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Saturday, September 12, 1998 Published at 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK

Seeing Starr on the Net

The stark summary of the Independent Counsel report

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

A durable record or a permanent stain? A supremely democratic gesture or a calculated high-tech lynching? A detailed legal document or a racy explicit novel of sexual intrigue.

Friday has seen the publication of perhaps the most controversial document ever posted on the Net with a debate raging over the motives, content and style of the Independent Counsel report on President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Old versus New media

For a time, it seemed the old media appeared to have triumphed again in their coverage of a huge Net-related event. As in the publication of the Louise Woodward verdict last November on the Net, old-fashioned leaks had broken the story, websites carrying the report were technology victims buried under a mountain of user requests for information.

But as copies of the document were spread around websites and congestion cleared, the efficacy of the Internet as a medium was proved.

Reporters began reading long passages from the Kenneth Starr document on air. It made poor radio and television, while Internet users were able to scroll, and skip and search from salacious titbit to serious allegation.

From Kansas to Karachi

As the report was reaching the president's desk it was being received from Kansas to Karachi. Battle was joined on the Net as the White House responded with a 73-page rebuttal posted on its own website.

The Internet has been shifting back into gear with streaming video and audio of events, in-depth reports, interactive votes and debates and statements galore in newsgroups and Lewinsky-related sites.

Reporters with access to the congressional intranet were among the first to be able to report the news. The official websites for the outside world - those for the House, the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office and the Judiciary Committee - were overwhelmed by initial requests.

Net derailed by train crash

Friday afternoon East Coast congestion and a train derailment cutting through fibre-optic cables and disrupting service in the south-eastern United States while increasing the load elsewhere did not help matters.

The major news sites were reporting record numbers of hits and access was limited with "Server too busy" messages often being returned.

It was the mother of all Internet traffic jams but within an hour of the report being released, information was beginning to move again.

The Internet Service Provider for the Library of Congress told Wired News that it was the busiest day in its company's history. CNN told it had taken record hits of 323,000 per minute.

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