FC: I created the Internet Story

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From: karee (karee@tstonramp.com)
Date: Wed Oct 18 2000 - 11:24:12 PDT

[If you've seen it already, I apologize. Just too good not to pass
around. -BB]


    The Mother of Gore's Invention
    by Declan McCullagh (declan@wired.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
    "information superhighway."

    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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