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Article posted Feb 09 2006, 3:35 PM Category: Politics/Corruption Source: Daily Chronicle Print

Senator Conrad Burns' office may have tampered with Wikipedia entry: Removed references to a comment Burns made in 1999 calling Arabs "ragheads"

Someone from Sen. Conrad Burns' office apparently edited the senator's entry on the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia in January to remove a controversial remark he had made about Arabs, the Web site reported Tuesday.

A recent investigation by Wikinews -- Wikipedia's fact-checking service -- found that an unknown editor using an Internet protocol address assigned to the Republican senator's office removed references to a comment Burns made in 1999 calling Arabs "ragheads" and his voting record on Native American issues.

The same person then inserted a glowing paragraph describing the senator as a "voice for the farmer."

Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia that allows anyone with a Web connection to edit its articles, a feature that has led critics to question the accuracy of its content.

Regardless, Wikipedia remains one of the most popular sites on the Web and is the place where many Internet users turn when looking up information.

Search for "Conrad Burns" with Google and the Wikipedia article is the second link to show up among 432,000 hits, right after the senator's official Web site.

Burns' spokesman James Pendleton dismissed Wikinews' findings when asked about it Wednesday, pointing to the site's open-source nature.

"They have exactly zero credibility," he said. "Because there is no fact-checking, anybody can go in and put in whatever they want."

Wikipedia has long been a battleground for image-conscious political activists of all stripes. Any articles even hinting at politics are routinely edited by Internet users to remove bias, both real and perceived.

Wikinews recently investigated edits coming from the IP addresses of U.S. Senate offices. It found that the vast majority of edits were actually helpful, Wikinews correspondent Wayne Saewyc said.

"A very small number of them were not," he said.

Among the questionable edits were the ones coming from an IP address linked to Burns' office. Wikinews attempted to contact the senator's staff about the changes, but phone calls were not returned.

Burns' office was not the only one that Wikinews attempted to contact about head-scratching edits. The others were the offices of Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Dianne Feinstein of California and Tom Harkin of Iowa.

The Burns article has since been returned to its original format.

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