature, but the same news media Wikipedia cites. As Breitbart reported, this included outlets extensively copying off Wikipedia’s biased article on GamerGate, the anti-corruption movement in gaming.

(Disclosure: The author has previously been involved in disputes on Wikipedia with some parties referenced in this 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.

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