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How to tell if your Senator wrote his own Wikipedia entry

State Senator Don Benton's Wikipedia article reads more like a brochure than an online encyclopedia.
Sen. Don Benton

Sen. Don Benton John Stang

State Sen. Don Benton's Wikipedia entry reads a bit like a campaign brochure.

Technically, the details are all true, but for some reason the prose outlining Benton's accomplishments is far more purple than a normal Wikipedia article. Also, some of the more controversial parts of the longtime Vancouver Republican senator's career have been glossed over. 

For example, a few months ago, two Clark County commissioners hired Benton as the county's director of environmental services despite his generally perceived lack of qualification, the job not being publicly advertised and the county government's hiring procedures not being followed. All this has been widely reported.

None of those problems are mentioned in his Wikipedia entry. "His appointment was controversial as the newly elected majority on the council exercised their authority to appoint department heads," it notes benignly. "Benton has surprised many critics by promoting employees from within, recommending purchases of eagle habitat to the board and organizing the county's first intern program with WSU-Vancouver."

In addition to omission, the Senator's Wikipedia entry also strays from neutrality, claiming that "Benton is a 'matter of fact' conservative who fights aggressively to represent his constituents."

And that, "After Washington Initiative 1185 (a measure that required the legislature to submit proposed tax increases to public referendum) was declared unconstitutional by the liberal state supreme court in 2012, Benton stated his support for an amendment to the state constitution that would incorporate the essence of the nullified statute. Benton has said he is in alignment with many members of the Tea Party movement and with any American that realizes government has grown too big."

And also, "Senator Benton has continuously introduced bills to reduce government regulation during his tenure as a part-time citizen legislator."

During a brief stint as chairman of the state Republican party, to which he was elected in 2000, Benton had other roadbumps in his career. He left $1.2 million in donations unspent during the 2000 campaigns — the same cycle in which Democrat Maria Cantwell narrowly unseated Republican incumbent U.S. Sen.Slade Gorton. Party leaders also criticized him for putting $365,000 in escrow to move the party headquarters from Tukwila to an Olympia building, without telling party leaders. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the information on the unspent $1.2 million is also missing from the article. 

"His tenure was marked by historical fundraising numbers and with some party members criticizing the implementation of his bold election promises and spending priorities," the entry reads. "After Benton used specific funds he raised to purchase a new headquarters in Olympia without consulting some party leadership, two members of the party's executive board requested his resignation, which he refused to give. The following year Benton lost reelection by three votes after surviving the first ballot in a three-way race..."

Benton did not respond to attempts to contact him for comment about the entry.

Ultimately, Benton's Wikipedia bio falls into a fuzzy area between encyclopedic fact and fan letter. Whether it crosses some sort of the line depends on how you read it, and on your beliefs in how Wikipedia articles should be worded. But its omissions and departures from neutrality sure don't improve Wikipedia's brand value. 

John Stang covers state government for Crosscut. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jan 14, 7:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Benton is...well, I'll refrain from name-calling, but I live in the Third District and have been totally unimpressed with the man. I voted for Linda Smith in the House race when she ran against Brian Baird, but had no problem voting for Baird when he ran against Benton (and subsequently voted for Baird two more times).

Bottom line: That Benton's Wikipedia page reads like a self-penned bio comes as no surprise because it's who he is. Hopefully, someone can log onto that page and make a few additions to make it a fuller picture.

Posted Tue, Jan 14, 8:11 a.m. Inappropriate

Since when do folks expect truth in anything you read on the internet, including my comments.

I would write a puff piece on myself if I were on Wikipedia (better check to see that I am not).

Non-story, just humma-humma and birk-birk. I thought your readers were thoughtful and sophisticated. They would know Wikipedia is ONE source, but not unimpeachable.

Value all advice at cost.

The Geez

Geezer

Posted Tue, Jan 14, 3:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Umm please get a login and edit the page or contact the people who run the site. Wikipedia pages are open to both editing and commentary, and they take their mission of being an encyclopedia seriously. They just believe that the best product comes of information from the maximum number of sources. I have made minor spelling and grammar corrections or added references on other peoples' work. Due to wanting to be respectful, I usually enagage in discussions in the comment area for some pages where I have information to add. But, if I think something is absolutely not true, and the discusssion in the comments area goes nowhere and the original author seems to be awol, I have done surgery to pages to ensure neutrality and information backed up by references. Also, when the wikipedia governance folks are aware of bias, opining or incompleteness, they will display a banner highlighting the issues with a page.

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