Melissa McGrath, the image-maker for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, went to the University of Maryland journalism school. There, she learned to be wary of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia written by anonymous volunteers.
Last week, McGrath, a former colleague of mine at the Statesman, ignited a battle among Wikipedia editors after she signed on using her true name to rewrite Lunas Wikipedia profile.
I was always taught to never use Wikipedia as a reliable source, said McGrath, who is paid $69,922 to speak for Luna. But there are thousands of people that use it every day, so I do feel its important that we ensure as much correct information as possible is out there.
McGrath made numerous edits, removing a false claim that Luna is the only U.S. superintendent without classroom or administrative experience and paring snarky and opinionated passages about Luna and his Students Come First laws. She also added her own touts of the boss.
Through these laws, every child no matter where they live will now have access to the best educational opportunities, wrote McGrath.
Students Come First, of course, is subject to voter approval Nov. 6, raising the stakes for Luna, who has become the personification of evil in the eyes of many teachers.
McGrath posted her changes Aug. 27. The same day, an editor called Scientizzle, purged McGraths work, calling it a whitewash, scolding McGrath for completely inappropriate removal of criticisms and referring her to Wikipedia conflict of interest guidelines.
That exchange prompted a Luna foe, Idaho teacher Michael Strickland, to post on Daily Kos and 43rd State Blues, two sites hostile to Luna. The flap was picked up by the Recall Tom Luna website, which crowed, A Wikipedia user caught her misinformation, fact-checked them, and reverted all of the misinformation and spin.
Wrote Strickland, That was a quick victory. Now lets see what the major news outlets say.
This humble outlet says McGrath overstepped with her praise of her boss and would have been better off contacting Wikipedia about her concerns, rather than editing herself.
But Lunas foes were even farther over the line. Wikipedias senior editors seem to agree. They have revised the bio, stripping slanted material on both sides, leaving a balanced piece.
After being slapped down by Scientizzle, McGrath requested help. Editors including Collect and The Red Pen of Doom, made major revisions, calling entries affirmed by Scientizzle editorial in nature, commentary, pandering, silly season talking point(s) and electioneering that makes Wikipedia look bad.
Scientizzle is doing a one-man edit war to get in the political talking point that Luna has never had anything to do with education, wrote Collect.
Im glad there was a third-party neutral person who was able to provide the facts, McGrath told me.
Jim Weatherby, an emeritus professor at Boise State, said Luna is wise to watch his online image. Not only is Luna the face of Students Come First, but hes been rumored to be a candidate for governor or a job in a Romney administration.
Wikipedia is subject to amendment by the minute, by friend or foe, said Weatherby, who discouraged his students from citing Wiki. You have to watch what funny business the anonymous contributors do to their political enemies.
One thing about McGraths edits startled me. Luna earned his bachelors degree in measurement science online, from Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey.
Despite Lunas touting of the value and even superiority of online education, McGrath removed the word online.
I asked why she would do such a thing. I dont remember removing that, she replied. And I wouldnt because thats something we talk about all the time that he does have a degree from an online university.
Shown the Wikipedia revision history documenting that she indeed struck online, McGrath said the change was an oversight.
Thats OK. Wikipedia has restored Lunas online degree.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics