Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Obama perpetuates an Internet urban legend ... not

In a recent campaign speech in Roanoke Virginia, President Obama defended government, pointing to its role in projects like building Hoover Dam, putting a man on the moon or creating the Internet. Regarding the Internet, he said:
The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
That remark led Wall Street Journal columnist and former publisher Gordon Crovitz to write an opinion article giving "full credit" for the invention of the Internet to the Xerox Corporation.

Crovitz' article ignores so much that it would be hard to know where to start in refuting him, but I don't need to do that. The LA Times, Wired Magazine, arstechnica and countless others have shot the article down. (For an in-depth, nuanced discussion of the invention of computer networks by the people who actually did it, subscribe to the Internet History list).

Let's switch gears and ask what might have motivated Mr. Crovitz to embarrass himself and the Wall Street Journal by writing the article. A cynic might think this was a deliberate attempt by the Wall Street Journal to deceive voters, but, jaded as I am, I can't imagine them explicitly deciding to do that.

I think it is an example of confabulation by Mr. Crovitz and his editors at the Wall Street Journal. We all confabulate to some extent. We are masters of subconscious rebuttal -- quick to explain away new information that undermines our beliefs. Without thinking, "yes, but ..." springs to mind.

I would be willing to bet that Mr. Crovitz is a Republican who opposes President Obama and believes that relative to private business, government is bureaucratic, inefficient, wasteful and perhaps even corrupt.

When The President said "Government research created the Internet," Mr. Crovitz internal confabulator immediately and subconsciously ginned up a response -- Xerox Corporation.

Maybe it is unfair to beat up on Mr. Crovitz. We all confabulate -- that is why newspapers and other news organizations have editors and editorial review. This article sounds more like The Onion than The Wall Street Journal. The editors blew it.

(Still, I would nominate Mr. Crovitz for the 2012 Ted Stevens memorial Internet Pipes Award).