Watching the Democrats: Day 4

SAN FRANCISCO (08/18/2000) - Minutes after the balloons dropped at the finale of the Democratic Convention Thursday, it was obvious that U.S. Vice President Al Gore's speech garnered mixed reviews from the general public. A viewer watching the event on TV may not have known that. But anyone who logged on to Washingtonpost.com could easily come to that conclusion by observing an intelligent postmortem discussion led by senior correspondent and former managing editor Robert G. Kaiser.

There was one guest from Washington, D.C., who commented in true inside-the-Beltway style, "Gore sounded smart, presidential and darn near warm and fuzzy." And on the other end of the spectrum, a guest from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, called Gore the "most ANNOYING speaker ever to accept a major party nomination for president."

More significant, though, was that some insightful comments -- for instance, a comparison of Gore's speech to a U.S. President Bill Clinton State of the Union address -- actually came from guests, not just Kaiser. The discussion, basically a list of comments that grew each time the page automatically reloaded, was a stark contrast to some of the chat room blather observed during the week on other sites ("Howard Stern for President" is just a sample). I had finally found one shining example of the Web's potential, as modest as it was.

After watching and listening to the Gore's speech on streaming video, the discussion was eerily silent. But the site's lack of video meant that I could simultaneously tune into the 15-minute punditry of Sam Donaldson's Webcast on ABCnews.com, which also featured ABC cohort Cokie Roberts and former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta dissecting Gore's speech. As far as I could tell, MSNBC.com was the only other major news site that offered live post-speech commentary online.

Pseudo.com and the Shadow Convention scheduled commentary during the speech, which wasn't the best idea. Three different spots on Shadow Convention's home page prompted, "Live Streaming Audio of Tonight's Program in Progress. Tune In!" But when I did, a voice out of nowhere said, "Sorry. This event has not yet started. Please check the Web page for details." A rapid response panel was scheduled to provide a live telecast during the speech, but it was missing in action.

Pseudo featured commentators talking over Gore, who was featured on seven TV sets of various sizes in Pseudo's studio. The result, unfortunately, was that I could hear neither the commentators nor Gore. Seeing all those TVs left me craving my own modest set, which despite its rabbit ears seemed a better alternative to watching Gore than a tiny video streaming screen.

After a while, I couldn't resist venturing into the living room to see what I had been missing. On my trusty TV, I could distinguish one person from another in the audience and even enjoyed the benefit of celebrity close-ups. I could actually see Gore's expressions (or lack thereof) when he emphatically said things like "I will not go along with a huge tax cut for the wealthy." After eight evenings of watching the presidential conventions online, the idiot box was candy to my eyes.

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