Directory:Akahele/Where in the world was Mike Ilitch?

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Where in the world was Mike Ilitch?

Mike Ilitch is the famed owner of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team and the Detroit Tigers baseball team, thanks to his financial success as founder of the Little Caesars pizza chain. For such a famous man, you'd think his place of birth would be a simple fact, but maybe not. Born in Macedonia? Moved to Detroit? Born in Detroit? Born in Yugoslavia?

I'm reminded of the Steve Martin "King Tut" refrain, "born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia"!

The Wikipedia article about Mike Ilitch was created in July 2004. It stated that " Ilitch was born in the region of Macedonia, but with no sources to support this claim.

Then on January 25, 2006, a now-missing Wikipedia editor changed the Ilitch birthplace from Macedonia to Detroit.

On June 26, 2007, his birthplace was restored to Macedonia.

This was followed by some probably nationalistically-motivated editorial infighting over whether to call it "Macedonia" or "Kingdom of Yugoslavia" or even "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes".

Then, October 21, 2007, it was back to Detroit once again.

Someone finally found a source for Ilitch's birthplace, so they changed it again on May 29, 2009 to Bitola, in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Just the facts, ma'am

I decided to speak with Karen Cullen, the Vice President of Corporate Communications with Ilitch Holdings, Inc. After confirming with others in her office, she states that while Ilitch's parents were indeed Macedonian, Mike was in fact born in the city of Detroit, Michigan. So, after several years of back-and-forth on Wikipedia, after all these claims we hear that Wikipedia is "easily corrected", the article has been stuck now with a glaring error. Furthermore, the error is cited to an outside source, so it looks quite "official" and credible there in the very first line of text.

And the article is the #1 Google search result for "Mike Ilitch".


Thus, it's no surprise that Ilitch's article on Wikipedia can receive upwards of 7,000 page views per month. We frequently hear that Wikipedia is "always improving" and that obvious mistakes are "being constantly fixed by people who know better". How amusing then, that for over 18 months this Wikipedia article began with incorrect data, but then for 17 months it was correct, then for almost 4 months it was patently wrong again — with bickering about how exactly to express the falsehood! Then for 19 uncontested months it was back to being correct. But since about six weeks ago, it once again incorrectly states where Ilitch was born. How long can we expect it going forward to continue this fiction of the Macedonian birth? I'm not reassured that it would have been remedied anytime soon, save for this very blog post to notify of the problem to Wikipedians of good conscience. My narrative here alone is unlikely to persuade the most stringent Wikipediots slavishly following their "Reliable Sources" rules, because Akahele will be portrayed as less than authoritative (we dare criticize Wikipedia, after all), even though (currently) the erroneous "Legends of Hockey" website appears to be authoritative enough for the Wikipedia crowd.

In fact, this blog post likely may draw out more than a few habitual Wikipedia vandals. I imagine they'll feel challenged to test how they may further disrupt the article about Mike Ilitch (or about the Detroit Red Wings, or the Detroit Tigers, or Little Caesars), then report their misdeeds here in the Comments form, though I would never encourage such shocking behavior!

On the other hand, some Wikipedia participants are fond of cautioning, "Don't trust everything in Wikipedia", "Take the time to check the sources". Many, though, still assert that for most simple facts, Wikipedia is fairly reliable. Well, for nearly the entirety of one article's existence, Ilitch's birthplace had no sources whatsoever, and now that it does cite an external source, it's wrong! But even before it was sourced, imagine people who visited this article (I'm picturing Bloomfield Hills schoolchildren writing biographical reports on people they admire, but you're equally welcome to imagine two drunk guys in their basement in Ypsilanti, trying to settle a bet). If, prior to six weeks ago, they read the unsourced first line of the biography to say that Ilitch was born in Yugoslavia, do you suppose they immediately closed their browser, saying to themselves, "Well, I'm not going to believe that claptrap, because it didn't have a reference citation that I could follow and verify"? Of course not. Certainly over 99% of them left that page with no doubt in their minds that Mike Ilitch was Macedonian-born, even though he is not. And it's not just people's brains being polluted with this "free culture" effluvia. Now, the Internet itself is contaminated with sites that have copied or mirrored the erroneous Wikipedia information, and they may only someday -- or may never -- get updated with the correct information. Indeed, I just now performed a Google search for the words 'Mike Ilitch born in', and of the top 10 sites returned that made claim to where Ilitch was born, two of them (besides Wikipedia) said Yugoslavia. Fortunately, the other eight of them said Detroit, but I'll bet this is merely because their Wikipedia scraper is not yet up-to-date with Wikipedia's latest fiction.

Key to the city

By the way, while looking through those Wikipedia edits, I noticed that in addition to Mike Ilitch receiving the mayor's honorary key to the city of Detroit, Wikipedia has also claimed (often for many days, if not weeks on end) that the Motor City's "key to the city" distinction has also been held by such individuals as Jesus, Saddam Hussein, and Perez Hilton.

Detroit should be proud of its political tradition of honoring not only Macedonians, but also Nazarenes, Sunni Arabs, and gay Cuban-Americans. Right, Wikipedia?

Image credits


3 Responses to “Where in the world was Mike Ilitch?”:

Gregory Kohs
P.S. Saddam Hussein actually did hold the key to the city of Detroit, early in his political career. Jesus and Perez Hilton? Not so likely.
Tim Vickers
The vandalism that added Jesus and Paris Hilton as recipients was removed quickly, but the piece on Saddam? I just added that back myself.
Gregory Kohs
It is amazing to me, but fully goes to underscore my belief that much of Wikipedia just gets worse and worse over time. The carefully-acquired citation sources have been removed by a new editor; I brought this to the attention of about 5 or 6 high-profile Wikipedia administrators; yet none of the edits have been reverted.