Friday, September 07, 2007

The Return of Prince Wiki **UPDATED**

**September 9, 2007 UPDATE**

Regarding the controversy outlined herein, I received the following email from Daniel Case today, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2007:

I apologize profusely for insinuating that you were responsible in some way for yourlate brother's suicide. It was vicious and over the line. It was late at night and I was letting my emotions get the better of me after reading some of the comments to your blog post ... my attention should have been directed at the commentators in question, not you.

* * *

I wrote this column on Wikipedia for the Cleveland Free Times in January 2007. In it, I rant about blatant falsehoods I found on Wiki concerning my brother, his watch, and a supposed cameo he did on a 1970 film "Scrooge." The article garnered this letter from one Daniel Case, who called for me to be fired and sent off with unfavorable references.

Nothing pleases me more than shining a light on my critics, so I announced and linked Case's letter in this January 2007 post. That entry got its share of comments at the time. Then nothing until the day before yesterday, nearly seven months since the whole thing transpired. And it was Mr. Daniel Case himself who published this comment:


The fact is that you lied. Lied like a rug with cement blocks on it.

Every Wikipedia page has a history section, which anyone can look at, which shows all the edits changed and saved. None of the pages you claimed to have edited showed any record of the edits you claimed you made.

Those history pages (required under the licensing scheme we use) are like phone bills. If you did it, it's there. If you didn't, it's not. It's right. You're wrong. End of discussion.

As for your editor standing by you, I hadn't intended that email for publication, but, since I didn't say so, that's on me. All I can say is that that sacrifice of integrity (I would speculate from it that he's sleeping or has slept with you at some point ... I hope it was good for you because he writes like a guy with a tadpole in his trousers) in favor of friendship is proof positive that the Free Times has indeed gone waaaaay downhill under its present ownership. Cf. New York Times, Jayson Blair.

Your blog speaks for itself. Your brother was a truly talented writer ... I'm sure part of the reason he drank so much was having a bitter hanger-on like you as a sister.

September 5, 2007

I did those edits, Mr. Case.

I am very protective of John's memory. I don't know why the edits did not show up in the history, perhaps there was a technical glitch on Wiki's end or on my end (this was ages ago when I was still on dial-up). Every person reading this has seen computers eat files. Or maybe I effed something up while doing the edits, (although I tried to be very careful). I've also heard of super Wiki administrators who can delete stuff no one else can touch. Could some unseen power have effed with my edits? It doesn't seem likely, but who knows? There are some very powerful people who have a vested interest in the "mystery" and "legend" surrounding John O'Brien, his life, his death, and his work. I have no idea what happened, but I tried in good faith to set those Wiki pages straight. This was long before I was a columnist for the Free Times.

Then at some point, I revisited John's page and the "Leaving Las Vegas" page. The erroneous stuff was back. I was completely stunned. I thought: shit, someone must really have a good reason to keep putting this shit back up. Maybe there was something I didn't know about. So I talked to Mom and John's wife of 13 years, asking about whether John did do a cameo in a film unbeknownst to me, or if there was anything that might have been misconstrued as such. We talked about his beloved Rolex watch.

The Wiki statements were just plain wrong as I had thought. But to be sure I poked around trying to find if there was another John O'Brien who did a film cameo in "Scrooge." Maybe there was a mix up. No, it was all just a bunch of tripe. I tried to figure out what happened in the histories, but was completely confused. I was fed up with Wiki and its impossible pages at that point and decided not to re-edit (I have no idea if it's improved, but at that time editing pages was a nightmare). After all, what was the point if anyone could change it back?

Free Times Editor Frank Lewis and I talked about all of this when we got Case's first letter right after the column ran.

I am not going to gas on defending myself against the rest of Case's rubbish. But I will say this: I have nothing to hide. I invite anyone to edit my Wiki page or for that matter Case's Wiki page and link all of this.

One other interesting tidbit: after my Wiki column ran, someone edited out the stuff I said was false regarding John. But they did so very grudgingly, immediately stating in a discussion page that the edits should not be reinstated until another source could verify them--apparently John's Mom and sister are not reliable enough sources for verifying whether or not he traveled to California in 1970 to appear in a movie at age 10 (we lived in Brecksville, Ohio at the time).

People, this is who is running Wikipedia.

