If you’re not familiar with Wikipedia, it’s an online encyclopedia that is edited by users of the site. Anybody can submit information on any topic, but for the most part it ends up being pretty reliable, at least compared to certain alternatives.

As soon as the news hit that former Enron chief Ken Lay had died, Wikipedia went nuts with different stories differing from suicide to the actual heart attack.

Guess who’s making this “changing of the story” into a big story? The mainstream media.

Wikipedia is being singled out by many outlets, like this and this and this. Here are the basics of the story from the Chicago Tribune:

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the death of former Enron Corp. chief Ken Lay at the age of 64 caused rampant confusion on Wikipedia and underscored the challenges facing the online encylopedia.

As the news was breaking, the site’s entry regarding Lay apparently offered a variety of causes for his passing, which turned out to be coronary artery disease, according to Mesa County (Colo.) Coroner Robert Kutzman.

Kutzman said that the death of Lay, who six weeks ago was found guilty of fraud in one of the biggest corporate scandals in U.S. history and was facing a long prison sentence, showed “no evidence of foul play.”

However, if you were reading Wikipedia on Wednesday morning, you wouldn’t have known that.

According to Reuters, shortly after news outlets began reporting Lay’s death around 9 a.m. CDT, the “facts” were added to his online biography.

It turned out, though, that they could more accurately have been described as rumors.

At 9:06 a.m., Wikipedia’s entry for Lay said he died “of an apparent suicide.”

At 9:08 a.m., it said he died at his Aspen, Colo. home “of an apparent [[heart attack] or suicide.].”

Within the same minute, it said the cause of death was “yet to be determined.”

At 9:09 a.m., it said “no further details have been officially released” about the death.

Two minutes later, it said, “The guilt of ruining so many lives finally [sic] led him to his suicide.”

At 9:12 a.m., that was replaced by, “According to Lay’s pastor the cause was a ‘massive coronary’ heart attack.”

By 9:39 a.m., Lay’s entry said, “Speculation as to the cause of the heart attack lead many people to believe it was due to the amount of stress put on him by the Enron trial.” That statement was later dropped.

By early Wednesday afternoon, the entry said Lay was pronounced dead at Aspen Valley Hospital, citing the Pitkin, Colo. sheriff’s department. It said he apparently died of a massive heart attack, citing KHOU-TV in Houston.

And as of Thursday morning, the — apparently — final entry said, “While vacationing in Colorado on July 5, 2006, Kenneth Lay died from coronary artery disease. The Pitkin Sheriff’s Department confirmed that officers were called to Lay’s house in Old Snowmass, Colorado, near Aspen at 1:41 AM MDT (3:41 AM EDT). He was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:11 AM MDT.”

So the story changed on Wikipedia, and the first reports weren’t really factually true? Sounds to me like Wikipedia is ready to join up with the mainstream media.

Come on, MSM, give ‘em a break – it’s not like Wikipedia called Florida for Gore before the polls closed, or anything kooky like that. It’s not like Wikipedia used phony documents in a story about the President of the United States — at least Wikipedia corrected the Lay story as it developed. If only Dan Rather were so kind.

It’s not like Wikipedia reported incorrectly that U.S. soldiers at Gitmo were flushing the Korans of prisoners down the toilet or blew up a truck on purpose to “prove” that they were dangerous in side impacts.

So, at the very least, Wikipedia deserves a place and the MSM’s table. At the very most, they’re still more reliable that much of what comes from the mainstream news organizations — the same organizations who are today pointing and laughing at Wikipedia’s inaccuracies.


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