- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

The Internet is either political boom or bust, depending on who's talking.

For the Democrats, the Net has been turned into yet another way to pump up their cozy populist image. Officials promise Los Angeles will herald "the first genuine e-convention."

It's not just high-tech gyrations, though. The Democrats are on a quest.

The convention, they say, will quell that great "digital divide," a term Vice President Al Gore coined earlier this year in a speech that claimed "computer literacy is a fundamental civil right."

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is offering a free Internet and e-mail service, FreeDem.com, to be introduced at the convention.

The idea has transfixed party players.

"The Democratic Party is a party by the people and for the people, providing premium Internet access to all citizens, regardless of financial status or political preference," said the DNC's Joe Andrew.

It's a "visionary step," noted Eric Bauman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, while DNC chair Ed Rendell said the service allows "all people to become involved in our nation's political process."

Of course, one first must have a computer to access anything at the site (www.FreeDem.com), but that has not quelled enthusiasm.

Republicans, meanwhile, are convinced that Los Angeles is host to the "Reinvention Convention" and will offer recordings of Mr. Gore's "greatest hits" at the GOP Web site (www.rnc.org).

"We're going to help the American people peek behind the curtain," said Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson, who has assembled 18 notable Gore sound bites, including his claim of inventing the Internet.

The party also is buying up domain names that have a Democratic flavor.

On Monday, the RNC registered such sites as AlandJoe.com and AlandJoe.org in their own name. Neither site is active; both are meant to irk Democratic rivals, who already have launched Bush-Cheney.net, a critique of the GOP ticket.

News organizations of many stripes already are touting their plans for cyber-coverage, a craft already introduced at "Internet Alley" in Philadelphia. Some 35 Internet news organizations asserted themselves alongside traditional press groups.

And like Philadelphia, the Los Angeles convention is wired and ready.

"The presidential conventions are a four-day, 24-hour, political news blitz. If we have the ability to cover it minute by minute, why wouldn't we allow our users to get the closest thing to actually being there?" asked Bernard Gershon of www.ABCNEWS.com.

ABC will offer the whole glitzy gamut: live, 360-degree Web camera shots from the convention floor, on-line chats with politicians and "politically outspoken celebrities," interactive message boards.

But all this may be for naught. A new survey from Ohio University and Scripps Howard reveals that cyber-politics is still very much a work in progress.

Fewer than a third of those surveyed think the Internet is a "useful source" of information about Campaign 2000; 52 percent said it wasn't useful at all.

People get most of their information from TV news, followed by daily newspapers and radio. Weekly news magazines and the Internet followed in popularity, with "political" magazines ironically enough at the bottom of the heap.

Despite the amount the parties spend on commercials, those polled said they gained no political information from television ads.

On-line journalists remain undaunted.

"Yes, this is all a work in progress," said Kelly Gannon of INEX TV, an Internet news group covering the convention.

"But there are people on the other end of those computers, and they are accessing the information. We're seeing their behavior evolve and refine itself."

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