Since the New York Post published e-mails detailing the alleged corruption of the Biden family’s foreign business dealings, editors on Wikipedia have censored the Post’s story and Fox News confirmation of some details. Editors cite recent discussions limiting their use as sources. Reporting by the Daily Caller confirming the authenticity of one key e-mail and Sinclair reporting confirming Hunter Biden is the subject of an FBI investigation are now also being suppressed.
Glenn Greenwald’s story covering the Biden controversy has also been kept out of the Wikipedia pages on the controversy, which describe the allegations against the Biden family as a “conspiracy theory” due to supporting sources being disallowed on the site, and several editors attacked Greenwald when discussing his article. Editors seeking to have these reports and the confirmations noted have frequently been threatened with sanctions.
Earlier this month the New York Post reported on e-mails purportedly from Hunter Biden’s laptop with one suggesting he introduced an adviser from the allegedly corrupt Ukrainian energy company Burisma to his father, then-Vice President Biden. Soon after, editors added it to pages concerning Biden’s Burisma dealings only for their edits to be censored as the Post was declared “unreliable” in a discussion the previous month. Later efforts to cite Fox News reporting confirming the authenticity of one e-mail in the Post story concerning Hunter Biden’s China dealings were rejected citing Fox being formally discouraged as a source for contentious political claims in July.
A business partner of Biden’s, Tony Bobulinski, has since come forward and directly confirmed the China-related e-mail and further alleged an equity share mentioned as being held by Biden for “The Big Guy” referred to Joe Biden. Editors subsequently mentioned Bobulinski on the “Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theory” where the corruption allegations are covered without noting his confirmation of the e-mail. The article describes the allegations as “conspiracy theories” that are “false” and “debunked” due to sources confirming some allegations being disallowed. However, the addition was removed as out-of-scope as it concerned China, not Ukraine. Editors are now discussing broadening the article’s scope, while still treating the allegations as conspiracy theories.
This week, the Daily Caller reported that a cybersecurity expert cited widely in mainstream media had examined the initial e-mail regarding the Burisma adviser and confirmed its authenticity based on a digital signature used to verify e-mails. Editor “Wookian” raised this latest report on the discussion page for Hunter Biden’s article and was promptly informed the Daily Caller had been “deprecated” on Wikipedia, referring to a site process by which outlets are deemed unsuitable for factual claims. Many conservative news outlets, including Breitbart News, have been banned from use for factual claims under this process.
Wookian’s defense of citing the Daily Caller prompted editor Paul Lee, who currently edits as “Valjean” on Wikipedia, to declare the outlet “can cite God and we wouldn’t use it,” adding “We wait until a [reliable source] cites God and use that source,” in reference to Wikipedia standards on “reliable” sourcing. Responding to Lee, Wookian questioned banning the Daily Caller’s use and argued outlets such as the New York Times could be similarly disallowed if judged based on their reporting about “the Trump/Russia Collusion Hoax.”
Lee responded with astonishment stating the “hoax” label was “one of many Trump disinformation conspiracy theories.” He then implicitly accused President Donald Trump of treason claiming Trump helped “a Russian military attack on the United States” in reference to alleged interference by Russia in the 2016 Presidential election. The primary author of Wikipedia’s article on the Steele dossier, where he has pushed its credibility long after it was debunked, Lee has made similar treason allegations on his “TheDudeSeesAll” Twitter account and on draft pages in his personal editing space on Wikipedia. This includes an essay where Lee suggested Trump had Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi killed by the Saudis for criticizing him.
Despite frequently making such incendiary attacks on Trump, Lee pushed for an administrator with special privileges on the site to take action over statements Wookian made about the Bidens, which Lee claimed violated the site’s policy on claims about living people. Wookian discussed Bobulinski’s allegations, labeled salary payments Burisma made to Hunter Biden as “bribes” as he was reportedly paid with some intention of influencing corruption investigations into the company through his father, and noted then-Vice President Biden effectively aided his family’s business by pushing for the firing of Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin, whose office was investigating Burisma. Administrator “Muboshgu” responded by warning Wookian to redact his comments.
Sinclair Broadcast Group reporter James Rosen’s report that Bobulinski had been interviewed as a material witness in what Rosen confirmed was an FBI investigation into possible money laundering connected to Hunter Biden and his associates, were also rejected when an editor raised the new reports on the discussion page of the “Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theory” article. Editor “Soibangla” argued Sinclair was not a “reliable” source giving no reason other than its editorial slant towards Republicans, though left-wing slanted sources are frequently accepted as sources. Lee called Sinclair a “Trump mouthpiece” and said the broadcaster was “the equivalent of state controlled media in Russia like RT and Sputnik.”
