The living web is fluid. Accept that things may be different tomorrow. I’m happy for individual bloggers to edit or delete posts from their blogs, or for journalists to update an article in a newspaper throughout the day as new information or spelling errors are found. Rewriting a statement, after being challenged on it, so that it says the opposite of what it first said, is beyond this living fluidity. Some websites in particular want us to trust them completely, and we expect that we can hold them accountable. Goverment sites publishing information for the public who elected them foremost among them. Whitehouse.gov’s record of the speech Bush gave on May 1, titled “President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended” should not be retitled to include the word “Major” in front of “Combat” as soon as it’s obvious that combat had not come to an end.

An article in the Washington Post on White House Web Scrubbing conveniently gathers a dozen or two cases such as these. Vika linked it a couple of weeks ago, stating then that it was not new, but like her, I want to document it. Most people I’ve spoken to have not heard of this. I’d like them to know. A few weeks earlier, Scott pointed out a site that collects pre-edited and pre-deleted documents from The White House: The Memory Hole, noting a few ominous examples.

Ted Nelson, coiner of the word hypertext, famously wanted a network where every version of every document was kept forever, with an address that would remain the same whether the publisher changed servers or published a new version. That, obviously, hasn’t happened, and in most cases I’m glad of it. I like the impermanence of pixels. If individuals publish without publishers one of their privileges should be to unpublish, I think, although of course, once published, someone will probably have stored a copy. For Norwegian sites the National Library will have, and Archive.org stores a copy of at least the front page of almost every site I’ve ever searched it for. You can request not to be archived here, though.

I don’t like our governments rewriting history. That is entirely different.

6 thoughts on “changing

  1. Eivind

    I can’t say that I’m too surprised about this really, while it does indeed remind me of “1984”.

    I am, however, wondering whether this is happening everywhere. Will (or have?) for example the norwegian government change published articles like this?
    That could probably go on unnoticed as I doubt many people keeps such a close look at such articles.

    Oh, and you got a broken link in there. thememory.hole should be thememoryhole.org 🙂

  2. Norman

    I saw Bush on a T.V. programme give this speech, and he did use “major” in it. I organised against Viet Nam, and for many years gave lectures/talks in which I detailed what I believed were U.S. Foreign Policy outrages.
    But current “progressive” approaches to the news amount to assuming it’s all right to say anything, as long as it puts the U.S. in a bad light.
    There’s no way that television footage was doctored afterwards, because it was shown BEFORE the “story” began about Bush declaring the war was “over”. There’s enough in America’s past to criticise, without Pilger et al making up stories.

  3. nick

    Jill didn’t write anything about tape being edited or the text of the speech being changed. As you can read in the first paragraph of her post, the original title that whitehouse.gav gave to the transcript of Bush’s speech was “President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.” Go and see the speech with this title on the State Department website or several other sites if you like; they took the press release and republished it with the original title. The title on the White House site was then changed to “President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended” (adding the word “Major”) and there was no indication that this change had been made (the date given for the press release is still May 1, 2003 and a meta tag gives the date as 2003-05-01).

    Originally, the White House claimed that this speech declared the end of combat operations; they revised this to state that the speech declared the end of major combat operations. Don’t think they changed anything? Check the title on the May 6 cached version at the Internet archive.

  4. Jill

    Nick, thank you. Actually having the links there is brilliant.

  5. Norman

    [Jill removed personal attacks from this comment Tue 30/12 at 15:49. An ellipsis (..) marks deleted words.]

    Nick is (..) missing the key point in what passed for a “debate” in the media on this issue. If relying on headings or headlines, instead of looking at what Bush actually said, makes you happy, and provides a pretext for insinuating Bush somehow was forced to make a backslide on his initial statement, go for it.
    If, however, you’re genuinely interested in ascertaining whether or not the evil Bush DID make some sort of “mistake”, I’d recommend that you consider actually looking at what he DID say initially, and THEN decide if he did something that was somehow “sneaky”.
    Then, (..) the best one can do is make an unconvincing mountain out of the, at worst, merely sloppy mole hill that has caused you so much excitement.

  6. Norman

    Irony is dead? Thank God Dean Swift got through in time. Still, here’s wishing you a [genuinely non-ironic] happy New Year, Jill.

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