Part of Wikipedia’s charm is that it can be both an authority on topics and yet completely inaccurate at the same time. The world’s most popular encyclopedia moves faster than traditional collections of “objective” knowledge, but it’s involved in a constant war of small edits amongst its most passionate users vying to control how a subject will be portrayed to the world.
This is especially evident in the most heavily-edited pages. In these edits you can see what subjects are still being fought over. They are a repository of the most controversial topics of our society.
And the most contentious of these topics is former president George W. Bush. The more than 45,000 edits on his page tell a story of a former president whose legacy is divisive, and who can still inspire expletive-filled ire, even while he is in retirement working on his painting skills.
Many of the edits are language-centric, picking obsessively at certain words. This edit changed the words “as proof” to “claim” and “unfit to be” to “not a good”:
Critics often point to his handling of the Iraq War, specifically the failure to find Weapons of Mass Destruction that were initially the basis for the war, as well as his handling of Tax policy in the United States, Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 financial crisis claim that George W. Bush was not a good president.
It was later thrown aside and the original restored by another editor:
“Critics often point to his handling of the Iraq War, specifically the failure to find Weapons of Mass Destruction that were initially the basis for the war, as well as his handling of Tax policy in the United States, Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 financial crisis as proof that George W. Bush was unfit to be president.”
The reason? According to the second editor, the “first part is weasely almost to the point of mush.”
If “phrasing” is one pillar of debate, another is “relevance.” A Wikipedia page is meant to be a succinct look at a topic. All the definitive facts, but no digression into unnecessary fluff.
A reference to Bush’s current approval ratings was recently removed:
“In 2015 Bush’s approval ratings are generally above 50%, which are higher than President Obama.”
The true objection to that grain of information might be the politicized implications, but the editor who removed it simply cited irrelevance: “2015 poll when he hasn’t been president for 8 years is not noteworthy.”
This passage was also once completely removed:
“Internationally, he was a highly controversial figure, with public protests occurring even during visits to close allies, such as the United Kingdom.”
The editor deemed the text: “Irrelevant, every President has his supporters and protestors. Stating that there were protestors of President Bush is just gloating by liberals who hate Bush.” (sic).
This removal was eventually rejected and the information reinstated. But that doesn’t mean it was the end of the controversy.
The same passage:
Internationally, he was a highly controversial figure, with public protests even occurring during visits to close allies, such as the United Kingdom.
Was later modified to this:
He was met with public protests even occurring during visits to the United Kingdom
The tactic this time was to cite improper sourcing: “The phrase, ‘highly controversial figure’ is no where to found in that article. That article does not speak to whole world just UK.”
Bad Words (Note: The following section contains obscenities)
Of course, some of the most amusing edits are the ones that sink into pure profanity. The page was recently edited from calling George H.W. Bush a “president” and “father” to “prick” and “twat.” In the same edit, George W. Bush’s “birth name” was changed from “George Walker Bush” to “Twatface!!”
His picture was also changed to one named “Collage of Nine Dogs.jpg,” which can be found still on Wikimedia Commons.
In fact, the earliest edit of the page seems to be an act of vandalism. A sentence was changed from this:
George Walker Bush is the current (2001) President of the United States of America, the 43rd. Immediately prior to attaining the office, he was Governor of the state of Texas.
George Dubya Bush is the current (2001) President of the United States of America, the 43rd. Immediately prior to attaining the office, he was Governor of the state of Arkansas.