Clinton May Hold Electronic Town Hall
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton, whose computer screen name is ″Clinton Pz,″ may sit down soon at a White House terminal for a live ″on-line town hall″ with home computer buffs.
The suggestion from White House officials comes as Clinton’s team of young, high-tech specialists ponders new ways of communicating directly with Americans.
Another innovation being explored is a voice mail system that would allow subscribers to punch various buttons and listen to presidential addresses or messages on their home answering machines.
And, down the road, perhaps a White House cable operation with 24 hour programming focusing on the executive branch of government.
″Diversity is such that we have to look for new ways to deliver information,″ said Jeff Eller, Clinton’s media director.
Subscribers to three popular on-line services - CompuServe, America Online and MCI Mail - can receive information on their computers directly from the White House and can even send the president electronic mail, known as e-mail, if they want. There are more than 1.3 millions subscribers among the three services.
And another major computer service, Prodigy, is expected to announce a similar arrangement with the White House in the coming days.
Prodigy Services Co. is setting up a ″Write to Washington″ feature that will allow its some 2 million subscribers to send computer mail not only to the president but to Cabinet members and to members of Congress, said Renee Russak, senior producer in Prodigy’s editorial development section.
Hooking up to an on-line computer service is just one of the ways the Clinton White House is extending the electronic reach of a politician who made televised town halls and talk-show appearances a staple of his campaign.
″It’s a constituency you can’t ignore,″ Eller said.
Eller, who signed up the Clinton campaign with CompuServe and America Online last spring, said that getting Clinton to chat directly with other computer users is being considered.
″It’s something we want to do, to have him get on line and do the electronic version of a town hall meeting,″ Eller said on Wednesday. ″It was something we almost did during the campaign.″
Online computer service subscribers can dial up a variety of presidential documents and messages uploaded daily by the White House. They can also engage in ″forums,″ chatting with other computer users about White House policies. Or, they can send e-mail to the president.
In CompuServe, the command to hook up is: Go WhiteHouse. MCI Mail users type ″view White House.″
America Online users can call up Clinton’s profile under ″Clinton Pz″ and send him computer mail under that name. His computer profile lists his occupation as ″President of the United States of America″ and his hobbies as: ″family, politics, religion, saxophone, reading, golf, jogging.″
The White House also logs onto Fedworld, a free government computer bulletin board run by the Department of Commerce. (The number is 703-321-8020.)
″We’re pushing the envelope,″ said Jock Gill, a White House high-tech communications specialist who oversees the computer on-line programs. ″It seems clear that radio, television, telephone, and computers are all converging on an information device that will be in the home.″
And Gill said when that day comes, the Clinton administration wants to be there to take advantage of it.
It’s an extension of a technique Clinton honed in his campaign with frequent televised town halls and appearances on talk shows.
″He’s going above the heads of Congress and the media as much as he can. It’s working very well,″ said James Thurber, an American University political scientist who is writing a book on Clinton and Congress.
About 500-700 pieces of e-mail arrive each day at the White House. Right now, there aren’t enough computer terminals or operators to answer the mail on-line. So the computer mail is sent on discs to the correspondence section of the White House. Hard copies are made and individual letters are answered the old fashioned way - by U.S. mail. But that’s just temporary.
″We are working toward being able to accept e-mail electronically and to send it electronically. My goal is to have that in place by the first of the year,″ said Gill.
And what kind of e-mail does Clinton get?
″There’s everything: I hate you, I love you, I think you’re doing a great job, a lousy job. It’s whatever is on people’s minds,″ Gill said.