I have been engaged in an ongoing edit war concerning the Wikipedia article on Chuck Hagel, whose name is being mentioned as a possible nominee for Secretary of Defense.  Hagel is coming under criticism from Republicans and neocons who are unhappy with Hagel’s statements such as “[t]he Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated” and “[t]he Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people [on Capitol Hill].”

Though I applaud Hagel’s apparent wisdom about the Pentagon, the information I’ve read about him calls into question his character and veracity.

Chuck Hagel

On June 28, 2011, after reading Bev Harris’ book Black Box Voting, I edited the Wikipedia article on Chuck Hagel and added a section about the allegations of inadequate disclosure and conflict of interest concerning Hagel’s involvement with the voting machine company AIS.  I subsequently added information from several others sources, referenced below, resulting in the following section of the article:

Allegations of inadequate disclosure and conflict of interest

In Bev Harris’ book Black Box Voting,[15], in an article in The Hill,[16] and in a CommonDreams article by Thom Hartmann, [17] Hagel is accused of having covered up his involvement with American Information Systems, Inc., the voting machine company. Harris alleges that Hagel omitted mention of AIS from the required US Senate financial disclosure forms.[18]. Harris also says that Hagel hid his continuing investment in the McCarthy Group. Harris writes:

In October 2002, I discovered that he [Hagel] still had undisclosed ownership of ES&E through its parent company, the McCarthy Group. The McCarthy Group is run by Hagel’s campaign finance director, Michael R. McCarthy, who is also a director of ES&S. Hagel hid his ties to ES&S by calling his investment of up to $5 million in the ES&S parent company an “excepted investment fund.” This is important because senators are required to list the underlying assets for companies they invest in, unless the company is “excepted.” To be “excepted,” the McCarthy Group must be publicly traded (it is not) and very widely traded (it is not).”

Harris contacted Victor Baird, counsel for the Senate Ethics Committee, to inquire into Hagel’s disclosure statements. After some investigation, Baird agreed that Hagel apparently mischaracterized the nature of his investment in the McCarthy Group. Soon afterwards, Baird resigned — Harris suggests, without proof, that Baird was forced to resign — and Harris was told that he was unavailable to speak to the press. Harris says that Baird’s replacement supported Hagel’s characterization of the McCarthy Group as an excepted fund.

Harris and Hartmann imply that Hagel’s landslide victories in 1996 and 2002 may have been due to election fraud. Harris writes, “Hagel defeated popular Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson, who had led in the polls since the opening gun… becoming the first Republican to win a Senate seat in Nebraska in 24 years… What the media didn’t report is that Hagel’s job, until two weeks before he announced his run for the Senate, was running the voting machine company whose machines would count his votes.”[19] However, Harris and Hartmann provide no concrete evidence of fraud. All they can point to is circumstantial evidence, such as the unexpected nature of the election upset (Hartmann writes, “Hagel won virtually every demographic group, including many largely Black communities that had never before voted Republican”) and the odd fact that the voting machines used to count votes in Hagel’s Senate bid were built by the very same company that Hagel had recently chaired and that Hagel continued to invest in. Also, Harris reports[20] that Alexander Bolton, author of the Hill article about Hagel, complained that prominent Republican lawyer Jan Baren and Hagel Chief of Staff Lou Ann Linehan visited The Hill office and pressured Bolton, unsuccessfully, to kill or soften the Hagel story.

The story about Hagel’s retaining ownership in the company that counted his own votes and the matter of the surprising election upset (15 points of disparity between election results and polling results) are retold in an Nov, 2012 article in Harper’s Magazine [21].

On Sept 16, 2011, a wikipedia user named “rjensen” deleted my text, saying “BLP violation — suggestion of criminal behavior is off limits by Wiki rules.”  BLP refers to Biography of Living Persons. Here are the rules concerning BLP:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:BLP.

On Oct 15, 2011 I restored the section, writing as justification, “Suggestion of criminal activity is allowed if there are multiple sources of documentation and if the person is a public figure.”

The same day, rjensen again deleted my content, saying, “BLP violation based on allegations in a self-published blog, not a RS.”

The next day, I added it back, saying, “The story was told not in a blog, but in a book, an article by Thom Hartmann, an article in The Hill, and in an Oct 2012 article in Harper’s Magazine.”

On Dec 17, 2012 rjensen again deleted the section, saying, “BLP violations–not based on solid RS (these are self-published attacks).”

Since early December there have been numerous edits to the wikipedia article — no doubt reflecting the greater interest in and scrutiny of Hagel due to his possible nomination.

I am, of course, free to restore the deleted section again but would appreciate help from others more familiar with both Hagel’s history and with wikipedia’s policy on dispute resolution:

Wikipedia has many methods of settling disputes. A “BOLD, revert, discuss” cycle sometimes occurs, in which an editor changes something, another editor reverts the change, and then the two editors discuss the issue on a talk page. When editors disregard this process – when a change is repeatedly done by one editor and then undone by another – an ‘edit war may be asserted to have begun. …

In order to gain a broader community consensus, editors can raise issues at the Village Pump, or initiate a Request for Comment. An editor can report impolite, uncivil, or otherwise problematic communications with another editor via the “Wikiquette Assistance” noticeboard.

In this age of citizen journalism, it is everyone’s duty to educate themselves and others about the facts.

The case of Hagel shows that people are complex. They may be wise and compassionate about some things and reprehensible about others.