Daily Sentinel's Silbernagel repeated myth that Gore claimed to have "invented the Internet"

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Bob Silbernagel, editorial page editor of The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, repeated in his March 11 column the long-debunked conservative canard that former Vice President Al Gore claimed to have "invented the Internet." In fact, Gore never made such an assertion, although he is credited with securing funding for the Internet's development.

In a March 11 column in The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, editorial page editor Bob Silbernagel repeated the long-debunked conservative falsehood that former senator and Vice President Al Gore claimed he "invented the Internet." As Colorado Media Matters has noted, Gore is widely credited with having secured vital government support for the development of the Internet, but never claimed to have "invented" it.

Silbernagel referred to Gore as "the man who invented the Internet" in a column that repeated dubious conservative criticism of the Gore family's home energy usage, which erupted shortly after Gore's global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, won an Academy Award on February 25. Silbernagel wrote:

It would be an inconvenient irony for Gore if his film and his hypocrisy on energy use were the cause of more news stories about -- and more public acceptance of -- scientists who offer reasoned challenges to the global-warming dogma.

The prospect of that actually occurring is a long shot, at best. But, if anyone can make it happen, it should be the man who invented the Internet.

The myth that Gore made such a claim appears to be based on a distortion of a March 9, 1999, interview with CNN host Wolf Blitzer in which Gore noted that as a member of Congress, he "took the initiative in creating the Internet":

BLITZER: I want to get to some of the substance of domestic and international issues in a minute, but let's just wrap up a little bit of the politics right now.

Why should Democrats, looking at the Democratic nomination process, support you instead of Bill Bradley, a friend of yours, a former colleague in the Senate? What do you have to bring to this that he doesn't necessarily bring to this process?

GORE: Well, I will be offering -- I'll be offering my vision when my campaign begins. And it will be comprehensive and sweeping. And I hope that it will 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. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.

The distortion of Gore's remark that he "took the initiative in creating the Internet" apparently originated in a March 11, 1999, Wired News article by Declan McCullagh, which stated, "It's a time-honored tradition for presidential hopefuls to claim credit for other people's successes. But Al Gore as the father of the Internet? That's what the campaigner in chief told CNN's Wolf Blitzer during an interview Tuesday evening."

In a March 23, 1999, follow-up article, McCullagh first used the word "invented" in relation to Gore's remarks: "Al Gore's timing was as unfortunate as his boast. Just as Republicans were beginning to eye the 2000 presidential race in earnest, the vice president offered up a whopper of a tall tale in which he claimed to have invented the Internet."

However, McCullagh later clarified in an October 17, 2000, Wired News article that "Gore never did claim to have 'invented' the Internet." McCullagh further explained that following his article, congressional Republicans and journalists perpetuated the myth:

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 that 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 Internet."

That statement was enough to convince me, with the encouragement of my then-editor James Glave, to write a brief article that questioned the vice president's claim. Republicans on Capitol Hill noticed the Wired News writeup and started faxing around tongue-in-cheek press releases -- inveterate neatnik Trent Lott claimed to have invented the paper clip -- and other journalists picked up the story too.

[...]

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.

Furthermore, as Scott Rosenberg reported in an October 5, 2000, Salon.com article, Gore had been correct in stating that he "took the initiative in creating the Internet":

But the defense of Gore currently underway feels to me less like a party-line effort than like the repayment of a debt of gratitude by Internet pioneers who feel that Gore is being unfairly smeared.

That's what you'll hear from Phillip Hallam-Baker, a former member of the CERN Web development team that created the basic structure of the World Wide Web. Hallam-Baker calls the campaign to tar Gore as a delusional Internet inventor "a calculated piece of political propaganda to deny Gore credit for what is probably his biggest achievement."

"In the early days of the Web," says Hallam-Baker, who was there, "he was a believer, not after the fact when our success was already established -- he gave us help when it counted. He got us the funding to set up at MIT after we got kicked out of CERN for being too successful. He also personally saw to it that the entire federal government set up Web sites. Before the White House site went online, he would show the prototype to each agency director who came into his office. At the end he would click on the link to their agency site. If it returned 'Not Found' the said director got a powerful message that he better have a Web site before he next saw the veep."

Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler weblog similarly wrote that, in a September 1, 2000, speech to the American Political Science Association, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) said that "Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet":

GINGRICH: In all fairness, it's something Gore had worked on a long time. Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness, Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet, and the truth is - -and I worked with him starting in 1978 when I got [to Congress], we were both part of a "futures group" -- the fact is, in the Clinton administration, the world we had talked about in the '80s began to actually happen.

The Los Angeles Times also reported Gingrich's remarks in a September 22, 2000, article (accessed through the Nexis database), noting that Gingrich "said earlier this month, 'Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet.' "

From Bob Silbernagel's column, "Hooray for Hollywood's high priest of eco-gloom," in the March 11 edition of The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction:

The publicity generated by the Academy Award for Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," could change the way we talk about climate change.

But not in the way the nation's chief global-warming scold had hoped.

Gore revelled in the praise he received on Oscar night from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Melissa Etheridge. There was talk of Gore once more becoming a candidate for president.

Just a day later, news stories made one recall the Al Gore of the 2000 presidential campaign, the one whose public statements often conflicted with reality.

The latest Gore controversy involves his house in Tennessee, a comfortable little abode that, according to the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, uses nearly twice as much electricity in a month as the average family home uses in a year.

[...]

It would be an inconvenient irony for Gore if his film and his hypocrisy on energy use were the cause of more news stories about -- and more public acceptance of -- scientists who offer reasoned challenges to the global-warming dogma.

The prospect of that actually occurring is a long shot, at best. But, if anyone can make it happen, it should be the man who invented the Internet.

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