Sen. Stevens' Web Cred Takes Hit

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, answers questions during a news conference in a Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006 file photo, in Anchorage, Alaska.
AP Photo/Al Grillo
Sen. Ted Stevens' credibility when it comes to high technology seems to be going down the tubes.

Web sites and TV comics have made the 82-year-old senator the butt of jokes and satirical songs in recent weeks for describing the Internet last month as "a series of tubes" and for speaking of sending "an Internet" instead of an e-mail.

Most of the wisecracks portray Stevens as an old man who doesn't really get the technology over which he wields influence as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Nothing could be further than the truth, the Senate committee's staff says.

Stevens uttered the remarks June 28 while trying to make the point that Internet businesses were clogging up the Internet and slowing down individual users' communications.

"They want to deliver vast amount of information over the Internet, and again, the Internet is not just something you dump something on," he said. "It's not a big truck, it's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled. If they're filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line, it's going to be delayed by anyone who puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."

The senator was clearly using "tubes" metaphorically, and, in fact, Internet experts often speak of the Internet's "pipes." But many have seized on the remarks to poke fun at the Republican.

Jon Stewart wisecracked on "The Daily Show": "That might have sounded more like something you'd hear from, let's say, from a crazy old man in an airport bar at 3 a.m. than the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee."

And: "There's apparently an enormous amount of material clogging Ted Stevens' tubes. Now, perhaps a little fiber (long pause) optic cable might be the answer."

Popping up on Web sites is the "DJ Ted Stevens Techno Remix," in which audio excerpts from Stevens' speech are set to an electronic dance beat. More recently, a file appeared on the Internet that added video to the mix.

The creator of the song, Paul Holcomb, who helps run an advertising agency based in Atlanta, said the song has been downloaded more than 50,000 times.

"I think, unfortunately at Sen. Stevens' personal expense, people see the same irony that we saw when we created the file," Holcomb said. "I thought it was ironic that a person such as him, someone who has such an influential vote, wasn't able to articulate the nuances at a basic level of how the Internet works."

A spokesman for Stevens declined to be interviewed. Commerce Committee staff director Lisa Sutherland said in a statement that Stevens has a deep understanding of the technical, legal and economic aspects of new technology.

"Yes, a few bloggers are going after him because he used the word 'tubes' instead of `pipes' — but when you look at the body of his work and how he has crafted a bill that will not only serve Alaska, but the nation, I think the final product speaks for itself," Sutherland said.