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You Didn’t Invent the Internet

July 22nd, 2012

The conservative world is gleefully playing with Obama’s statement, “If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Out of context, just that one bit, is being used endlessly by the right wing to attack Obama, claiming that he denigrates small business owners, as if Obama was saying that no business owner built their own business.

Which, of course, is an outright lie. Obama did not say, “If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build your business. Somebody else made your business happen.” Obama did not even come close to saying that. Every politician and pundit attacking Obama with it knows they’re lying, or are blind and stupidly following the party line without checking. By now, almost certainly the former.

Here is Obama’s complete quote, with relevant parts in bold:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. 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.

Reading the entire statement, in context, it is very clear that Obama is not saying that business owners didn’t build their own businesses; he was saying, without any doubt, that business owners did not build the support structures that helped them build their business. A business owner didn’t educate himself, didn’t build the country himself, didn’t build the roads and bridges. The society built these things, other people pitched in, and it was the community effort which gave the business owner the vital tools without which that business would not thrive. Obama followed the statement by issuing another example, that a business owner didn’t invent the Internet, which helped their business like a hundred other support structures.

His meaning was clear: we all depend on the community, and so we all owe the community. Instead, right-wingers cut off the beginning and end, and falsely claim that Obama was putting down hard-working job creators. There’s no way you could actually look at the whole context and honestly conclude that Obama was saying that small business owners had no hand in building their own businesses.

It’s complete and utter bullshit they’re pushing–but it’s the kind of bullshit that works, and perhaps can win an election.

If you’re wondering why this sounds familiar, it’s because there was another case, about 12 years ago, of a Democratic presidential candidate making a statement about creating the Internet which was taken out of context in the exact same way–and the result of it was that the American people, to this day, still believe the bullshit lie. And the Democratic candidate lost the election by a few hundred votes. (Well, technically he won by thousands, but that’s another story.)

From my 2006 article:

Let’s get one thing straight: Al Gore never said that he “invented the Internet.”

There are a lot of myths out there perpetrated by conservatives. … This one started on March 9th, 1999, when Al Gore appeared on Wolf Blitzer’s “Late Edition” show on CNN. On the program, Gore made the following statement:

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 full context of the quote in the interview can be reviewed here.]

… An unkind (and dishonest) interpretation of Gore’s quote makes it seem like Gore was claiming that he single-handedly created the Internet. But that’s not what he said. He said that he took the initiative, that he took an early leadership role–which, by definition, means that he was not alone in the task, nor does it even mean that he was the only leader.

… The irony here is that Gore, in fact, was instrumental to the creation and popularization of the Internet as we know it today. In the 1980s, DARPA had defunded civilian use of the Internet; it could have died right there had it not been for Gore pushing for funding to restart the Internet as a civilian and business network. That took the form of the 1989 National High-Performance Computer Technology Act introduced by Al Gore. The fact is, all along the way, Gore was behind the growth of the Internet, which in itself was largely responsible for the huge economic boom of the 90′s. Ironically, conservatives who enthusiastically credited Reagan with every bit of good economic news in the 80′s, churlishly denied Clinton and Gore any credit for the boom of the 90′s, claiming that it was the Internet that was responsible.

Gore was instrumental in creating a huge economic and industrial miracle worth countless trillions of dollars to the nation. In return for this, the GOP distorted his rightful claim, mocked him as a liar and made a laughingstock out of him. In an election won by only a few hundred votes, the value of the “invented the Internet” lie could easily have been worth that many votes in Florida.

Good to see that the GOP’s priorities are in order.

To back this up, you can read a letter written by Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, the two guys most credited with “inventing” the Internet (more specifically, developing the TCP/IP protocol suite central to Internet technology), in which they praise Gore for his work. Or, if you prefer a more mainstream debunking, see Snope’s teardown of the lies told by the right wing.

Despite all of these facts being available before the 2000 election, people believed the lie. In part it was because the right-wing moved in lockstep to repeat the lie ad nauseam; in part because there was a sound bite which sounded similar to what the lie claimed (people still swear they “heard” Gore say he “invented the Internet”); in part because debunking the lie takes longer than and is more complex than perpetuating it; and in part because the “liberal media” played along with the lie.

Guess what’s happening all over again?

