CWD--Net in "Starr" Role
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 10 Sep 98 16:00:45 -0700
Subject: CWD--Net in "Starr" Role
From: "Brock N. Meeks" <email@example.com>
CyberWire Dispatch//(c) Copyright Sept. 1998 //
Jacking in from the "Ride that Hobby Horse, Newt" port:
WASHINGTON-The craven jackals of Congress are at it again. In rushed
pronouncements Thursday, Speaker Newt Gingrich promised that Independent
Council Ken Starr's report on possible impeachable offenses regarding the
President would be put on the Internet. Be still my heart. The hypocrisy
of this move by Gingrich is breathtaking; once more Congress has turned the
Net into its personal political football.
Yes, the Starr report is a crucial public document and it should be online.
It amazes me that when a document serves an obvious political purpose, this
Congress spares no time or expense in making sure it get digitized and
jack-hammered onto a web site.
Congress has lived with the existence of the Internet now for four years.
Indeed, when Gingrich rode into power on the back of the so-called
"Republican Revolution" in the aftermath of the 1994 congressional elections
he promised, with great fanfare, that the public would be able to get
"direct access" to the workings of Congress through the newly developed
Library of Congress THOMAS system.
Though THOMAS has steadily improved over these four years, with vital and
important information being made available, it comes no where near
containing the full workings of Congress. Simple example: to this day you
cannot search for the complete voting record of any particular member of
Congress. There's no technological reason for this; it's all political.
Members of Congress don't want their votes within easy reach of the public,
plain and simple.
"Pathetic." That's the word Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional
Accountability Project, uses to describe Gingrich's track record when it
comes to shepherding congressional documents online.
"The Speaker is quick to put documents on the Internet that serve his
political ends and he is loath to put on the Internet the working documents
of our congress," Ruskin says, "probably because he is afraid of the
political implications of the public finding all those enormous favors his
committee chairs do for corporate and wealthy special interests."
Arrogance of Ignorance
Anyone who has worked on a web site knows you can't simply "put something
on the Internet." Yet this is exactly the sentiment portrayed by Gingrich,
as if he could simply throw the Starr report at the web and it would
There are a host of unanswered questions and technological hurdles to jump.
There are plans to put the report on the House web site, but what format
will the report take online? Will there be dozens of Hill staffers up all
night crunching HTML code as they down Domino's pizza? Will the report be
in searchable form? Documents on congressional web sites are notoriously
devoid of such features. For example, when the House Commerce Committee
put tens of thousands of internal documents gleaned from tobacco companies
on the web they were all in graphics formats or required a special program,
Adobe Acrobat, to read.
The planned move to put the report on THOMAS is a good one. THOMAS has a
great search engine, but THOMAS only takes documents that have been
processed by the Government Printing Office, which means the entire report
has to first be processed through that office.
And what about all the supporting documents? The 455-page report is all
well and good, but in order to get a complete-and I might add,
unbiased-picture of the facts, the public should be able to read all the
background testimony as well.
And then there is the sex.
I guarantee that as soon as this report goes live on the Net the first thing
a million or more people are going to do is crank the word "cigar" or the
phrase "blow job" not to mention "semen stained dress" into a keyword
search. (Big hint for you digital voyeurs: use the phrase "oral sex" or
the more technical terms for that act, you'll likely have more success.)
If, indeed, there is all manner of salacious testimony contained in the
report, Congress immediately faces its own embarrassing scenario.
For years now Congress has tried to place content restrictions on the
Internet under the rubric of "protecting the children." Indeed, there is
now a bill in Congress that would prohibit any material being placed online
that could be deemed "harmful to minors."
If the report contains any of the graphic sexual testimony that was
reportedly given during the course of this investigation, it means that
little Johnny or Janey are likely to get an immediate lesson in kinky side
of sex if they happen to tap into the report. (The upside: such a search
is likely to inspire some lively dinner table conversations.)
Will Congress now be guilty of turning its own web site into a "red light
district" as former Sen. James Exon, the father of the infamous
Communications Decency Act, once feared the Net was becoming? Will Congress
have to amend the current content restrictions bill to give itself a special
exemption from prosecution under its own proposed law?
Knowing this twisted Congress, that's exactly what they'll do. No big
surprise. This is what happens when Congress does what it always does when
it comes to the Internet: acts before it thinks.
© 1998 Peter Langston