Vandal changes Leahy's Wikipedia photo to rat
April 4, 2007
By DANIEL BARLOW
Vermont Press Bureau
In politics, it's not unusual to smell a rat.
But is unusual to see a U.S. Senator depicted as one on his Wikipedia page. That's what happened to Sen. Patrick Leahy Tuesday.
An unknown Leahy critic replaced the grinning photo of Vermont's ranking Democrat on the popular open source encyclopedia Web site Tuesday with that of a rat. The picture was removed late Tuesday afternoon.
The unknown vandal — identified only by the IP address "188.8.131.52" on the Web site — also made misleading photo changes to the Wikipedia entries for other well-known political figures, including Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif, and presidential adviser Karl Rove.
Leahy's sudden visual change on the site was news to his staff in Washington.
Spokesman David Carle guessed the Wiki-attack likely stems from Leahy's role as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is locking horns with the White House over its investigation into the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys.
Carle said he did not believe Leahy's Wikipedia entry had been vandalized in the past.
"Either way, we take this as a back-handed compliment," he said.
Vandalism of Wikipedia entries are not uncommon, but the company's internal review process, which includes roaming automated bots hunting through pages for key words, usually catch these attacks before they hit the Web page, according to Sandra Ordonez, the communications manager for the Florida-based nonprofit group.
She said it is not clear how this act of vandalism made it through the checkpoints, although Wikipedia staff and volunteers have been busy cleaning up from attempted April Fools Day changes.
"We have several processes in place to catch these acts of vandalism, but sometimes they slip through the cracks," Ordonez said.
The mysterious political vandal was busy in the days prior to targeting Leahy's entry.
On March 31, the vandal changed Waxman's picture to a rat — the same visual, lifted from the U.S. National Park Service Web site, that was used on Leahy's page. Rove's picture was replaced with a cartoon image of Porky Pig.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., got the same rat treatment and forensic pathologist Dr. Joshua Perper was replaced with an image of the Marvel Comics super-villain Hammerhead on March 29.
Ordonez said she did not know who the vandal was, but she did say they tracked the IP address to the Danville Public Library in Danville, Ill.
Roberta Allen, director of reference and archives at that library, said they have four computer terminals with Internet access at the facility. Users can sign up for specific slots of time, but if a station is available the library does not track who uses the machines.
Allen said the Danville Public Library serves the 33,800 people living in that city and is the largest public library in the county. But no one working Tuesday saw anything out of the ordinary, she said.
"Someone could have easily done this and we wouldn't know about it," she said.