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The Wall Street Journal: Wrong, again

July 24, 2012 - Mike Maneval
My preceding blog post on the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page detailed how the worldviews of the page's writers and editors were skewed and distorted by doctrinaire economics, resistant to reality. I did not expect I would have so quick or so appropriate an opportunity to examine the Wall Street Journal's failings again.

Gordon Crovitz, writing for the Wall Street Journal Sunday, claims that President Barack Obama's assertion that the government created the Internet is, in Crovitz' words, "an urban legend." In laying out his case, Crovitz cites several sources, including journalist Michael Hiltzik's book, "Dealers of Lightning."

Hiltzik took to the website of the Los Angeles Times the following day with a simple, straight-forward message: Gordon Crovitz is wrong. Then Hiltzik methodically chronicles the myriad ways Crovitz is wrong.

Crovitz, Hiltzik notes, attributes development of the fundamental communications protocol of the Internet to Vinton Cerf and attributes hyperlinks to Tim Berners-Lee. Hiltzik agrees that Cerf, along with Robert Kahn, were instrumental in developing the fundamental TCP/IP protocol, but conducted their work under government contract. Hiltzik corrects the record, noting that Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web while at the European government consortium CERN, and attributed the development of hyperlinks to Stanford Research Institute's Doug Engelbart.

Hiltzik says Crovitz' assertion that the ethernet is a precursor to the Internet is inaccurate - not that it matters, since ethernet developer Bob Metcalfe modeled his work on ALOHANet, technology funded by the federally-managed and -initiated Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, at the publicly funded University of Hawaii.

Hiltzik further observes that while government-aided engineers were working on ARPANet, the computer system Cerf described as having "led, ultimately, to the Internet," the private monopoly AT&T fought the developments, in Hiltzik's words, "tooth and nail," though he does not elaborate.

In the same penultimate paragraph to Hiltzik's L.A. Times commentary, he perhaps most succinctly sums up the case for why government leadership was so critical to the creation of the Internet, and with it illustrates why the rigid free-market dogmatists of the Wall Street Journal stretched and contorted so to pretend otherwise. "Private enterprise," Hiltzik says, "had no interest in something so visionary and complex."


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