Thomas Friedman Cites Wikipedia, Again

Thomas Friedman. Photo via Getty Images)

Thomas Friedman. (Photo via Getty Images)

Three’s a trend, they say, but when it comes to New York Times journalists referencing Wikipedia entries in their opinion pieces, two times is probably enough to make the eyebrows raise.

In today’s Sunday Review, Thomas Friedman cites Wikipedia for what appears to be the second time in his tenure as an op-ed columnist.

In an article titled “1; 5,000; 500,000,” about the unrest in the Arab world, Mr. Friedman refers to information he found on Wikipedia about Egyptian General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.

“Wikipedia has a list of General Sisi’s medals,” Mr. Friedman writes, in what may be the most boring sentence ever printed in the op-ed pages of the Times. “They include things like the Silver Jubilee of October [1973] War Medal and the Golden Jubilee of the 23rd of July [1953] Revolution.”

This isn’t as bad as the first instance, when, in a piece titled “Kansas and Al Qaeda,” Mr. Friedman quoted 45 words from a Wikipedia page on the “Islamic Golden Age” to describe that period in history. “Of that era, Wikipedia says …,” Mr. Friedman wrote, before quoting what Wikipedia said.

That’s a sign of unoriginal thinking, which isn’t something Mr. Friedman hasn’t been accused of before. (Last weekend, the media critic Dan Kennedy pointed out that Mr. Friedman’s column only contained 343 of his own words in a 1,200-word piece.)

The second example is just odd. Why would Mr. Friedman feel it necessary to cite Wikipedia for such a mundane string of facts? The list of medals probably isn’t the kind of information you even need to cite—like the fact that General Sisi is, indeed, a general, which Wikipedia also points out.

Mr. Freidman isn’t the only Times columnist who uses Wikipedia—op-ed writer and former executive editor Bill Keller loves the free online encyclopedia—but he is, as far as we know, the only one to use it so fecklessly.

If Mr. Friedman had followed the link to the footnote citing where the information on General Sisi came from, he could have sourced the Egyptian State Information Service website, which has the same exact list of medals.

And, to set the record straight, it should be noted that the Egyptian Revolution began on July 23, 1952—not, as Mr. Friedman writes, 1953. An honest mistake. But still, he could have learned that on Wikipedia.