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Campaign manager resigns amid Wikipedia flap

Biography altered to include candidate's son's DUI arrest

From Peter Hamby



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Georgia gubernatorial candidate accepted the resignation of her campaign manager Wednesday after he was accused of changing the online Wikipedia biography of an opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox's opponent, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, said Cox campaign manager Morton Brilliant altered an online encyclopedia entry to include a reference to Taylor's son being arrested for DUI after an accident that killed his passenger.

Wikipedia may be edited by anyone.

"We have reviewed the situation carefully and everything I have seen in this short period of time indicates that the posting originated from my campaign office," Cox said. "I am genuinely sorry for any anguish this incident has caused the Taylor family."

The resignation came after Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales confirmed that the addition to the biography came from an IP address affiliated with the Cox campaign.

Taylor spokesman Rick Dent said earlier Wednesday that the Cox campaign was "exploiting a tragedy for political reasons." He also asked for an apology from Cox and for Brilliant to be fired.

Cox said she made it clear to her staff that the incident with Taylor's son was off limits during the campaign.

"Today, I have once again made it clear to my staff that personal attacks, especially on the family members of candidates, are completely off limits and not at all in keeping with my desire to change the mean and bitter tone of politics," Cox said.

The original addition to Taylor's Wikipedia biography read: "Taylor's son Fletcher recently was involved in an alcohol-related car accident. The passenger in his car, whom Fletcher identified as his best friend, was killed. Currently, Fletcher is in an alcohol treatment facility awaiting trial."

By Wednesday night, it had been edited to read, "Taylor's son, Fletcher, was charged with driving under the influence (DUI) after crashing his car on August 18, 2005, in Charleston, South Carolina, killing his passenger."

The biography also included a reference to Brilliant resigning.

Taylor and Cox are to square off in the Georgia Democratic primary July 18. The winner will challenge Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.

This is not the first time a Wikipedia entry has caused a flap. Because anyone may edit an entry, the site has become a popular tool among politicians wishing to slam a rival or laud themselves.

According to The Associated Press, the problem is so widespread that Wikipedia has tightened its submission guidelines and set up alerts so that its operators know when Capitol Hill staffers edit online profiles.

One of the most well-known instances of an error on the site involved John Seigenthaler Sr., whose Wikipedia biography said that he was linked to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. The man who posted the false information later said he was playing a joke, but only after the information had been on the site for 132 days and had been picked up by other Web sites.

Seigenthaler, a retired journalist and Robert Kennedy's administrative assistant in the early 1960s, wrote a November column in USA Today calling Wikipedia a "flawed and irresponsible research tool."

"When I was a child, my mother lectured me on the evils of 'gossip,' " Seigenthaler wrote in the column. "She held a feather pillow and said, 'If I tear this open, the feathers will fly to the four winds, and I could never get them back in the pillow. That's how it is when you spread mean things about people.' For me, that pillow is a metaphor for Wikipedia."

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