FAIR not only debunks the current lie, but points out how the media is implicit in perpetuating it. Some are calling it out as a “distortion,” but usually in the last line of an article; no one in the mainstream media applies the headline, “Romney and Conservatives Distort Obama’s Statement,” which would be fair and accurate. Instead, they simply report on Romney attacking Obama with it, or worse, that it is a “problem” for Obama–which, ironically, is chiefly because the media is not doing its job in debunking the outright lies.

When reporters do get around to mentioning how the attack is completely false, they usually “balance” the piece with a statement about Obama’s use of Romney’s “I’m not concerned about the very poor” line–in effect, excusing Romney’s lie instead of just reporting it. Well, Romney’s remark about not being concerned about the poor was quoted out of context, but it was not distorted in meaning. Romney said that as part of a statement about how he was not concerned about the rich, either, but instead was concerned about the middle class. While that shows he was not favoring the rich over the poor, it does not change the fact that he openly stated that he was not concerned about the very poor, that he believed they were well taken-care of. Obama’s citing that was not a distortion, and did not change the meaning of the words spoken.

In contrast, what Romney and conservatives are doing now is a bald-faced lie; they are distorting what Obama said, they are changing the meaning completely. Obama never did that. So, why are reporters, who already bury the fact that Romney and others are lying, use the story to show “equivalence,” when, in fact, there is none?

Imagine at work, you say something innocent, but another worker, trying to beat you to a promotion, takes it out of context and makes it sound like you were insulting the boss, and then spreads it all around. A coworker who knows all that has happened meets with the boss, and does not tell the boss about the real statement and the lie behind it, and instead tells the boss, “Yeah, it’s a problem for the guy who said it, all right! I can see why you’d be angry about it!” When the boss asks that worker for a detailed report on the topic, the report is titled “Smear Against Boss a Problem for Worker Seeking Promotion,” and only mentions the distortion on the last page, next to an item which points out that a year ago, the person being lied about did something that could, incorrectly, be interpreted as a similar act.

How would you feel about such “fair and impartial” reporting of your actions?

This is money in the bank for the right wing; they will not let up on this. They know, from experience, that lies like this are easy to spread, are very damaging, can have a strong effect, and that the media will let them have it.

The only think to do is to fight the lie. The problem is, that didn’t work before.

If there’s one thing that Republicans excel at, it’s playing dirty.

  1. Troy
    July 23rd, 2012 at 09:29 | #1

    The amount of stupidity in a population is a pretty good argument against democracy.

    The present Republican party is pretty scary how plutocratic and captured by big business and the interests of the wealthy.

    The Democrats are more of a mixed bag, they have their own right wing that blends in with what survives of the Republican moderates, but they still have some pro-people blocs.

    Here in California they’re working on amending the law to improve the protections consumers enjoy wrt debt collection.

    One of the big changes of this bill is no longer allowing debt collection suits for debts that have aged off due to the statute of limitations expiring.

    (Currently, debt collection suits can be dismissed if 4 years have passed since the original default, but respondents have to affirmatively raise the statute of limitations defense at the trial, and responding to a summons costs the defendant a ~$200+ filing fee + attorney fees and/or time at the courthouse).


    is the bill. No republican state senators voted to advance the bill to the assembly.

    And no mention of this bill can be found in the press this month.

    An uninformed (and misinformed) electorate is an idiot electorate.

  2. Troy
    August 3rd, 2012 at 14:42 | #2
  3. Luis
    August 3rd, 2012 at 17:33 | #3


    Precisely–and much more. I really am tired by these people who use and depend on public resources and then whine about taxes to pay for them. The classic example is the Tea Partier who is livid at the prospect of paying their fair share of health care costs, while at the same time screaming about government keeping their hands off of Medicare.

    I am seriously considering writing a short story about one of these “I hate government” types inventing a device which allows them to shift through the multiverse, looking for parallel worlds but ones where the United States government actually is small enough to drown in the proverbial bathtub, as a means of pointing out things people take for granted (like the “Zinc Oxide and You” short from Kentucky Fried Movie, or any of several Twilight Zone episodes).

    There is this fantasy world these people live in where rich industrialists are the wealth producers and could bring society to a stop by going on strike, or where private industry would be better at managing things like infrastructure and utilities without any government involvement or regulation. Essentially, these people just hate government so much they would feel better paying a $100 fee to a private company for an inferior product than to pay a $50 tax for something better from the government. Reagan was not the first to get the ball rolling with his “nine most feared words” gag line, but he sure fanned the fire, which conservatives have been trying to make true ever since.

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