Last Friday I happened to be on a conservative radio show where I pointed out that the big winners in Iraq's recent elections were Shiite clerics with a long history of friendship with Iran - not exactly the sort of people who are likely to be long-term supporters of the Bush administration's political agenda in the Middle East. If conservatives want to celebrate the election as a victory for Iraqi self-determination, I said, they should be "careful what you wish for." Now it looks like I need to give myself the same cautionary advice.
Earlier in the week, I sent out a fundraising appeal to subscribers to the Weekly Spin, our weekly email bulletin. In addition to asking people to give us money, I talked about the success of SourceWatch, the Center's online encyclopedia of propaganda (formerly known as Disinfopedia). And I issued the following challenge:
Do a Google search (at www.google.com) for "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," "Ahmed Chalabi" or the "Cooler Heads Coalition" -- some of the front groups and paid pundits that have polluted our information environment. In each case you'll find that the very first page of search results includes a SourceWatch/Disinfopedia article. Read the article, and judge for yourself what kind of job SourceWatch is doing at debunking and exposing hidden agendas.
I should have been more careful what I wished for. Some people actually took me up on the challenge and found that in fact we weren't showing up at the top of Google searches. A number of emails have come in to our office asking what's up. "I like your work, but seems like you're spinning your Google placement," commented one.
Actually, here's what happened: Between the time I wrote the fundraising appeal and the time we mailed it out, Google began reindexing our site to reflect the recent name change from "Disinfopedia" to "SourceWatch." While that process is still underway, the rankings of Disinfopedia pages are falling, and the rankings for SourceWatch haven't yet risen to take their place.
I've asked around, and it sounds like it may take up to a month for SourceWatch to rise in the rankings - and it may take even longer to fully recover, depending on how long it takes before other websites change their old links from Disinfopedia to SourceWatch. In the meantime, my challenge looks like an empty boast.
If you want a quick graphic demonstration of what is happening, try the following two links: A Google search on site:sourcewatch.org currently shows 18,200 hits. A similar search on site:disinfopedia.org shows 71,300 hits, but almost none of them actually contain any of the text from the articles - showing that Google has purged its page cache for those articles, but hasn't completely figured out yet that they no longer actually exist. Once its reindexing is complete, the SourceWatch search will return a number of hits comparable to the Disinfopedia result, plus text from the cached pages. And then we should be good to go. (For a more detailed discussion of what's happening, SourceWatch user "Bonzai" has created a page specifically for the purpose of tracking our Google status.)
If I wanted to "spin" things, of course, I would never have issued the challenge in the first place. The smarter spin doctors know better than to challenge people to do things that make them look foolish.
Once our Google rankings recover, I'll send out an update. In the meantime, I hope you respond to the part of the fundraising appeal where I asked you to give us money. That link is still working - really, I promise!