A kind of Hello! magazine of African politics? In the latest issue (AC Vol 49 No 1)  its glee at the imagined prospect of Robert Mugabe’s imminent ousting is barely disguised. Its update on Zimbabwe starts with, “Political plotters in Harare and Johannesburg are injecting some excitement into the run-up to this year’s elections in Zimbabwe with talk about a ‘United Front’ against President Mugabe and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.” (my italics)

At a time when the worst floods for many years are causing havoc in all of Southern Africa, including the deaths of at least two dozen people in Zimbabwe with many homes, villages and crops destroyed, Africa Confidential prefers to see the funny side:

“At least it rained a lot over the New Year holiday, so the currency crisis, which meant a disastrous start to the year, may be followed by a comforting harvest.”

Could their source be the celebrity reporter, John Simpson? Are we to read about “Mugabe’s floods” in the next issue?

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“US air marshals yesterday shot and killed a passenger who claimed to be carrying a bomb in a bag, as he run [sic] down a mobile jet bridge from a plane just after it landed at Miami International airport.” My italics.

Rupert Cornwell,
the Independent’s embedded reporter in Washington, happily cites no source for this assertion. It reminds me of when the British police recently shot dead an innocent Brazilian public transport user in London. Then, many of Mr Cornwell’s colleagues uncritically reported that the victim wore a suspiciously bulky jacket and jumped a ticket barrier when confronted by the police.

It was subsequently admitted by the police that he was not wearing a jacket, he jumped no ticket barrier and he was not confronted by police until one of them pumped eight bullets into him while another of his colleagues had him pinned down.

Do these “journalists” have no shame?

PS This post like the one before it originally appeared on my other blog, Really Learn Spanish. I believe the title of this post mirrored that of the article cited above. However the article’s title now reads “Passenger shot dead in airport bomb drama” and the content may also have changed – I don’t know because now one has to pay to read the complete report – not the case when I first came across it.

Dave Winer points to Michael Gartenberg who writes that what WikiPedia lacks, amongst other things, are ethos. He doesn’t mention the other things but that’s OK, I’ll settle for the lack of ethos. My immediate thoughts were, “Thank goodness for that!” The last thing I want are the ethos of one individual or one cabal. Don’t we have enough Rupert Murdochs, Conrad Blacks and other moguls who are quick to tell us what to think? And spare us the ethos of a Robert Woodward or a Judith Miller! The fact that we cannot consume their media output without drowning in their establishment ethos does not stop us from being lied to over and over again.

Was it WikiPedia who persuaded billions that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction, ready to destroy the “free world” at a mere 45 minutes’ notice? Was it WikiPedia who told us that George Galloway took handouts from Saddam Hussein? Was it WikiPedia who has been telling us for years that Fidel Castro is about to die from one fatal disease or another? No Sir, it was the Miami Herald and the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor and Time and Newsweek and the (British) Guardian and the (British) Daily Telegraph and CNN and the BBC who all happily lied to us. Lied to us with ethos, that is!

WikiPedia and the other hand, just like life itself, is a collection of everybody and therefore a distillation of the world’s ethos. And yes, there are people who are going to end up feeling slighted – and rightly so – but the amazing thing is, from that chaotic morass of everybody’s opinions emerges a shining jewel of incredibly handy and comprehensive if, at times, slightly flawed information.

Whenever I come across something new or am reminded that I don’t quite grasp the meaning of Web 2.0 or feel the need to see how others regard a concept I feel I know well, I dive into WikiPedia knowing that within seconds my itch will be pretty well scratched. But since I know WikiPedia is written by anyone who feels like it, I know that what I get is a starting point, a brief explanation, a collection of really useful links and probably, if they exist, references to an authoritative work or two on the subject in hand. The great thing is I know I’m not consistently being fed the official line!

Now, I’m not unsympathetic to victims of the WikiPedia – those who are maligned or even deliberately excluded from history. It is ironic though that, until these last few days, I have never heard of John Seigenthaler Sr or Kevin Marks but now that I do know about them it is that the former is a highly respected ageing but living writer who had nothing to do with any assassination plots and the latter is not only a Technorati guru but a seminal figure in the history of podcasting.

However I do think that, except in certain well justified cases such as when there is the possibility of being transported on a US ghost plane to Europe or Afghanistan for what horrors lay in wait at a dark and secret location, WikiPedia would be a better product (in the mathematical and not the commercial sense) if authors were expected to identify themselves. I haven’t read the FAQs so I don’t know the rationale behind allowing so much anonymity – the answer is probably what Donald Rumsfeld would call an unknown known.

While people should have the right to say whatever they want, they should also be prepared to be identified as the creators of their public utterances. Otherwise we get situations where a media celebrity like Adam Curry becomes publicity shy and we really cannot have that!