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Revenge of the Internet

As someone who has been working with the Internet since close to the beginning, I almost blew a gasket yesterday when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal by Gordon Crovitz claiming that “Contrary to legend, it wasn’t the federal government” who invented the Internet. The article was meant as a slap against Obama, who in a speech said “The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet.”

It isn’t just that the premise of the article is wrong. It is so full of misinformation, ignorance, and baldfaced lies, it doesn’t make any sense at all. The article even gets simple facts wrong, like the location of the headquarters of Xerox. Or it claims that the Internet was born when Xerox PARC developed the Ethernet protocol to link different computer networks. Idiots! Ethernet is a computer network, not a way to link networks. Or that Apple took this technology because Xerox “had no idea what they had”. Indeed, Apple did borrow technology from Xerox PARC, but that technology was the graphical user interface, not anything related to networking or the Internet.

Luckily, the response from the tech community was swift. For example, Crovitz quotes Michael Hiltzik’s book about Xerox PARC, but Hiltzik shot back:

And while I’m gratified in a sense that he cites my book about Xerox PARC, “Dealers of Lightning,” to support his case, it’s my duty to point out that he’s wrong. My book bolsters, not contradicts, the argument that the Internet had its roots in the ARPANet, a government project.

Hiltzik flatly says that without the government, the Internet “could not have come into existence”:

Private enterprise had no interest in something so visionary and complex, with questionable commercial opportunities. Indeed, the private corporation that then owned monopoly control over America’s communications network, AT&T, fought tooth and nail against the ARPANet. Luckily for us, a far-sighted government agency prevailed.

Other tech media was even more damning. According to an article in Salon:

The accepted wisdom is correct. The government created the Internet. But because the Wall Street Journal is devoted to printing plausible-sounding lies designed to appeal to its anti-government readership, they printed a column by Gordon Crovitz this week claiming that the government did not invent the Internet, because governments can’t invent anything useful, ever, and it was the wonderful private sector that did all the work.

An article in Slate agrees:

Crovitz’s entire yarn is almost hysterically false. He gets basic history wrong, he gets the Internet’s defining technologies wrong, and, most importantly, he misses the important interplay between public and private funds that has been necessary for all great modern technological advances.

Slate also points out that Crovitz is lying:

Other times, Crovitz strays into what seems like intentional intellectual dishonesty. He mentions offhandedly that “Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol,” but he skips over both the gravity of this development and the government’s role in it. TCP/IP is the Internet’s defining language, the only reason that any two computers, anywhere, can send a message to one another. In this way, TCP/IP is the Internet. What’s more, Crovitz neglects to mention that when Cerf created TCP/IP, he did so with Robert Kahn, who was an employee of the Defense Department, and that both of them were working under funding from the government.

Even the normally staid Scientific American says “Crovitz’s story is based on a profound misunderstanding of not only history, but technology.”

But as we now know, facts don’t seem to matter any more. Fox News is repeating the lie made by their sister publication (Murdoch’s News Corp owns both the Wall Street Journal and Fox News). I’m sure the lie that the private sector invented the Internet will be repeated ad nauseam by conservative outlets, just like they repeated the lie that Al Gore said he invented the Internet, until people believed he said it.



  1. Jonah wrote:

    I work for a telecom company so I blew a gasket as well. The republican party is regarded as the party that caters to the growth of the economy but articles like this reminds us what they’ve actually become. I worry what would happen if Obama loses and “the earth is flat” people take over.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink
  2. ebdoug wrote:

    You don’t think that those who believe Fox News really read the Wall Street Journal, do you? Those that believe Fox News also believe the fake e-mails circulated.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink
  3. ThatGuy wrote:

    EBDoug, the problem is that NewsCorp is pushing the story through both media. The people who believe Fox will likely believe the story even more when those lovely blonde anchors point out that this column was in the Journal.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink
  4. Don wrote:

    I’m thinking this is a support effort to back up Romney’s outreach ads which say that the government doesn’t create jobs, only the private sector does. My cousin “liked” such an ad on fb just the other day. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, though, that this WSJ article came out in close temporal proximity to the Romney ads.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  5. Duckman wrote:

    Our government? No, CERN created the internet, I’m assuming CERN was funded by european governments

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    No No No. CERN funded Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web. The Web is NOT the Internet. The Internet existed a while before the Web.

    At the time, the Web was only used by a small group of physicists. But the web browser that really got the Web going was Mosaic, which was developed by the NCSA with US government funding (the bill for which was sponsored by Al Gore).

    Regardless of the role of the European governments, the Internet was certainly not developed by private companies.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  7. It all makes sense when you consider the fact that Republicans still use AOL.

    Sunday, July 29, 2012 at 12:21 am | Permalink