Saturday, October 13, 2007

Two pundits named John

Most of the articles I edit on WP are low-temperature and non-controversial. But I'm not completely shy about warmer subjects. A couple of biographies, John Podhoretz and John Derbyshire, are on my WP resume, and they haven't exactly been quiet oases of cybernetic peace and brotherhood.

In fact, old versions of the Podhoretz article were frankly disgraceful. The entry once asserted that this married father of two is an "admitted homosexual" and that he "wrote a novel on the mating rituals of horses". Very slightly more amusing was the claim that his rapper name was "Jonny P". These were just more sad examples of the crap that Wikipedia splattered on people in the pre-Seigenthaler days.

So all that had to be cleaned up, and it eventually was before I ever arrived at the article. Podhoretz has even joked about the bad old days of his WP bio, as now mentioned in the entry. I've added lots of material to the article on his various political opinions and provided extensive sources and a bibliography. There are other things I'd like to add, but reliable sourcing rules forbid them.

For instance, after watching his frequent tangles with Derbyshire at the National Review website, I'm inclined to believe that he can hardly abide the other John in the title. But maybe they're big buddies, and I can't find any evidence for personal dislike beyond their political disagreements on issues like Bush, immigration and the VA Tech massacre. So no comments about personality clashes have crept into the article.

Derbyshire's entry hasn't endured quite as much nonsense. Maybe that's why he's become a big fan of Wikipedia, after earlier denouncing the encyclopedia as a crock that should be sued out of existence. Still, his idiosyncratic, self-identified "racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one" views have attracted more than a fair share of hot-blooded edits. I'm not a Derb fan by any means, so I try to "write for the enemy" and keep the article as straight-and-narrow as possible. Extensive and exact quotes from Derbyshire's own writings help keep things reasonably balanced.

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