Will Stephen Colbert mess up Mitt Romney's VP rollout?

Stephen Colbert, playing with the theory that Mitt Romney's team will be polishing the Wikipedia entry of his VP choice, urged viewers to recklessly edit entries of potential picks. Wikipedia was not amused.

By , Staff writer

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    Stephen Colbert at the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards Governors Ball in Los Angeles in a Sept. 18, 2011, file photo.
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Will Stephen Colbert mess up Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick rollout?

We ask that question because the late night funnyman was indulging in a bit of his trademark participatory political comedy on the “Colbert Report” Tuesday night. He’d picked up on an idea first floated by Tech President blogger Micah Sifry: The Romney folks likely will clean up the Wikipedia page for their pick prior to his (or her) public unveiling. The day before John McCain announced Sarah Palin as the 2008 choice, her Wikipedia page was edited 68 times, Mr. Sifry noted.

Mr. Colbert turned that assertion on its head, noting that it meant the chances a person would be picked as VP increase with the number of times their Wikipedia entry gets edited.

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“I like friend of the show Tim Pawlenty,” said Colbert. “So to up his chances, I’m going to get on the old Wikipedia to pump up his edit count.”

On air, Colbert dragged out his laptop and (pretended) to mess up Mr. Pawlenty’s info, as one can do with the crowd-sourced Wiki database. He altered “born in St. Paul” to “St. Paul is where born Tim Pawlenty was," for example. He changed the former Minnesota governor’s genealogy to reflect that he was the child of Eugene Joseph Pawlenty and “Mrs. Butterworth."

“Intending to be a dentist, Pawlenty started his career in Santa’s workshop,” Colbert wrote. Or said he wrote, while he fake-typed away.

Then came the kicker. Colbert noted that anything you type into Wikipedia becomes reality, and put down that on Aug.10, 2012, Pawlenty was picked as Mitt Romney’s VP choice.

This is where the messing-with part of the equation enters into it. Colbert urged viewers to follow his lead and vandalize a whole range of Wikipedia pages.

“I may have designated T-Paw the VP pick, but it doesn’t have to stay that way folks,” he said. “You get on Wikipedia and edit any of these guys’ pages to give them the edge.”

This was followed by a graphic of the usual suspects, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

“Or maybe edit the page of more of a dark horse, like Mitt Romney’s dark horse,” Colbert concluded, as a photo of Romney’s dressage equine Rafalca graced the screen.

Colbert’s own edits may have been pretend, but the Wikipedia hierarchy took his threat seriously. As the Wikipedia talk page on the Pawlenty entry makes clear, administrators have locked the Pawlenty page to prevent any more Santa’s workshop-level changes.

They’ve locked and armored the pages of Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Marco Rubio, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus as well.

And that could end up frustrating the detail-oriented communications folks in Romney’s HQ.

“The question now is: Will Wikipedia open the pages in time for the Romney campaign to make edits?” writes Politico’s media blogger Dylan Byers. “While I still think Sifry’s thesis is flawed, the campaign will almost certainly try to clean up the Wikipedia page of Romney’s VP before the announcement is made. That is, if they can get past the administrators.”

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