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. 

So who won the e-buttal battle during last week's debates? Using volume and timeliness of material as the criteria, George W. Bush's campaign dominated the presidential affair Tuesday night. But the Gore team recovered in Thursday's vice-presidential debate and gets credit for the only real innovation with its new InstantMessageNet service.

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On Tuesday evening, the Bush team threw 32 rapid responses up on its specially created Debatefacts.com site, beginning at 9:01 p.m. ET with newspaper quotes debunking Al Gore's claim that he never questioned whether Bush had the experience to be president.

The hits kept coming throughout the night, with the Bush Web site far outpacing the candidate in terms of detailed responses to Gore's attacks.

For example, when Gore trotted out his claim that under the current administration the country has gone from "triple-dip" recession to a "tripling of the stock market," Bush offered no response, instead referring to a GOP press release claiming Gore's spending plans would bust the budget. Debatefacts.com, however, took direct issue with Gore's triple-dip claim, citing a New York Times editorial and a report from the administration's own Office of Management and Budget contending that the current recovery began in the spring of 1991.

The Gore Web team, meanwhile, had a rough time of it on Tuesday, battling technical hiccups throughout the night to cough out just nine "Reality Checks," which it posted on its main Web site  and e-mailed to reporters.

It was clear early in the evening that Nashville was in trouble. Several of the "In Flight Responses," as the e-mail versions of the rapid responses were called, actually consisted of recycled bits of a lengthier pre-buttal document e-mailed earlier in the evening. The campaign didn't even bother to delete the "Bush will say" lines to at least give the e-mails the feel of real-time responses.

To be fair, Gore officials said prior to the debate that they intended to focus more on their InstantMessageNet service as a way to influence online opinion during the debate. And their rapid response performance did improve during Thursday's vice-presidential showdown, though what at first appeared to be a deluge at second glance turned out to be duplicate copies of many e-mails.

After giving a pass to the Gore instant message network during Tuesday's debate, I signed up for it on Thursday. Moments after I signed on with my new Gore-Lieberman "handle," "Gore team" announced they were online with me.

So I asked what I should do. I quickly began to receive a stream of URLs for all the rapid responses the campaign had posted on its Web site. "Gore team" told me to e-mail the URLs to 10 friends, preferably undecideds. At this point I wasn't sure whether there was a human on the other end of these messages or just a clever piece of software.

I offered a compliment: "Lieberman seems very relaxed and confident" and asked a question: "Are there are any chat rooms I should be monitoring to influence the chatter about the debate?"

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