Jimmy Wales had an image problem. After bending his online encyclopedia's rules for a lover and, allegedly, for a benefactor, the Wikipedia co-founder faced rebuke and embarrassment. Then the New York Times made him a hero.

How did breaking the rules finally net Wales some good press? The Times disclosed Sunday that Wikipedia helped actively suppress news that a Times journalist had been captured in Afghanistan. If the capture was widely publicized, the paper worried, the reporter would be more valuable to his captors.

Wikipedia editors actively froze out edits reporting the capture, and allowed Timesmen to do the same. The reporter eventually escaped. The ethics of the censorship are debatable. The benefits to Wales are not: The Times depicts him leading the suppression effort, even though a woman named Sue Gardner actually runs Wikipedia. Wales thus re-cements his image as the face of Wikipedia and gets another round of lucrative speaking engagements (he has historically pocketed the fees).

Better still for Wales, he can point his critics to the Times situation as an example of how Wikipedia rules should not be absolute. When you're busy saving journalists, who cares if you bend the rules for some nice young ladies while you're at it?

UPDATE: Wales wrote in to dispute an earlier version of this article, which stated he "nearly lost his job," citing a January Valleywag report that his Wikipedia board seat was renewed just three days before it expired. Wales said "I was never 'almost out of a job' last December" and that there was never "a board struggle and a struggle between me and Sue Gardner."

(Pic by Re: Publica)