Editors also rejected mentioning Glenn Greenwald’s article calling out media suppression of the Biden corruption controversy, which was itself suppressed by the Intercept, the outlet he co-founded and from which he resigned over the suppression. One editor cited Greenwald’s piece on the discussion page for Hunter Biden’s article to argue it should stop describing the corruption allegations as “debunked” in the introduction to the page. Some editors argued Greenwald’s status as a Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter should countermand limitations on citing his article, which he self-published on Substack, citing a bedrock policy of the site on ignoring rules that impede the site’s improvement. Wikipedia policies consider self-published sources unreliable for claims about others, though self-published pieces by professionals are sometimes deemed reliable.
Others insisted no exception be made for Greenwald’s piece and stated including his statements regarding the Intercept’s suppression of the article would lend “undue weight” to his allegations. Discussions were littered with attacks on Greenwald. Lee attacked Greenwald over his reporting on the Trump-Russia collusion allegations stating “his extremely shoddy betrayal of all journalistic ethics should put a nail in the coffin of his previous reputation.” Molly White, an administrator who edits as “GorillaWarfare” and serves on the site’s Arbitration Committee (often likened to a Supreme Court), accused him of “making appearances on self-admitted non-credible right-wing talk shows and uncritically repeating Trump talking points.” White was referring to distorted allegations about Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.
At the “Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theory” article discussion page, a left-wing editor expressed hope this development would preclude Greenwald from being cited on American politics articles. One editor attempted to add Greenwald’s article and allegations against the Intercept to the conspiracy theory article, but the addition was repeatedly removed by others even after sources considered “reliable” on Wikipedia were cited by arguing it gave “undue weight” to the allegations. One administrator who had removed the editor’s mention of Greenwald’s allegations, Muboshgu, subsequently threatened to suspend the editor’s account claiming violations of a special restriction on the page against undoing a change more than once, though several problems existed with the administrator’s warning.
First, Muboshgu claimed the editor was notified of the page restriction, but could only cite a general notification to the editor predating the article’s existence, which just stated America politics articles were subject to “discretionary sanctions” allowing administrators greater authority to impose restrictions. Also, no such restriction was in place on the “Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theory” until after Muboshgu’s threat. Additionally, the editor would not have violated that restriction having only restored the Greenwald material once. Furthermore, Muboshgu is heavily involved in disputes about the article, having called the corruption allegations “Russian disinformation” in one case, and thus prohibited from using his administrative privileges to aid his side in the dispute under Wikipedia policies regarding administrator conduct.
Muboshgu previously used his privileges on the article to lock the conspiracy theory page, in spite of those policies, when unregistered users tried to remove the description of the allegations as “false” in the page’s introduction, with Muboshgu being one of several editors restoring the label. Corporate media praising Wikipedia have favorably quoted Muboshgu touting the site’s ostensible effectiveness in handling political content impartially as he relayed, in one story, his previous efforts to block mention of unfavorable material about the Bidens.
Favorable media coverage was also extended to editors removing mention of House Representative Karen Bass praising late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. At the time Bass was being considered for selection as Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential nominee. Kamala Harris, his ultimate choice, also had her page whitewashed prior to her selection. Media also praised editors removing then downplaying the use of “86” to mean killing someone after the Trump campaign cited Wikipedia’s article on the term to defend his criticism of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer having an “86 45” sign on display during a video interview. The “45” referred to Trump, the 45th President of the United States.
The imbalance in administrative actions and warnings during the dispute are consistent with a recent analysis by two American academics in British Magazine the Critic who found editors favoring right-leaning views were six times more likely to be sanctioned or warned than editors favoring left-leaning views. One reason the academics suggested for the imbalance was that restrictions on right-leaning sources mean editors favoring those views would more often run afoul of policy, though also noting administrative bias could instead be tilting the community to those favoring left-leaning views and, in turn, tilting community “consensus” against right-leaning sources.
Either way, site policies covering reliable sources and verifiability consequently often exclude conservative media outlets, even when their reporting is accurate, in keeping with a Wikipedia slogan declaring the site is about “verifiability, not truth” in articles. Prior analyses on Wikipedia sourcing have shown the top-cited news outlets on Wikipedia are often left-leaning sources such as The Guardian, the third-most cited news source on the site, and are typically a majority of the sources cited on articles about American politicians. Wikipedia’s treatment of the Biden corruption revelations are consistent with these analyses of the site’s left-wing bias, a bias noted by Wikipedia’s own co-founder.
(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.