Accountability gains a new tool

Wikicountability, a new accountability tool
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Accountability and transparency are two words that Barack Obama says but does not mean. Now another site seeks to hold him to those words.

Meet Wikicountability, the latest project of Stephen Law’s American Crossroads and its sister site, CrossroadsGPS. Wikicountability is the WikiLeaks of the right. Its editors don’t steal their information. They get it with perfectly legal tools, like the Freedom of Information Act.

Accountability projects

This is the first accountability project of its kind on the right. Law told Investors Business Daily that liberals have had WikiLeaks, SourceWatch, and other projects like that for years. Wikicountability has its own accountability—to the law. Having inside information is not enough if a source did not come by it honestly and legally. A lawyer can’t use it in court, a candidate would have a hard time using it in a campaign, and a journalist might face a court order to say where it came from and how he got it.

And anybody can post something to the site, where is Law’s accountability for where the poster got his information, or whether it is true? Wikipedia and other sites that allow anyone to register to edit, or even to edit without registering, have a reputation for carrying idle gossip. Law doesn’t want that. For that reason, anyone wanting to edit Wikicountability must apply for the privilege.

Law wanted one place to view or share “inside documents that tell a story most people [don’t know about].” So he built Wikicountability. He wants to ensure accountability in government with old-fashioned investigation. Few reporters and fewer activists know how to do that. American Crossroads runs seminars to show people how. Then at Wikicountability they can show what they find.

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Review of Wikicountability

Wikicountability is a bare-bones MediaWiki site with no extensions. The Recent Pages link is still up; Law might want to take that down or make that eyes-only for administrators. The first edit was on January 21 of this year. The Main Page still has some of its MediaWiki default links. Its layout (see the screenshot above) has only one column, with links to:

  1. FOIA requests made.
  2. FOIA violations, in which the government keeps someone waiting too long.
  3. Documents received.
  4. A guide to FOIA and how to use it.

Wikicountability has 11 registered users. Four are active: two administrators and two contributing authors. It has seen about 200,000 page views since its launch. Most of these are edits on its 53 content pages. No user thus far has incurred a “block.”

Wikicountability has few documents so far. They include proposed regulations, and the travel schedules of some Cabinet members. They also include documents like this one, showing how much the government paid to make three TV spots featuring Andy Griffith defending the healthcare reform bill.

What it needs

Wikicountability has the right kind of documents, but needs many more. To get them, Wikicountability needs editors, plus a Main Page attractive to visitors and search engines. New users can apply for registration only by e-mail. Law could add extensions to let a prospect apply on-line, and let a senior administrator create a new account with one click.

The guide to FOIA is helpful, but.links to apply to the seminars that Crossroads offers would help even more.

Nor should presidential accountability be its only issue. Congress and the courts often violate their accountability, too. Wikicountability should hold all branches accountable to the Constitution and to the rules that the government sets for its citizens. If more citizens learn how to investigate and sign up to edit, Wikicountability can be very valuable to everyone.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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