Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BOB AND JOSH AND ME....I've gotten a bunch of email about this Bob Somerby post, and since it's a Sunday afternoon and news is light, I thought I'd respond to it.

Quick summary: Joshua Green wrote a story in the June issue of Atlantic Monthly in which he repeated the old chestnut about Al Gore inventing the internet. A reader wrote in to say (correctly) that Gore never said any such thing, but instead of using this as an opportunity to correct the record, Green repeated that he thought the story was basically true.

As anyone who reads Bob's Daily Howler knows, he was not likely to take this sitting down. And he didn't. But then, at the end of his post, he wrote this:

By the way, a closing question: Why do you only hear from THE HOWLER about scribes of low caliber like Green? Readers, why dont you write to Marshall, Alterman, Drum and Brock and ask if its OK with them when garbage like this keeps getting printed?

And his readers did! So here's the short answer: no it's not. Green should be ashamed of himself for repeating this canard, he should be doubly ashamed for not owning up to it later, and he should be triply ashamed for using this as the lead for a story about how campaigns use oppo research to spin the press (!). Oh, and while we're at it, the Atlantic should be ashamed for not fact checking this.

Beyond this, though, there's Bob's broader question: why do you read about this stuff all the time at the Howler but very seldom from me? The answer is equally simple: press criticism is a full time beat for Bob. It's not for me, which means you see it only occasionally here. The blogosphere is a vast place, and there's room for all of us in its endless ecosystem. Bob does his thing and I do mine.


But then I got interested in something else. I agree with Bob that the biggest problem with the national press isn't really either liberal bias or conservative bias, but rather laziness, pack mentality, inability to resist spin (despite their cynical pose), and a willingness to compromise themselves in order to retain access. All of which means that the press is creating storylines this year with the same reckless abandon that they did in 2000. (Something that, ironically, was the very point of Green's Atlantic article.)

But what about those Gore myths from the 2000 campaign? Specifically, how about the myth that Gore claimed to have invented the internet? Does the national press still flog the story? Green aside, how common is it?

I was curious, so I performed the following Nexis search:

Gore w/20 "invented the internet"

This picks up every story in which the word "Gore" is within 20 words of the phrase "invented the internet." It won't pick up everything, but it's a pretty good indicator.

And the results? 92 stories so far this year. There have been 20 in the past two months, and they broke down like this:

  • 6 references in opinion columns (4 of them joking)

  • 4 letters to the editor (3 passing the story along, 1 debunking it)

  • 2 passing references in obscure publications

  • 1 use in a direct quote from George Bush

  • 1 jokey reference in a straight news piece from CNBC

  • 6 debunkings, including items in Time and Slate

As a joke, this myth is part of popular culture and there's not much any of us can do about it. But as far as the national press goes, there have been only three references in the past two months in straight news pieces (CNBC, Time, and Slate), and of those, 2 were debunkings. A spot check of references in the national media since January shows the same thing: nearly all the references were either passing jokes or else debunkings.

So overall, Bob and his fellow debunkers should be proud of their yeoman work. It took four years, but the national press mostly seems to have finally figured out that Gore never said this. Which means, of course, that Joshua Green should be quadruply ashamed of himself for continuing to pass it along....

Kevin Drum 7:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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