Davis aide under fire for trying change information in his boss' and brother's online biographies

Hank Hayes • Aug 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

U.S. Rep. David Davis' press secretary says he tried to change the online Wikipedia biographies of Davis and Tennessee state Rep. Matthew Hill.

"I made a mistake," said Timothy Hill, Davis' press secretary and Matthew Hill's brother.

The piece of information being altered involves old pharmaceutical industry connections highlighted by the Tennessee Democratic Party (TDP).

Information changed in Hill's and Davis' biographies involved a reference to Davis' participation in an August 1999 "lobbying airlift" arranged by King Pharmaceuticals to get King's Altace drug onto Tenn- Care's preferred drug list. The information is sourced to go4truth, a site paid for and authorized by the TDP.

The Wikipedia entries noted that both Matthew Hill and Davis accepted campaign contributions from former King Pharmaceuticals Chairman and CEO John Gregory, who founded the Tennessee Conservative Political Action Committee and supports the anti-abortion group Tennessee Right To Life. Gregory has been a difference-maker in Tennessee politics by giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and causes.

Matthew Hill is a Jonesborough Republican who won a tough re-election battle in 2006 against former Washington County Sheriff Fred Phillips. Davis, a former Tennessee state representative, was elected to his first term as Northeast Tennessee's Republican 1st Congressional District representative in 2006 and faces re-election in 2008.

Wikepedia is a free online encyclopedia project that at times comes under fire from Internet bloggers who question its content about politicians and their records. Wikipedia, created in 2001, is a registered trademark of the nonprofit Florida-based Wikimedia Foundation (WF).

When asked whether Wikipedia gets more heat from liberal or conservative bloggers, WF Chairman Emeritus Jimmy Wales said: "I wouldn't say there's any difference between the two."

Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world, and its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet, simply by clicking the "edit this page" link.

The attempted changes to Matthew Hill's and Davis' Wikipedia biographies were detailed by a Wikipedia administrator in a July online article for Search Engine Land.

The administrator called the editing of Hill's and Davis' online biographies "blanking vandalism." The administrator traced the changes, which Wikipedia jargon calls a "page diff," to an Internet protocol address of a congressional office computer.

"None of those inappropriate edits remained in Wikipedia's live version very long. ... As an administrator I am continually surprised by how often I see edits that serve little purpose except to place the editor at risk for adverse news coverage," the administrator wrote.

Timothy Hill described himself as "kind of a hard charger" who wanted to make sure "truthful information" exists about Davis, who often touts his record as an open government advocate.

"I have searched hundreds if not thousands of sites and stories weekly. ... I saw on a search engine something about Wikipedia. I had never really been to the site before, and I didn't understand how to use it. I looked through the site and I saw what I thought was inaccurate information. ... I'm looking at this (biography of Davis) and thinking ‘That's junk,'" Timothy Hill said. "I went through and I attempted to replace it with what I thought was accurate information. ... I don't anticipate attempting to edit any Wikipedia again."

Timothy Hill said his actions weren't intended to be malicious.

"It wasn't intended to keep public records from people. It was something I felt was inappropriate information," Timothy Hill said. "I'm still in the learning process as much as anybody else, and I have learned from this experience."

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