From: karee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Wed Oct 18 2000 - 11:24:12 PDT
[If you've seen it already, I apologize. Just too good not to pass
The Mother of Gore's Invention
by Declan McCullagh (email@example.com)
3:00 a.m. Oct. 17, 2000 PDT
WASHINGTON -- If it's true that Al Gore created the Internet, then I
created the "Al Gore created the Internet" story.
I was the first reporter to question the vice president's
boast, way back when he made it in early 1999.
Since then, the story's become far more than just a staple of
late-night Letterman jokes: It's now as much a part of the American
political firmament as the incident involving that other vice
president, a schoolchild, and a very unfortunate spelling of potato.
Poor Al. For a presidential wannabe who prides himself on a sober
command of the brow-furrowing nuances of technology policy, being
butt of all these jokes has proven something of a setback.
I mean, who can hear the veep talk up the future of the Internet
nowadays without feeling an urge to stifle some disrespectful
It would be like listening to Dan Quayle doing a
please-take-me-seriously stump speech at an Idaho potato farm.
Case in point: Mars Inc. lampoons the vice president in a hilarious
new commercial for Snickers. In it, a cartoon Al brags that he,
variously, invented the Internet, trousers, and when he wasn't busy
elsewhere, "lots of other stuff too."
When you're getting mocked by a candy company, you know your
statesmanship rating has plummeted to a terrifying new low. No
one recent poll shows Gore to be solidly ahead of his Republican
in only 11 states. It's simple: He's got no respect.
Which brings us to an important question: Are the countless jibes at
Al's expense truly justified? Did he really play a key part in the
development of the Net?
The short answer is that while even his supporters admit the vice
president has an unfortunate tendency to exaggerate, the truth is
Gore never did claim to have "invented" the Internet.
During a March 1999 CNN interview, while trying to differentiate
himself from rival Bill Bradley, Gore boasted: "During my service in
the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the
That statement was enough to convince me, with the encouragement of
then-editor James Glave, to write a brief article that questioned
vice president's claim. Republicans on Capitol Hill noticed the
News writeup and started faxing around tongue-in-cheek press
-- inveterate neatnik Trent Lott claimed to have invented the paper
clip -- and other journalists picked up the story too.
My article never used the word "invented," but it didn't take long
Gore's claim to morph into something he never intended.
The terrible irony in this exchange is that while Gore certainly
didn't create the Internet, he was one of the first politicians to
realize that those bearded, bespectacled researchers were busy
crafting something that could, just maybe, become pretty important.
In January 1994, Gore gave a landmark speech at UCLA about the
Many portions -- discussions of universal service, wiring classrooms
to the Net, and antitrust actions -- are surprisingly relevant even
today. (That's an impressive enough feat that we might even forgive
Gore his tortured metaphors such as "road kill on the information
superhighway" and "parked at the curb" on the information
Gore's speech reverberated around Democratic political circles in
Washington. Other Clinton administration officials began citing it
their own remarks, and the combined effort helped to grab the
Their timing was impeccable: In July 1993, according to Network
Wizards' survey, there were 1.8 million computers connected to the
Internet. By July 1994, the figure had nearly doubled to 3.2
a trend that continued through January 2000, when about 72 million
computers had permanent network addresses.
Small wonder, then, that as the election nears, Gore's defenders
been rallying to defend him. In a recent op-ed piece in the San Jose
Mercury News, John Doerr and Bill Joy claim "nobody in Washington
understands" the new economy as well as Gore does.
Net-pioneers Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf, a Democratic party donor,
written an essay saying "no other elected official, to our
has made a greater contribution over a longer period of time" than
Scott Rosenberg, in a recent Salon article, joined the fray: "The
'Gore claims he invented the Net' trope is so full of holes that it
makes you wish there were product recalls for bad information."
It's also true that, as a senator, Gore in the 1980s supported
universities' efforts to increase funding for NSFNet, a measure that
became law in the High Performance Computing Act of 1991. Gore's
columns in Byte magazine at the time showed an appreciation of
technology that was far from usual on Capitol Hill.
But it's also difficult to argue with a straight face that the
Internet we know today would not exist if Gore had decided to
the piano instead of politics.
By the time Gore took notice of the Net around 1987, the basics were
already in place. The key protocol, TCP/IP, was written and the
culture of the Net had blossomed through Usenet and mailing lists,
chronicled in Eric Raymond's Jargon File. At best, Gore's
merely hastened its development.
Instead of the orderly interstate highway system that Gore had
repeatedly used as metaphor, the spread of the Net has resembled
something closer to a self-organizing, almost anarchic sprawl.
of a government/corporate-controlled system that might have looked
like France's wretched Minitel system -- or, more charitably, a
500-channel interactive TV network -- the Net's popularity grew
because of far more mundane applications like email and downloading
And it's fair to say that other Gore pet projects, like the Clinton
administration's abandoned Clipper chip, are hardly ways to protect
privacy and security online and promote the development of this
Then again, it's also true the Clipper chip was first concocted
a George Bush Sr. administration, and another Bush occupying the
Office might well have similar inclinations.
We know that George W. Bush may not be any tech-savvier than Gore --
as anyone who caught the governor's the-Net-made-them-do-it comments
about the Columbine High School killers can attest.
But he seems to have successfully neutralized Gore's advantage on
issues. In the first debate, Bush jabbed at Gore during a
discussion of HMO coverage. The delivery was wooden, but it was no
joke: "Not only did (Gore) invent the Internet, but he invented the
calculator," Bush said.
The big surprise was not that Bush used the quip. It has, after all,
also shown up in his stump speeches and Republican jibes.
No, the surprise was that Gore remained silent. When he had a chance
to respond, Gore only talked about prescription drugs: "You can go
the (Bush) website and look. If you make more than $25,000 a year,
don't get a penny of help under the Bush prescription drug
At least he mentioned a website.
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