Monday, February 23, 2009

Did Al Gore indeed take the initiative in creating the Internet?

A long and intriguing search string i took the initiative in creating the internet captured line 55 on the list of the top searched Google items today. I also want to know who crated Internet, or at least who claimed that publicly.

The Fact

In was Al Gore, who has made statements that he took the initiative in creating the Internet during television interview with CNN host Wolf Blitzer that was aired on March 9, 1999.


Vice President Gore was not yet a formal candidate for the presidency at the time, but was clearly setting the stage for it, and Blitzer’s questions focused on his potential campaign. At one point, Blitzer asked Gore why the Democrats should support him over rival Bill Bradley. Gore answered, "Well, I will -- I’ll be offering my vision when my campaign begins, and it’ll be comprehensive and sweeping, and I hope that it’ll be compelling enough to draw people toward it. I feel that it will be. But it will emerge from my dialogue with the American people. I’ve traveled to every part of this country during the last six years. During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

Some of the emails criticizing Gore for this statement point out that Gore has often shown ignorance about computers, so how could he have created the Internet? He did not claim, however, to be a computer geek who toiled in his basement and came up with the idea. He did claim that somehow as a member of congress he not only played in role in creating the Internet, but "took the initiative" to do it.

To his credit, Al Gore has participated in advancing information technology. As a Senator in the 1980s Gore urged government agencies to consolidate what at the time were several dozen different and unconnected networks into an "Interagency Network." Working in a bi-partisan manner with officials in Ronald Reagan and George Bush’s administrations, Gore secured the passage of the High Performance Computing and Communications Act in 1991. This "Gore Act" supported the National Research and Education Network (NREN) initiative that became one of the major vehicles for the spread of the Internet beyond the field of computer science. But all that is still far away from the Internet invention.

According to the encyclopedia Britannica, the Internet dates back to at least 1973 and in an article that broke the Gore story, Declan McCullagh of Wired News says the Net goes back as far as 1967 when Al gore was 19 years old. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency started experimenting with ways to allow networked computers to link and communicate. It was called The Internetting project and the ultimate system became known as The Internet. "Gore played no positive role in the decisions that led to the creation of the Internet as it now exists -- that is, in the opening of the Internet to commercial traffic," said Steve Allen, vice president for communications at the conservative Progress and Freedom Foundation.


However, if the claim was purely false, why it did not bring the journalists attention immediately? At the time Gore made his statement, it received no attention whatever. Blitzer didn’t ask Gore to explain his remark; he showed no surprise at what Gore had said. And in its on-air promotions for the taped interview, CNN showed no sign of thinking that Gore had “made news” with his comment. Meanwhile, major papers which covered Gore’s interview completely ignored the comment. Why did Gore’s comment provoke no reaction? Perhaps because Blitzer and others knew that Gore had taken the leadership, within the Congress, on certain stages of the technology developing what we now call the Internet.

For example, the Washington Post’s first reference to the Internet occurred in November 1988; a “virus” had attacked the little-known network, which connected some 50,000 computers, the Post said. But as journalists began to report on the Net, Gore’s key role in its development was clear. One month later, for example, Martin Walker wrote this in The Guardian:

WALKER (12/30/88): American computing scientists are campaigning for the creation of a “superhighway” which would revolutionize data transmission. Legislation has already been laid before Congress by Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee, calling for government funds to help establish the new network, which scientists say they can have working within five years, at a cost of Dollars 400 million.

Since 1993, Gore has become one of the most prominent people in the Clinton administration on issues related to high technology. He hosts visiting businessmen and takes pride in personally announcing new technology initiatives such as Internet II funding. He also took the lead in supporting the Clipper Chip and continued restrictions on the overseas shipments of encryption products.

Political Implications

Completely ignored at the time it was made, it became an iconic example of an alleged character problem-Gore’s widely-flogged “problem with the truth.” For two years, Gore would be savaged as a liar-many pundits would call him “delusional”-and his Internet comment would be Exhibit A in their endless assault on his character and integrity. There are just some lines from the press:


MITTELSTADT: Vice President Al Gore’s claim that he is the father of the Internet drew amused protests Thursday from congressional Republicans.

John McCaslin, 3/16/99: [T]he Gore 2000 campaign…office has already gotten a taste of what it’s in for after Mr. Gore recently took credit for inventing the Internet.

Ralph Z. Hallow, 3/16/99: Relaxed and ready to enjoy his second and better-prepared go at the GOP nomination, [Steve Forbes] joked in an interview yesterday about Vice President Al Gore’s claim of having invented the Internet.
Rowan Scarborough, 3/16/99: “This one is going to stick,” said William Kristol, editor and publisher of the conservative Weekly Standard. ‘Al Gore. Inventor of the Internet.’”
Editorial, 3/18/99: Mr. Gore has some explaining to do to parents. As everyone now knows, Mr. Gore invented the Internet, which means the vice president is responsible for making hard-core pornography available to elementary schoolchildren at the local library.
Robert Tyrell, 3/19/99: Did you hear Trent Lott is claiming to have invented the paper clip? Some think he is making a joke at the expense of Al Gore’s megalomaniacal claims about inventing the Internet.


There is no doubt that Al Gore indeed played a significant role in the Internet culture and infrastructure development in the United States. The entire buzz was caused by the vague phrased statement that allowed wide interpretation of its underground meanings. While there was never any official explanation or clarification by Al Gore as to why he made the claim, but he did have a sense of humor about it. At a meeting of Democratic leaders, he said, “I was pretty tired when I made that comment because I had been up very late the night before inventing the camcorder."

Sources and Additional Information:

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