Guest post by NINES Fellow, Emma Schlosser. The full set is embedded at the end of this post.
Juxta Commons now offers a platform by which we can study the evolution of the most visited encyclopedia on the web—Wikipedia! The Wikipedia API feature allows users to easily collate variants that reveal changes made to articles, a useful tool when tracking the development of current events. In light of President Obama’s recent nomination of Senator John Kerry to be Secretary of State following Susan Rice’s withdrawal of her bid for the position, I decided to trace Wikipedia’s article on the September 11th 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The attack resulted in the tragic deaths of four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
I prepared thirteen witnesses taken from the course of the article’s history on Wikipedia, stemming back to September 14th, 2012. In selecting the variants, I chose to focus on information most pertinent to the role of Rice, who is U.S. Ambassador to the UN. These witnesses for the most part fall under the article’s “U.S. Government Response” section. As various editors added more information regarding the attack and its aftereffects, I noted that on September 22nd a section had been added to the article entitled “Criticism of U.S. Government Response.”
In a September 16th version of the article, an editor adds that the U.S. government has begun to doubt whether a low quality and poorly produced film circulated on YouTube entitled Innocence of Muslims was in fact behind the attack.
By September 22nd, an entire paragraph had been added to the “U.S. Government Response” section, including quotations from Senator John McCain (R, Arizona) who decried any claim that the attack was spontaneous: “Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to demonstrations. That was an act of terror.” A September 27th version reports that Susan Rice appeared on five separate news shows on the 16th, asserting that the attacks were a “spontaneous reaction to a hateful and offensive video widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world.” The 27th variant also affirms that the Benghazi attack had become a politically fueled issue during the heated presidential race.
The October 28th variant cites under the “Criticism of U.S. Government Response” section that Senator McCain specifically accused the administration of using Susan Rice to cover the true motives of the attack.
As the progression of this Wikipedia article shows, the U.S. government response to the Benghazi attack overshadowed, to some degree, the causes and nature of the attack itself. This, of course, had much to do with the then raging U.S. presidential campaign. Rice’s tangential role in the response to the Benghazi attack, as evidenced by the paucity of references to her within the article, implicitly reveals the nature of political scapegoating. Thanks to Juxta’s Wikipedia API feature it was easy for me to trace the evolution of an article on a contemporary controversy, revealing the methods by which we continually modify and interpret our understanding of current events.