Hey, Wikipedia — about your biographical guidelines

The author with his neighborhood friend Chongo.

Material about living persons added to any Wikipedia page must be written with the greatest care and attention to verifiability, neutrality, and avoidance of original research.
— from Wikipedia “biography of living persons” guidelines

In July 2018, following sexual misconduct allegations against [Eric] Francis, he was dismissed from several media outlets. More than a dozen women came forward to relate experiences with Francis, in the wake of the worldwide wave of allegations known as the “Weinstein effect.”
— from my Wikipedia page

By Eric F. Coppolino

[Note to Readers: Due to action provoked by this article, the above quotation has been struck from my Wilipedia page, and additional corrections made. The use of the HV1 website as a “reliable source” has been disallowed, perhaps the ultimate journalistic insult: not trusted enough for Wikipedia. — efc 8/20]

The paragraph above is from the lead of my Wikipedia page. My professional name is Eric Francis. I am a journalist; my background is environmental toxins, and currently I’m an astrologer and horoscope writer. I also write quite a bit about sexuality and relationships.

Just in case it’s not visible enough there, or you’re in the publishing or news industry where I might be seeking a contract, I thought I would call it to your attention. After all, I’ve been compared to the most famous sexual predator in the Western world. Right in the encyclopedia!

Yes, there was a fuss last spring. But what my Wikipedia entry omits is that there was also a professional investigation by a former federal prosecutor, and that I was exonerated of any wrongdoing. It also omits that the fuss itself was in response to an article I wrote in early 2018 about the Me Too movement that pissed off some “area feminists,” as they would be known in The Onion.

Wikipedia has what it claims are strict guidelines for biographies of living persons (known in wikitalk as BLPs). There are also neutrality guidelines; a Wikipedia page is not supposed to take sides. I’ll get to those in a moment; first, I have a few old-fashioned fact-checking queries for the editors.

“More than a dozen women”? Who were they? What are their names? How do we know how many there were? Also, the word “dozen” seems more appropriate for donuts, eggs or clams on the half-shell than it does for people.

“Experiences with Francis”? What exactly were they, and when did they happen, and where, specifically?

“Sexual misconduct”? What does that mean? If I’m being compared to Harvey Weinstein, and am part of the “Weinstein effect,” one would think this is pretty serious misbehavior. We might, at least, surmise that the person being written about had intentionally harmed someone.

But first, does the paragraph even pass rudimentary fact checking? That is to say, does it comport with the secondary sources on which it’s supposedly based? And what are those sources? Do they check out? For example, did anything really happen in July 2018, according to the articles referenced?

And as written, does the paragraph stand up to BLP guidelines?

Here’s one: Wikipedia’s rule says, “We must get the article right. Be very firm about the use of high-quality sources.” It continues that potentially contentious information “must be supported by an inline citation to a reliable, published source.” This is a libel guideline; the truth is the only absolute defense against defamation. Wikipedia uses only secondary sources — newspapers and magazines — and does not allow what it calls “original research.”

Note to the Feifdom of Wiki — get it right. Sources must be high-quality and reliable. Their writers must be very firm about this guideline.

That is noble. The one source cited, supporting the paragraph above, is a local website in Kingston, New York, called Hudson Valley 1 (HV1). It sounds like a license plate. Is it a high-quality source? What is their reputation? Who or what else besides this one Wikipedia article cites them?

Short of knowing HV1’s history, we would want to read the source article and size it up. Contrary to Wikipedia’s guidelines, the article cited quotes many anonymous sources, and is based on a Facebook rumor campaign; it says so itself.

Reporting on the experience of one “victim,” the article states: “In September 2017, Francis approached her again as she sat at an outdoor table and asked to pet her dog.” So in response, she “wrote an email to the café’s owners asking that Francis be banned from the establishment for harassing her and other women.”

I was not aware that asking to pet a dog was sexual harassment, or that asking to pet one dog applies to “many women.” Also, I am being characterized as having bad boundaries. How does asking in advance to pet a dog support that claim? If I had boundary issues, wouldn’t I just pet the dog without checking first?

Is this behavior somewhere in Harvey Weinstein’s portfolio that we have not heard about? I thought Weinstein was accused of playing casting couch, of making and destroying careers, making payoffs to women he’s abused, strong-arming women with lawyers, and of rape and sexual assault — not being a dog lover.

According to the article’s writer Jesse Smith (in his words), the same person “said she followed up the email with a conversation with the café’s owners but was left with the sense that they did not feel they could ban Francis because of his relationship [to] their landlord.”

(Apparently nobody proofread this masterpiece of investigative reporting; our proofreader caught the missing “to”.)

