21st Log: Online petitions duel

Published September 25, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

Everybody must get stoned

If Chenoweth, Hyde and Burton have read their Bibles lately, they might have experienced a twinge of conscience when they read the passage "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone." A new grass-roots campaign bubbling up on the Net called the Stones Throw Project, organized in part by members of Salon's Table Talk discussion area, is taking its cue from that old admonition. Stones Throw urges people to send rocks to members of Congress -- with the message that it's time to stop rooting under beds for salacious scandals and to get back to the political issues that matter.

Or, as the site puts it, "Stones can be used both for building and destroying, and those who throw stones place themselves in grave danger of being exposed as hypocrites."

The site assures concerned citizens that sending stones to all 37 members of the Judiciary Committee will set you back a mere $20. Nearly 100 people participated in the mailing list that launched the nonpartisan project, and already there have been media rock-spottings: Rep. Steven Rothman, D-N.J., told the New York Daily News that he had received one such stone.

But why stop with rocks? The Stones Throw Project also advocates sending soiled underwear and stained dresses, as well as more traditional letters to the editor. It supports anything, in fact, that might help get the rocks out of the politicians' heads.
-- Janelle Brown
SALON | Sept. 28, 1998

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Online petitions duel: Resign or move on?

Arianna Huffington is no shy butterfly when it comes to promoting her opinions, and her latest endeavor, Resignation.com, is no exception. Calling resignation "the most principled step a politician or private citizen can take," Huffington's new Web site marches readers through a history of resignations (from Winston Churchill to Ginger Spice) before, as a matter of course, calling for President Clinton to resign from office.

Huffington's goal is not just to convince but to elicit action: Her site includes a form for visitors to register their views -- although the only opinion that can be registered is a call for resignation. The resulting list, at last count, was 13,303 names long.

But there is also an option for the politically minded who don't necessarily support resignation. Those who are simply tired of partisan bickering can wend their way to Huffington's neighbors at Moveon.org and exhort Congress to "immediately censure President Clinton and Move On to pressing issues facing the country." Although the "bipartisan group of concerned citizens" behind the Moveon.org has no conservative media darling at its helm, it has still racked up a respectable 5,505 names on its petition (as of midday Thursday).

A number of Republican senators will be disappointed to hear that there is, thus far, no high-profile "Impeach the President now!" petition circulating online. But considering the ways of the Web, it's just a matter of time.
-- Janelle Brown
SALON | Sept. 25, 1998

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Starr quote doesn't check out

The following quote began making the rounds online this week, cheering opponents of independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr with its apparent hypocrisy:

"Public media should not contain explicit or implied descriptions of sex acts. Our society should be purged of the perverts who provide the media with pornographic material while pretending it has some redeeming social value under the public's 'right to know.'"
-- Kenneth Starr, 1987, "60 Minutes" interview with Diane Sawyer

Sawyer did in fact anchor "60 Minutes" from 1984 to 1989, when she moved to ABC. Why might Starr have been interviewed in 1987? As a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, he had ruled that spring in a case brought by CBS. His decision stated that FBI "rap sheets" were not exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.

But a CBS spokesperson says the network was unable to find any such interview in its archives -- and that Starr never appeared on the show in '87. A representative for Sawyer says, "Diane has no knowlege of [the quote] at all." So this may well be one of those instances of bogus information replicating so quickly on the Net that the facts can't keep up.
-- Fiona Morgan
SALON | Sept. 25, 1998

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Laybourne's underwhelming "media revolution"

Geraldine Laybourne, the founder of Nickelodeon and until recently the highest female executive in Disney's ranks, may be a bit late to the women's Web site game, but she has certainly been outspoken about her plans to one-up her competitors. When she left Disney to found a new Web company aimed at producing sites for women and kids, she pontificated loudly that much of the content in the traditional media is stereotypical, and said in the New York Times that she, in turn, plans to "create a brand on both television and the Internet that brings humor and playfulness and a voice that makes a women say, 'You really understand me.'"

So for those who were breathlessly waiting for the "media revolution led by women and kids" she promised in her press releases, it was a bit ironic that the first cyberspace move of Laybourne's Oxygen Media was to take three struggling properties off AOL's hands: Electra, Moms Online and Thrive. The three sites aren't particularly fresh, and certainly haven't sparked a revolution so far -- according to the Industry Standard, health and fitness site Thrive's traffic has dropped steadily for the last year, the general-interest site Electra has thus far floundered as part of AOL's defunct Studios project and only Thrive is in Media Metrix's top 500 Web sites.

Women.com and iVillage, the current leading "brands" in the women's market, are looking on with bemused concern. Candace Carpenter, iVillage's founder, snippily responded, "We were offered Electra and Moms Online, and we turned them down." And Ellen Pack of Women.com, which will have to share space on AOL's new Women's Channel with the Oxygen properties, has sniffed that the three sites aren't "anything new."

It remains to be seen if Laybourne will follow up on her promises for unique ideas and phase out the Redbook-style content her new sites are known for. In a swamp of bland commercial sites for women, that would truly be a breath of fresh air.

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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Bill Clinton Disney Moveon.org