Davis' press secretary sent to conduct classes over Wikipedia incident

Hank Hayes • Aug 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM

U.S. Rep. David Davis’ press secretary will be required to attend classes conducted by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct as a result of his attempt to delete online entries in the Wikipedia biographies of Davis and Tennessee state Rep. Matthew Hill.

The decision involving Timothy Hill, Matthew Hill’s brother, was announced by Brenda Otterson, Davis’ chief of staff, on Thursday.

Timothy Hill used a congressional office computer in editing the online biographies. He later admitted that he “made a mistake.”

Otterson said the committee advised Davis that it was his discretion to determine what action to take in Timothy Hill’s situation.

“After reviewing Timothy’s misstep and his overall performance as press secretary, the congressman believes Timothy is a valued employee who made a mistake,” Otterson said in an e-mailed statement. “Moreover, we have learned that editing of Wikipedia files is a relatively common occurrence among many government and private sector offices. Consequently, Timothy will be required to take congressional operations classes in September in order to give him a better understanding of House rules and the restrictions governing the actions of congressional employees.”

Timothy Hill went through ethics training earlier this year after Davis took office, according to Otterson.

“But these will be more comprehensive,” she said of his upcoming classes in a follow-up e-mail.

Otterson said Timothy Hill faces no other disciplinary action.

House ethics rules ban campaign-style activities in any congressional office, including district offices.

Timothy Hill tried to delete references in Matthew Hill’s and Davis’ biographies involving a reference to Davis’ participation in an August 1999 “lobbying airlift” arranged by King Pharmaceuticals to get King’s Altace drug onto TennCare’s preferred drug list. The information was sourced to go4truth, a site paid for and authorized by the Tennessee Democratic Party, which attempted to take Davis and other Northeast Tennessee GOP lawmakers to task for the trip.

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. None of the edited biographies stayed in Wikipedia’s live version for a long time, according to the administrator.

The administrator called the editing of Matthew 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.

Matthew Hill is a Jonesborough Republican who won a 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. Timothy Hill’s father, Kenneth Hill, is a member of the Tennessee Republican Party’s state executive committee.

Otterson said Timothy Hill’s performance will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

“The problem up here is a lot of times what seems like wouldn’t be a problem is a problem and you have to have advanced training to understand what people consider a problem,” she said. “It doesn’t always make sense, and that’s part of sending him to these classes. It’s a preventative measure so it won’t happen again.”

For more about the committee go to www.house.gov/ethics.

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