Daddy's Little Obfuscator

New Times' blockbuster story last September about Bruce McMahan, the New York and Fisher Island hedge-fund manager who married his own daughter ("Daddy's Girl," by Kelly Cramer), shook up Wall Street, got rehashed by the New York Post, inspired a (surprisingly accurate) retelling by Geraldo Rivera's TV show, and garnered McMahan the unenviable distinction of being labeled "scum" by the diminutive Rivera himself.

But then someone (Tailpipe swears it wasn't him) decided that with all that notoriety, McMahan deserved a page of his own on Wikipedia.

The ubiquitous online encyclopedia has taken it on the chin lately, though, with almost weekly attacks on the accuracy of its entries and usefulness of a free compendium of knowledge compiled by a worldwide army of busybodies sometimes woefully lacking in basic writing skills and, well, encyclopedic knowledge.

But how hard could it be to summarize McMahan's stunning deeds in a Wikipedia entry? Here's what Tailpipe would have written: "Born in California and raised by a furniture tycoon, McMahan became a wealthy hedge-fund manager who, in 1990, discovered that besides his six other children, a woman of 20 named Linda Marie Hodge (later Linda Schutt) claimed to be his biological spawn, the result of a 1969 affair. A paternity test proved that Linda was, in fact, McMahan's daughter, and he welcomed her into the family, helped pay for her graduate studies, and then provided her with lucrative employment in his financial empire. However, in litigation spanning five U.S. states, Linda later alleged that in 1998, McMahan began a years-long sexual relationship with her, culminating in a bizarre wedding ritual the two allegedly staged at Westminster Abbey in 2004. To back up Linda's claims, attorneys introduced photographs of the Westminster Abbey event, salacious e-mails between McMahan and his daughter, and a DNA test performed on a vibrator Linda's legal husband had retrieved from her luggage, which was found to be coated with Linda's skin cells and the sperm cells of her biological father. After news of the litigation broke in New Times Broward-Palm Beach, however, McMahan paid an undisclosed amount to settle the lawsuits, and he has managed to seal four out of five of them."

There, was that so hard?

As of this writing, however (it changes by the hour), Wikipedia's entry is a pathetic thing, opening with three paragraphs of pure pap. (McMahan is chief executive officer of blah blah blah, he founded the financial firm so-and-such, his charities include whatzitmatter... as if anyone were looking up McMahan for that drivel.) Finally, it gets to the point, watered down by so much editing and reediting that it reads like an afterthought:

"Linda Schutt, his biological daughter, who was raised by adoptive parents through adulthood, has claimed in a lawsuit that she had a sexual relationship with him as an adult. Documents from this suit became the source of information for a series of articles in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, with further coverage in other tabloid journals."

Ouch. The "tabloid" touch hurts so much.

Anyway, what really drew the 'Pipe to the ever-evolving entry was the war going on behind the scenes, brought to this newspaper's attention by Wikipedia attorney Brad Patrick. It seems that anonymous folks have been dive-bombing the Wikipedia entry with acts of vandalism, wiping it out entirely, replacing paragraphs, and demanding that legal documents from the court cases be taken down. Patrick called to see if it were true that there was a court order making it illegal to post the documents.

New Times was happy to explain that Patrick was being snowed. Although McMahan (whom Tailpipe couldn't imagine wasn't behind the onslaught of attacks on Wikipedia) had persuaded judges to seal four of the lawsuits in the legal morass, there is still one federal judge in Connecticut who has stood up for public access and refuses to seal the fifth lawsuit.

Patrick was happy to hear that, and the links to documents in the case — the paternity test showing with 99.7 percent accuracy that McMahan is Linda's father, and the DNA test of the vibrator — remain at the site.

Behind every Wikipedia entry, meanwhile, there's a discussion page, which is where the war of words over McMahan's entry has really been taking place. This includes a several-thousand-words-long screed trashing Cramer and her story by "CabbageFairy," who claims to be something of a journalism expert. CabbageFairy accused New Times of the basest unethical practices in the McMahan story.

Something about CabbageFairy's profile at the site, however, made Tailpipe suspicious. Could the mysterious "researcher" be, gulp, none other than Bruce McMahan's eldest daughter, Alison? Tailpipe looked into it further and discovered that, yes, Alison McMahan is a film historian who has written a book about early film pioneer Alice Guy Blaché, whose first feature film, in 1897, bore a French title that translates to — you guessed it — "The Cabbage Fairy."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.