This is what happens when you publish an "encyclopedia" in which you let anyone say anything about anyone and and then let anyone else edit it. Granted, the vast majority of contributors are well intentioned, but even so, the pages are inundated with misinformation.

Don't believe me?

I just visited the "Leaving Las Vegas" Wiki page, wherein under "Production" it references John's suicide then states (at least until someone edits it), "As a result, the production was stopped temporarily." John died on April 10, 1994. I am pretty sure that film production had not yet begun. I am pretty sure this is bullshit. And although I am not cock-sure positive, I'm fairly certain I could dig through my boxes of LLV stuff and find a document that specifically references when production began and that it was a couple of months after John's death. And I suspect that someone somewhere planted this seed of misinformation in order to pump up the story behind "Leaving Las Vegas." It may have originated elsewhere ... until a completely honest and well-intentioned person read it and thought it would be a cool thing to add to the Wiki page.

Someone else do the research and correction. I'm too effing tired.

In the meantime, don't believe it. I was on the set of "Leaving Las Vegas" in October of 1994. Don't believe me? Here's a picture. I'm on the left. That's my sister-in-law on the right.

Now then, how many other itty-bitty details like that are floating around Wikipedia?

* * *

Note: I privately emailed Case to verify it was he who left that comment on my blog. This was his response:

"I wrote it but you can delete it ... it was rather rash and, in the morning light, I have reconsidered. In retrospect, better to let this drop for now.

I still know you made that bit in your column up, though ... I notice you have never denied it. My guess is that you'll do something like that again and get caught, so I'll leave it to fate."

Another note: There are plenty of other people who have hurt me and my family by way of my brother's memory.

And one last note: I am writing this because Case has ignited an email firestorm over it and I felt the need to tell the truth once and for all and put this to bed.


ajooja said...

I love how some fucking nobody thinks he knows more about your brother's life than his mother, wife and sister.

What an unbearable asshole?!?

Dean said...

Wikipedia, if it wants to know why it has a questionable rep in some quarters, might want to look no further than self-important fuckheads like Daniel Case.

'Rash', was it? A deliberate attempt to cause insult and pain is 'rash'? The act of a coward and a shitstain, rather.

~d said...

"It's all very well for such a person to whine and moan and criticize other family members, but they won't let anyone else do it. That's when you get your back up and show loyalty."

Markus Zusak

ben said...

Your blog ate my comment!!!!!


Hey, look, funyons!

ben said...


Here it is (fwiw)

ell, the Wiki for LLV doesn't even follow it's own sources (shit!)


In April of 1994, two weeks into the production, John O'Brien, author of the semi-autobiographical novel this film is based on, committed suicide.[3] As a result, the production was stopped temporarily. (end quote)

References a NYT article from 1995 that says this:

Mr. Figgis based his screenplay on a novel by John O'Brien, who committed suicide two weeks after learning that his book would be made into a movie.

Do you think he didn't hear until after production had started?

Another online source lists October as the production start date, which on MY calendar is not before April.

I've found shooting scripts dated September, 1994, which seems to support the October timeframe for starting production.

But then, on the other hand, is it "production" to ask somebody to work on a script in the first place? I'm not a movie person, or a writer, I'm just a nuclear physicist that thinks he's a blogger. Or something like that.

I say this: FUCK wikipedia. It takes opinions and dresses them up, but they are still that, as the example I cite above shows that even when things are referenced and the links are working, they can still be wrong.

And why would Case open this can of worms, after all this time, other than to torture you? And torture may be too tough of a word, but it's the meaning I'm looking for.

Dan said...

Wikipedia is a disaster, and it's dicks like Daniel Case who help make it such. And, his comments toward you prove that he is not someone worth taking very seriously. Only an inhuman toad would say what he said in his comment.

Erin O'Brien said...

Ajooja: My new favorite term is "unbearable asshole."

Dean: In any number of places, Case cites his journalism background. In my book, journalists are supposed to be very careful--not rash--when hitting the "publish" button. Even if I deleted the comment, the person he intended to see it was me and the damage was already done.

~d: So true. Thanks.

Ben: Hi. Sorry about my blog eating your Funyons ... um I mean your comments. Thanks for your notes, which demonstrate my point exactly. It is these insidious little things that really make me distrust Wiki. The obvious stuff is one thing, as are the pranks. But these tiny things are like little colored scales. Put enough of them in the right places and you eventually change the whole appearance. Now pass the Funyons, please!

