Rewriting Harrell’s legacy, minus a few facts

Bobby Harrell may have a few problems telling fact from fiction, but one thing’s for certain: there’s no disputing the devotion of his toadies.

Over the past few months, several Harrell followers have repeatedly deleted information from the S.C. House Speaker’s Wikipedia page that could be construed as negative, sometimes within days or even hours of the information being posted.

At the same time, they’ve been only too eager to misrepresent the speaker’s record on any number of issues, presenting a saccharine-sweet image of Harrell that’s nothing short of a 21st century-cross between Ronald Reagan and Albert Schweitzer. 

Most recently, one “LimpiaPapel” took it upon his or herself to delete an entire section from Harrell’s Wikipedia biography dealing with the speaker’s plan to boost “South Carolina’s Knowledge Economy Strategic Framework,” a command-economy style proposal which features a giant pyramid – as in a pyramid scheme.

This past Sunday, the section was added to Harrell’s bio that detailed the fact that the speaker in 2008 headed up a press conference in which he, along with other legislative leaders and business executives, unveiled the pyramid schematic aimed at making the “knowledge economy” happen in South Carolina.

The plan depicted a layered pyramid featuring higher education institutions, economic development entities and state agencies. Atop the pyramid were the simplistic words, “Ultimate Outcome: High-Paying Jobs.”

The Wikipedia entry went on to add that the results of the effort have been dubious, at best. For example, one of Harrell’s pet projects, hydrogen, added just 229 jobs between 1999 and 2009, according to a press release that Harrell himself put out. That, despite an investment of literally tens of millions of dollars.

Still, Harrell said hydrogen had proven to be a great investment for South Carolina.

Apparently, the emperor doesn’t like being told he has no clothes. The information about Harrell’s support for the above “knowledge economy” pyramid scheme was deleted from Wikipedia by “LimpiaPapel” the same day it was posted.

(LimpiaPapel, by the way, appears to be Spanish for “clean paper.” The individual using that pseudonym has a simple description of themselves: “La limpieza de los hechos,” which appears to have an Orwellian meaning, something along the lines of the “the cleaning of the facts.”

Nor is this the only recent attempt to cleanse Harrell’s bio.

On June 20, information was added to Harrell’s page which originally stated that, “In South Carolina, State Legislators serve as part-time employees making only $10,400/year.”  The new material cited an October 2010 report by my employer, The Nerve, which reported that Harrell recorded salary and expenses of $128,406 for the 2.5-year period from January 1, 2008, through mid-2010, making him the second-highest-compensated legislator in South Carolina during that period.

Harrell’s additional salary comes from his title as House Speaker (worth an extra $11,000 annually); in-district expenses (up to $12,000 annually); daily $131 “subsistence” payments for hotels and meals while on official legislative business, whether in or out of session; per-diem payments of $35 for legislative meetings on non-session days; mileage reimbursements of at least 44.5 cents per mile for House members; and annual flat postage payments of $500 for House.

However, one “EricJ1995” took it upon himself to delete the new information, perhaps fearing that Harrell wouldn’t look like a true “citizen-statesman” if his real legislative income were disclosed.

And “EricJ1995” wasted little time, either, deleting the offending passage just two hours after it was posted to Wikipedia.

Apparently not content with simply erasing potentially negative information, 2-1/2 hours later another Harrell minion “Kevin Stu” decided that Harrell’s bio needed some serious puffing up.

In a section that spoke about Harrell’s efforts to bring aircraft manufacturer Boeing to North Charleston, “Kevin Stu” deleted information that questioned the size of the incentives package offered the Fortune 500 company, and the fact that it still unclear just how much money Boeing will receive from the state.

Instead, he replaced it with the following feel-good pabulum: “A study of the economic impact Boeing’s new plant will have on South Carolina reported that it will add $6 billion to the state’s economy annually and will create a total of 15,278 permanent jobs. The source for that data was a group called The Alliance for South Carolina’s Future, a shadowy organization whose only purpose was to present a study in favor of offering incentives to Boeing – perhaps not the most unbiased source.

In April, Harrell’s lackey’s were particularly busy, making no fewer than a dozen changes – deleting negative information about the speaker and adding in positive opinions that looked like they came straight from the mouth of Harrell himself.

However, this isn’t a new strategy. In August 2009, Wikipedia labeled the efforts of a certain “Foster6685” to sugarcoat Harrell’s entry as “vandalism.” Wikipedia didn’t specifically identify who “Foster6685” was, but Harrell’s right-hand man was and remains an individual named Greg Foster.

Back then, “Foster6685” not only inflated Harrell’s biography with a hagiography that would have made Mother Theresa blush, he also deleted factual information detailing the speaker’s issues with Gov. Mark Sanford and their different approaches to economic development.

For example, “Foster6685” deleted this paragraph on two occasions:

Among Harrell’s biggest focuses has been in the area of hydrogen and fuel cell research – claiming that “South Carolina is on the edge of what could become a multitrillion-dollar industry over the next 20 years – the beginning of a hydrogen revolution.” However, results have been spotty, as the South Carolina Policy Council has pointed out. More than $40 million in tax dollars have been invested in hydrogen research in the South Carolina Midlands alone, with the net result being the creation of a couple hundred jobs, according to information released by the Speaker’s Office.

For his heavy-handed efforts, “Foster6685′s” efforts were identified as vandalism by Wikipedia. Wikipedia defines vandalism as “any addition, removal, or change of content made in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia.”

Wikipedia even went so far as to send a message to “Foster6685” on Aug. 22, 2009: “Welcome to Wikipedia. I notice that you removed content from Robert W. Harrell, Jr.. However, Wikipedia is not censored to remove content that might be considered objectionable. Please do not remove or censor information that is relevant to the article.”

The concept of Wikipedia is to pull together existing knowledge into an area where viewers can access it easily with a reasonable expectation that it’s correct.

When individuals such as “LimpiaPapel,” “EricJ1995” and “Kevin Stu” opt for political chicanery over truth, it cheapens and weakens the open-source concept, not to mention it’s deceptive and dishonest.

If Bobby Harrell wants a Wikipedia page he can be proud of, perhaps he ought to start acting in the best interests of his constituents and South Carolina as a whole, instead of playing sleight of hand tricks with statistics and cutting backroom deals.

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