Taking Spin Alley to the Web

Tracking politics as it's practiced on the Web.
Oct. 9 2000 11:30 PM

Taking Spin Alley to the Web

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Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000. 

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Nothing for a few moments. Then "Gore team" told me that "Lieberman is doing great" and directed me to a lively chat room on CNN as well as a couple of message boards on AOL. Clearly there was a human being, a real live campaign staffer, on the other end of the line. It was cool.

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I went to the CNN chat room to see if any of the Gore talking points were showing up to counter GOP-leaning commentary. None were. After reading the reactions for a while, I began to realize that I had stopped paying attention to Lieberman and Cheney, though all the other chat-room participants seemed able to absorb the debate while simultaneously posting thoughtful comments on it.

For example, at 9:44 p.m. EST, "R.A. Catman" had this to say: "No question, the format and the personalities that are represented in the vice presidential debate are superior. I agree with the pundit who said this morning that the presidential debate wasn't so much a debate as it was a mutual news conference. I think Lieberman and Cheney are actually speaking to each other and are probably viewed as more interesting and informative than the standard bearers."

Other comments ran along similar lines, praising the No. 2's and pining for new constitutional authority to flip the tickets. In terms of overall presentation, Cheney appeared to be getting higher marks from most chatters.

Said "JuliAnn Juras": "Secretary Cheney is absolutely brilliant tonight. So well versed, experienced, and has the confidence that only having done the job will bring. Joe looks like a man who has been confined to the Senate, while Dick looks like a man who has run the world. No comparison in tenure here. Although, if I had a choice, I'd rather either of these VP candidates be the presidential candidate. These two are the brains of the four men."

After a long period of radio silence "Gore team" asked whether I had posted their material on CNN. I said I hadn't and admitted I was a reporter urged to check out the InstantMessageNet by Gore Internet Director Ben Green. I expected an irritated response for my deception but did not get one. Instead "Gore team" summoned Ben Green to chat with me online.

How many Gore supporters were logged in tonight while watching the debate? Approximately 5,000, Green replied. And how many staffers were fielding queries and directing people to the proper chat rooms? Six.

While unquestionably cool, it was hard to tell if the InstantMessageNet was having much impact. Participants had clearly not taken over and dominated the CNN chat room I visited and online insta-polls following the debate indicated a clear Cheney win.

But who knows? If the alleged 5,000 participants all e-mailed every rapid response to all of their undecided friends and neighbors, perhaps it could make a difference. Certainly more so than would 100 rapid responses posted on a Web site that the politically disengaged undecided voter will most likely never see.

Ben White writes about online politics for the Washington Post. He can be reached by e-mail at whiteben@washpost.com. This article is reprinted from the washingtonpost.com's "OnPolitics."