One of Wikipedia’s alleged peeves is the use of weasel words, which Oxford defines as “words or statements that are intentionally ambiguous or misleading.” Could anything be more weaselly than, “left with the sense that they did not feel,” ostensibly to support a factual assertion? Feeling and sense are not facts, especially when they’re about your feeling and sense of someone else’s supposed feeling and sense.

In the article, another “victim” claims that, at a dinner party, I told her I was in an open relationship. (I am well known as a presenter in the polyamorous community.)

The “victim” also claims that my partner at the time was sitting right there, and further, that based on these words, we were pitching a threesome. All of this is gleaned from the simple alleged statement: of being in an open relationship. (Polyfolk whom I know don’t usually use that term; it’s rather 1970s. Anyway, we were monogamous.)

The “victim,” who is quoted anonymously, says, “I really felt like he was implying that they wanted to have sex with me, which I feel anybody would have gathered from that conversation.”

She really felt like he was implying? Those are classic weasel words. That she really felt, rather than just simply felt, is supposed to add credibility.

“Anybody would have gathered” that we were suggesting three-way sex? That’s the only possible interpretation? Did anyone call my former partner to confirm this story? Nobody did. She is easy to find. Nobody asked me, either. They just printed it.

The Wikipedia guidelines go on:

“Avoid repeating gossip.”

Full stop. The whole article is based on gossip.

Then: “Ask yourself whether the source is reliable; whether the material is being presented as true; and whether, even if true, it is relevant to a disinterested article about the subject.”

One source cited in the article is someone named Hillary Harvey, the founder of the local Me Too movement. We met once, for 30 seconds. On Facebook, she publicly called me Harvey Weinstein, and I immediately became the poster child of her local mini-movement. The rebel suddenly had a cause. She held a meeting. The article goes on:

“At the meeting and over the next few days, 10 women gave recorded statements to Harvey about their interactions with him. Harvey then collected eight more recordings, along with corroborating documents including texts and emails. All told, Harvey said, she spoke to some 24 women who had recounted unpleasant experiences with Francis.”

Wait, unpleasant experiences? What exactly does that mean? I can’t make a good pot of coffee to save my life? I have bad breath? I leave the toilet seat up? How does one document and corroborate an unpleasant personal experience? And what are the names of these people? Wikipedia warns against articles that use anonymous sources. They are almost all anonymous.

Here’s an interesting quote from the article: one source “allowed Harvey to share a transcript of her recording on the condition that her name not be used.” First, what kind of “coming forward” is this? An anonymous transcript of a third-party recording? Come on down and tell us about yourself!

The transcript part indicates that the writer never heard the recordings, only read the purported transcript — at least of that discussion. Usually, in journalism, transcripts must be backed up by recordings; reporters usually (basically, always) want to. It also sounds like he didn’t even see some or most of the transcripts, if they even exist. So is Hillary Harvey essentially dictating the story to the writer?

Who else carried this big news? Did anyone pick it up and redo or confirm the reporting? It turns out that despite my claimed notoriety, none of the local daily papers, and no other news website (local or otherwise) picked it up. (I’ve been written about many times by all of these newspapers over the years.) That is an indication that the story has problems: only one place would carry it — at a time when everyone was thrilled to jump on a Me Too story.

I’ve lived and worked many places in the world, long enough to have an address: Paris for 18 months, Brussels for two years, on an island near Seattle for four years. Why is every situation reported in the story coming from one small town? Has anyone checked to see where I was living at the time of any particular claim? Most of the “incidents” are, conveniently, undated.

Here’s one last Wikipedia writing rule to try on:

“Biographies of living persons (‘BLPs’) must be written conservatively and with regard for the subject’s privacy. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a tabloid: it is not Wikipedia’s job to be sensationalist, or to be the primary vehicle for the spread of titillating claims about people’s lives.”

So much for that great notion. I guess they’re cool with being a secondary vehicle for titillating claims.

In fact, in May 2018, Ryan Poscablo, a former United States Attorney from the Southern District of New York (SDNY, famous for the Michael Cohen case), and now a sexual misconduct investigator, reviewed the entire case. He concluded, “There is nothing.” Wikipedia omits this fact entirely, as does the secondary source it relies on. So in the lead of the article, they convict me of sexual misconduct, compare me to Harvey Weinstein, and omit that I was exonerated by a professional investigation.

So what are we left with? I’ll tell you: I never miss meeting a dog walking down my street. I’m about to go out for coffee and I’m sure I’ll hit on at least three of them.

The author is the editor of Planet Waves, and host of Planet Waves FM on the Pacifica Radio Network. The entire story above is told in full here.

Independent publisher and journalist since 1989. Editor of Planet Waves; host of Planet Waves FM. Contact: efc@ericfrancis.com.