Dan: It's not a matter of taking him seriously or not, I'm more or less talking about Wiki as a whole. He is one editor. The next person might be totally different. These entries are more or less at the whims of anyone, which wouldn't matter, but people believe what they read on Wiki. Maybe a few people will read what I've written here and change their minds about what they see on those pages.

Norm said...

Grr. Hate wikipedia. It is the triumph of the loud mouthed self-proclaimed experts on everything who infest every corner of the Internet they can.

Kesh said...

I'll defend Wikipedia in one aspect: it's supposed to be based on reliable sources. That means published in stuff with editorial oversight, so it at least has some semblance of credibility. So, the comments you say were non-factual should have been removed if there were no citable source for them.

That said, no they can't just take Erin's word for fact either. That's not a citable, verifiable source. Mind you, unverifiable stuff does slip in and (sometimes) gets entrenched by editors who believe it's true, regardless of proof. As you've found out, Erin. :(

Finally, yes, if content of an edit is considered egregious enough it can be excised from the edit history. See here. I find it surprising (but possible) that they'd take out your edits if your edits were just removing the non-factual statements in the article. Then again, admins are only human.

I've been involved in enough content disputes on Wikipedia to recognize that articles are not inherently reliable, but should be populated with reliable sources. The trick is, a lot of folks never learned that kind of skepticism and believe anything they read.

There is one final step you can take:

Paul said...

I also noticed in the "Scrooge" article discussion, IMDB is referred to as a trusted source. Much of IMDB's material comes from user submissions. And the circle goes on.

The Fool said...

Dear Mr. Case,

I don't even know you...but I hope you read this (if and when you get your head out of your ass) - "FUCK YOU." Plain and simple.




The Fool said...

Oh...and Case, you write like a man with a dick in his mouth...

Hal said...

This is very wrong, and I'm sorry it has happened, and continues to happen.

Take care, Erin. :)

jj mollo said...

Case was totally out of line. I can't believe he nursed that grudge for so long. I think there may be some sort of psychological problem there.

Nevertheless, he is rightly proud about being a part of Wikipedia, and he's entirely too defensive. Wikipedia is, IMO, a grand social experiment that has already paid off in a big way. It's still going through some growing pains, but the idea of openness is revolutionary and the faith that good things will accumulate over time is already showing itself to be well justified.

You are right. It is necessary to maintain a certain level of skepticism. People like Case can occasionally allow their personalities to intrude, but just think about what Wikipedia has accomplished in a very short time. I often compare entries with my old Brittanica. I have a great deal of respect for Brittanica, but Wikipedia just opens up a whole new world.

Dean said...

I'll say one other thing. In comparisons to other, 'real' encyclopedias, Wikipedia was found to be about as good as any other. In other words, all other encyclopedias contain this same sort of error, (hopefully on different subjects).

We would do well to remember this, and the hateful posturings of Daniel Case. The world is full of misinformation and assholes.

Erin O'Brien said...

Norm: Being a loud mouth myself, I don't have much room to talk. But after all this, I am very careful what I take away from Wiki.

Kesh: To me, the trouble is that Wiki bills itself as "the free encyclopedia," which has this perceived authority. People do believe what they read there. Erroneous facts become entrenched. Smart wealthy entities recognize and use Wiki as a tool.

Who planted those online seeds about John's Rolex and about production being halted? Where did they plant them?


And the end of your comment was a bit like coitus interuptus. Eek!

Paul: Hey, according to Mr. Kesh, who can believe what I say?

Fool: Having never been moved to jot notes during fellatio, I am unable to confirm or deny this assertion. I let you know if something develops.

Hal: It is wrong, but it has sparked a good conversation.

JJ: Rah, rah. This document is edited by the likes of Case, who called me an adulterous liar in writing on a public site--not the move of someone who is overly worried about libel.

The "Leaving Las Vegas" page has been nominated as a good article. Good article? Remove the assertion about production being stopped as well as incorrect statements about John's novel. Then go to the "Trivia" section in the associated talk page and take out the bullshit about the Rolex and when production began … aw hell, just forget it.

