The 10 'networkiest' moments in American politics

From the telegraph to YouTube, we dissect how network technology has changed American political life

The 10 'networkiest' moments in American politics

Is network technology more American than apple pie? Perhaps not, but there is no denying that it has had a profound impact on U.S. history and has been used for various purposes by countless American political icons, from Abraham Lincoln to FDR to Richard Nixon. With the 2008 presidential election approaching, we thought it would be a good time to look back at some of the 'networkiest' moments in American political history.

Lincoln uses telegraph to get updates on Civil War progress

According to Tom Wheeler, the author of Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War , Lincoln sent "slightly fewer than 1,000" telegrams over the course of his presidency. Many of these telegrams, says Wheeler, were used to relay status updates on the success of the Union's war with the Confederacy. "What is most remarkable, however, is that Abraham Lincoln applied the new telegraph technology in an absence of precedent," writes Wheeler in a History News Network article about his

Teddy Roosevelt sends out the first transatlantic radio message

President Theodore Roosevelt sent a radio message on January 18, 1903 to King Edward VII, transmitted from Cape Cod to Poldhu in Cornwall, England, marking the first time that a transatlantic radio message had been sent from the United States. "In taking advantage of the wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity which has been achieved in perfecting a system of wireless telegraphy, I extend on behalf of the American People most cordial greetings and good wishes to you and to all the people of the British Empire," Roosevelt said in his message.

FDR's fireside chats

Throughout the Great Depression and World War II, Franklin Roosevelt popularized the use of radio to deliver political addresses to American citizens. In his "fireside chats," FDR addressed topics ranging from the banking crisis to the New Deal initiatives to war progress . Since then, presidents such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have made weekly radio addresses a staple of their presidencies.

Richard Nixon calls the moon

Described by Nixon himself as the "most historic telephone call ever made from the White House," this call from the president to the moon congratulated Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin for successfully completing a mission that was watched by over 600 million viewers.

The U.S. Justice Department breaks up Ma Bell

In one of the largest and most controversial antitrust suits in American history, the U.S. Department of Justice accused AT&T of engaging in anti-competitive behavior and sought to break up the company. After years of legal wrangling, AT&T eventually agreed to a settlement on the government's terms in 1982. Under the agreement, AT&T would be allowed to keep its long-distance operations, Western Electric and Bell Laboratories in exchange for divesting from its 22 local phone monopolies.

The American government tackles Y2K

Although it turned out to be much ado about nothing, many feared that at midnight on December 31, 1999, the computer clocks would switch back to the year 1900 and would cause massive technological breakdowns worldwide. None of this happened, of course, but the United States government still spent billions of dollars to guard against the potential threat. Senator Bob Bennett, a Republican who worked with the Clinton administration to combat Y2K glitches, expressed dismay that many people were apparently disappointed that the world didn't effectively come to an end on January 1, 2000. "It was interesting to see the emotional investment people were willing to make in Armageddon," he said.

Al Gore's Internet mishap

When asked during the 2000 Democratic presidential primary to list achievements that differentiated himself from rival Bill Bradley, then-vice president Al Gore said that he "took great initiative in creating the Internet." Even though Gore was referring to securing government investments in technology that would eventually lead to the widespread adoption of the Internet, such as the Information Infrastructure and Technology Act in 1992, Gore was subsequently lambasted in the press for having claimed to have "invented" the Internet.

Foley busted for lewd IMs

In the first-ever political career brought down by instant messaging, Florida Congressman Mark Foley was nailed by ABC News for sending lewd e-mails and instant messages to underage Congressional pages. According to IM transcripts obtained by both ABC and the Washington Post, Foley commented on one page's "cute butt bouncing in the air" and offered to buy one page drinks. Shortly after ABC questioned Foley about the IMs, he resigned from Congress.

The advent of YouTube moments

While YouTube may seem like a great way to watch your favorite Duran Duran videos years after they stopped airing on MTV, for politicians it represents the ultimate peril: the ability to spread embarrassing moments virally across the country. The first major "YouTube moment" for a politician came in 2006, when former Senator George Allen was recorded referring to a volunteer for the rival Jim Webb campaign as "macaca." Allen's use of the word, which many interpreted as being a derivation of the French racial slur "macaque," forced Allen to publicly apologize to the volunteer, a Virginia resident and second-generation Indian-American. While Allen's gaffe was the first major political YouTube moment, the most memorable one came after Andrew Meyer , a University of Florida student, was tasered by police during a John Kerry speech at his school. The incident gave rise to the now-famous phrase, "Don't tase me, bro!"

Newt Gingrich gives a speech in Second Life

In a demonstration of Second Life's potential for virtual politics, former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich delivered a virtual speech in September 2007 praising the virtual world as "the first successful manifestation of an idea known among futurists as a 'meta-verse,'" which he defines as a virtual world inhabited by real people. Gingrich said that virtual worlds were an example of how we could rethink learning, shopping, and bringing together people for meetings. While the speech received a lot of media play, only 65 avatars reportedly attended it.

What do YOU think?

What are YOUR favorite 'networky' moments in U.S. politics?