Dunlap's Wikipedia entry is the stuff of legend
SEAN P. FLYNN, Staff Writer
Published April 5, 2007
If you've read Wofford College president Benjamin B. Dunlap's entry at online encyclopedia Wikipedia.com, then you wouldn't be surprised to see him holding a takraw ball in the picture that adorns a billboard next to the Beacon Drive-In.
His love of the Laotian sport takraw is one of the offbeat facts about the Wofford president revealed on Wikipedia, the peer-edited online encyclopedia. The site also says Dunlap has lived two lives and had two faces, and that he lived in a grass hut in Indonesia.
After a hearty laugh during a recent interview, Dunlap admitted the info provided in the last paragraph of the Wikipedia entry was based in truth but greatly exaggerated.
"That kind of legend never hurts a person's reputation," Dunlap said. "There's an element of truth to it. Two lives? Maybe it's plausible, but it's not that dramatic. Two faces? No. Grass hut? No."
Such partial truths are the nature of biography on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that allows anyone to create and edit entries for almost any topic. And because it is so popular, a Google search of almost anybody reveals a Wikipedia entry within the first few links.
Some high-profile mistakes have made it onto the Web site, and into the media; last month, the comedian Sinbad was incorrectly reported dead on his Wikipedia page. The New Zealand Herald reported this week that Wikipedia's entry for stingrays included the fact that the fish "hated Australian people."
In the Spartanburg area, most links vary in depth but appear to be true, with a few quirks. The USC Upstate page has been edited a few times to include the exploits of individual students, including one that remains on the page. The Limestone College page has a rather extensive rundown of the recent successes of particular sports teams.
As for Dunlap's entry, most of it is an abridged version of his official Wofford biography, describing his educational history, his success as a television producer and his work as a writer.
The final paragraph, though, veers from the biography with what Dunlap says are half-truths. The site says he was Kris Kristofferson's roommate at Oxford; Dunlap says he and his fellow Rhodes scholar, who became a country music legend, were best friends but could not room together because they were in different colleges.
While Dunlap nearly drowned when he was 13 and had a motorcycle accident in his 20s that broke his nose, he insists he did not live two lives or have two faces. And while he lived in Indonesia when he picked up his love for takraw - a mix of soccer and volleyball played on a doubles' badminton court - he did not live in a grass hut there.
Meanwhile, one of the most impressive parts of Dunlap's resume is missing from his Wikipedia bio: his more than 20 years as a moderator of seminars for the Aspen Institute.
"That strikes me as more worthy of putting in there than the grass hut in Indonesia," Dunlap said. But, he added, "It's not that bad having people think I had two lives and two faces, and I lived in a grass hut in Indonesia."