When I was an undergrad at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, I was fortunate to have professors who passionately encouraged us to avail ourselves of the wealth of resources to be found within Washington, D.C. One of my teachers in particular, Dr. Brian Latell, at the time National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, absolutely required that we go and speak with subject matter experts in person.
Writing a paper about Venezuela? Put a call into the Ambassador and tell 'em Latell sent you. You are trying to understand the implications of U.S. involvement in Columbia? Go down and see the desk officer at State. This was one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned at that school. Why rely so deeply upon the game of narrative telephone that can so often distort events? Instead, go down and speak to the players themselves and get the story firsthand.
In that context, I could not be more thrilled by the opportunity I had this morning to work with a primary source.
I am in Aspen this week attending a technology and policy roundtable at the Aspen Institute. (Very lucky to be here and I am sure I will have a few posts on the experience soon.) During the group discussion, someone mentioned the Wikipedia and we pulled it up on the screen to show it to the uninitiated among the twenty-five of us here. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (coincidentally, now a professor at Georgetown) was eager to explore this new tool and so we pulled up the page about her.
While those around us marveled at the efficacy of such a project that emerges from the collective efforts of the self assembled, Sec. Albright honed right in on, gasp, inaccuracies on her page. First, she noted that the page incorrectly recorded the year her family emigrated to the United States. Scrolling down, she then quickly contested the veracity of the paragraph asserting she had met Saddam Hussein. In fact, they have never had the pleasure. Though I am sure there are dozens of sources that could have confirmed the inaccuracy of this data, there is nothing like hearing it from the horse's mouth.
Without hesitation, I knew my charge. So, this morning, for the first time ever, I edited the Wikipedia. I just ran the changes by the Secretary herself and she approves. Phew.