Dean and everyone: I've read this as well. Now read this excerpt from this article by Mick Farren in City Beat:

Wikipedia did have a team of administrators – volunteers able to lock down and quarantine entries that may have been subject to distortion, disinformation, or abuse – but Cal Tech graduate student Virgil Griffith has now gone a stage further with his “Wikipedia Scanner,” a program that identifies anonymous edits by cross-referencing them to Internet IP addresses. The results have been startling. In addition to political and corporate manipulation, no less than the CIA and FBI have edited entries on topics including the Iraq war and the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Of course, now that tracing is possible, all those seeking to use Wikipedia for propaganda are busily creating “sock puppets” – phony characters to fool Griffith’s scanner, and disguise the origins of deception and confusion.

Nice, huh?

Kesh said...

And the end of your comment was a bit like coitus interuptus. Eek!

Whoops! Apparently it cut off my post, or I somehow screwed it up.

I was going to mention that there is an oversight committee behind Wikimedia Foundation that can handle issues of libel or defamation, and it might help to contact them over the issue. However, I'll have to go looking for the information again.

Erin O'Brien said...

My good Mr. Kesh,

I believe without one moment's hesitation that you did indeed finish your first comment and that some unintentional error, either human or technical, prevented it from publishing properly.

These things happen.


Hal said...


You asked, "Who planted those online seeds about John's Rolex and about production being halted? Where did they plant them?"

The trivia section for the Leaving Las Vegas listing on IMDB has both reports of Nicholas Cage wearing your brother's Rolex during shooting. It also says that Mike Figgis considered halting the project altogether after John's death, but decided to press forward because he thought it would be a nice tribute to him.

IMDB is a pretty reliable source of information for the movie and TV business. It is true that anyone can open an account and edit any listing they want to, but from what I understand, IMDB is pretty strict about vetting listings before they include them. In my experience editing my own page, sometimes credits I have posted don't appear for weeks after I put them up. However, as we can see, even they aren't perfect.

So my guess is that whoever wrote the original Wiki page about your brother concluded that his page there was reasonably accurate, including the credit for Scrooge. As for the Scrooge credit, I think this could very well be an honest mistake. You will see here that the list of John O'Brien's who have worked in the entertainment industry in some capacity is pretty extensive. So it is likely, perhaps, that someone named John O'Brien actually did work on this movie, only it wasn't your brother.

Why does this persist? Well, my guess is that your brother is part of Hollywood lore. Not to the level of a Bogey or James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, but he did write a novel that was made into a movie that was nominated for four Oscars and won one, and the one it did win was won by an actor who played a role that was largely biographical, which established him as an A-lister. That's pretty incredible in and of itself, and the tragedy of his death only adds to the mystique of it. There are all kinds of myths and legends in this town, many of which are not true, and Wiki bought into them. I'm not trying to justify Wiki's bizarre refusal to correct the erroneous information, but I have a feeling that even if they did, these stories about your brother would persist. It is, I'm afraid, the nature of the beast.

Erin O'Brien said...

Hey Hal,

I know there is no way to erase the bullshit now. It is too deeply entrenched.

When I am ready, I will write about why I am so pissy about John's Rolex. I have profoundly personal reasons for despising anyone capitalizing on John's watch. The other stuff doesn't matter so much to me, but the Rolex was the WRONG THING to fuck with.

Very, very fucking wrong.

In the meantime, I took a pic of John's Rolex and the associated paperwork. You can view a hi-res copy of it here.

Anonymous said...

I can't see how anybody could get so worked up over something so totally trivial.

Amy said...

Erin, considering the fact (noted extensively above) that Wiki needs to be more accountable and more transparent about what it does, who dies it and how, why do you in turn let anonymous posters on your blog?

For all you/we know, it's Daniel Case getting in another jab.

I respect the loyalty you have for your brother and his work, but I worry that people like Case and Anonymous are going to prevent you from making your own work....

Erin O'Brien said...

Anonymous: I am unsure to whom you are referring. Is it me or Mr. Case?

Amy: (see response to anon above--teehee!)

As far as comments are concerned, Unless someone is saying something libelous, they pretty much stay up. That is one of the reasons people visit this blog. Most bloggers use handles and avatars that conceal their real identities.

I get very few mean-spirited comments.

And no worries, mate. There is whole herds of Erin words running through this keyboard all the time. As for this discussion, I think it is topical for a zillion reasons above and beyond my brother's watch.