Want to know about how information, influence and political parties work right now in the United States? Especially, that is, how information is transmitted within the Republican Party? Yes, you do? Then here’s a story worth your attention.
There’s been a fight over the past couple of days about who invented the Internet, played out, of course, on the Internet. It started when Barack Obama mentioned the government’s role in the history of the Internet in his “didn’t build that” speech, which produced a Wall Street Journal column by Gordon Crovitz claiming that, in fact, private business was alone responsible for the creation of the Internet. Which, in turn, produced multiple debunking articles, such as Farhad Manjoo’s “Obama Was Right: The Government Invented the Internet.”
Now, I’m not a tech geek, so I can only go by careful reading to assess who seems to be correct about the actual facts of this, but as far as I can tell it’s the Manjoo side, and it isn’t close. Note that, for example, another debunking piece by an author whom the WSJ column cited; if those you claim support you say you’re wrong, odds are you might be wrong. See too an AEI post saying that Crovitz got it wrong.
Unless you’re a tech geek, why should you care about any of this?
Because we know how this story ends.
I’m confident that the Crovitz argument will be fully accepted within the conservative mainstream as, basically, a proven fact. Oh, you’ll be able to find honest conservatives (kudos to AEI!) who won’t join in, but Crovitz’s argument will turn up on Hannity, or Rush Limbaugh, or any number of conservative blogs. Republican politicians will repeat it as fact. And rank-and-file Republicans, even perfectly well-intentioned Republicans, will wind up believing it, because most of their information comes from Republican-aligned media.
(Yes, there are myths on the Democratic side, too. No, they are not nearly equivalent, neither in numbers, resistance to factual correction, widespread acceptance or methods of transmission. See, too, Kevin Drum’s comment: “Can you imagine a liberal writing a column claiming that private industry played virtually no role in the development of the internet?I can’t”).
So “the government had nothing to do with the construction of the internet” will join all the other junk out there, along with how Franklin Roosevelt made the Depression worse or how Iraqi weapons were found by American troops or how climate change was a deliberate hoax by scientists or how the United States Constitution was primarily intended to restrict the federal government.
And there’s really nothing that anyone outside of that information loop can do about it. Until and unless leading Republicans decide that it’s not in their interest for their constituents to be massively misinformed, it’s going to continue. And half the time, leading Republicans — who probably get a fair amount of their own information from those sources — won’t know the difference.