Down the memory hole! Maine GOP leader’s “man’s brain” Wikipedia erasure

In one of the classics of twentieth century literature, 1984 by George Orwell, Winston Smith’s job involves removing evidence of news that’s embarrassing to the governmental powers-that-be. After he changes news stories, the words and images that leaders don’t want remembered get discarded, right down the memory hole.

We certainly don’t expect something like that can happen to anything on the internet today. How could you scrub a story?

Well, one Maine operative decided to do something about how his boss was portrayed in the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia.

One of the highlights — or perhaps lowlights — of Maine politics, 2013, was when Maine House Republican Leader Ken Fredette said that he opposed MaineCare expansion because he has a “man’s brain.”

A man and his brain. l Attribution: Muehlenau. Via: Wikipedia

A man and his brain. l Attribution: Muehlenau. Via: Wikipedia

According to Fredette’s logic, evidently all the women and men in Maine who disagree with his position lack this piece of equipment. No “man’s brain” equals supporting ensuring that 70,000 Mainers affected by this policy have health insurance coverage.

Fredette was to apologize for this analysis, but not before it received extensive publicity beyond Maine.

Six months after Rep. Fredette made these absurd remarks, it has been discovered that one of his staffers decided to toss those remarks down the memory hole, purging them from Wikipedia.

This discovery was made by Bangor Daily News blogger Mike Tipping and revealed in a column he has for another Maine newspaper.

As Tipping reports:

[O]n Wednesday of this week, someone deleted all references to the “man’s brain” controversy on the online encyclopedia and replaced them with a glowing biography of Fredette.

The edits began anonymously, logged only to the general IP address for the Legislature, but were then continued by someone with the username Dsorensen85. David Sorensen is Fredette’s communications director. 

Not only is Sorensen Fredettee’s communications director, but as his Twitter bio states, he is the communications director for the Maine House GOP.

And, given when Sorensen made the edits, they would seem to have been done as part of his job, for, as Tipping found:

The edits to Fredette’s page were made during the workday from a state government computer network. User Dsorensen85 also edited the entries for Assistant House Republican Leader Alexander Willette and Augusta Rep. Matthew Pouliot.

Making such edits goes against the conflict of interest rules governing Wikipedia users and undermines the source’s usefulness for everyone.

And, as Tipping points out, congressional staff who edited Wikipedia led to their bosses apologizing and, in a similar case to Sorensen’s editing of Fredette’s entry, the staff member having to take several classes on ethics.

What will happen as a result of Sorensen’s actions is unclear right now.

But in the meantime, you can take a trip down memory lane and watch Rep. Fredette talk about health care policy and his “man’s brain.”

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.