The Trials & Tribulations Of Jimmy Wales: Has Valleywag Gone Kenneth Starr On Us?

Posted Mar 5, 2008

If I were to compare Jimmy Wales to a political figure, I would say that it would be Bill Clinton. According to Wikipedia, “Clinton presided over the longest period of peace-time economic expansion in American history, which included a balanced budget and a reported federal surplus.” And Wales presides over the largest open source encyclopedia, Wikipedia as the Chairman Emeritus of its parent company, the Wikimedia Foundation. When people needed leadership, they turned to Clinton and when people need information, they turn to Wikipedia.

The reasoning I also chose to compare Clinton to Wales is because of how much the media scrutinized both of their personal lives. Kenneth Starr, a lawyer that took on the Lewinsky scandal revealed personal information of Clinton’s in the Starr Report which eventually led to Clinton’s admittance of his sexual involvement with the White House intern. The Starr Report is justified because it found that the President broke the law, but the media had a field day with it.

ValleyWag, a gossip blog that recently acted as a modern day Starr Report, published personal IM conversations between Jimmy Wales and his former girlfriend, Rachel Marsden. Not cool, ValleyWag.

Publishing this sort content seems legal because of the First Amendment, but it is outright unethical. It is unethical because the conversations were used as a way to defame Wales’ character. Imagine the millions of personal conversations taking place on AIM, MSN, Google Talk, and Yahoo! Messenger. What if these companies started going out of their way to publish conversations taking place on their chat software?

To make matters worse, Wales’ expenditures and actions with Wikipedia got dragged into the media mayhem. Dan Wool, a former Wikimedia board member published an article about how Wales sought reimbursements from the Wikimedia Foundation for various swanky personal expenses. This was denied by current board members in an article released by the Associated Press. Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

Wales left a response to some of the accusations on his blog.