The scandal domain name game

The scandal domain name game: By Patrick J. Shields. Viewed through the lens of domain registrations, Monicagate looks tawdry in a whole new way.


Patrick J. Shields
February 12, 1999 1:00AM (UTC)

Editor's note: Many of the links in the following story point to adult or pornographic sites, so be warned if such material offends you.

What do President Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr and Linda Tripp all have in common? If looking up Internet domain registrations is your substitute for surfing the Web for erotica, as it is for me, you'd know that none of these principals in our long national soap opera controls his or her own name's Internet address -- presidentclinton.com, monicalewinsky.com and so on.

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Clinton scandal domain names have evolved into their own little economy: Clinton's defiant stance and the Republicans' intransigence have actually helped to create an enduring financial opportunity for those domain-name speculators, squatters and -- most numerous of all -- porn-site operators who have seen fit to commandeer the better and more current scandal-related addresses. But as their fortunes rise and fall with each new turn of events and sites appear and vanish like froth on the torrent of news, the domain registration records offer a fun house-mirror reflection of the past year's events.

Direct traffic from scandal-related names that users type directly into their browser window is an asset, according to Beth Mansfield, who runs the Persian Kitty directory of adult sites. But Mansfield says that the real source of value in such names is the traffic derived from search engine lookup results, which sometimes highly rank a site whose domain name matches the search terms.

Still, the prominence of porn traffic in this economy doesn't mean that the domain-name speculators who grabbed names hoping for a quick sale have all come up short. Some have received offers, and there's been at least one significant sale recently (of Lewinsky.com). Some are still holding out for the big score, and others have learned to adjust their expectations -- and make use of a news hook while it lasts.

The early days

Proof that forgotten scandal names have no salability begins with David Brock, the journalistic scandal-breaker first associated with the name Paula Jones. Brock has no current registration -- no .com, no .net, no .org. He and the American Spectator opened the door for Matt Drudge, but it's now Drudge who, according to the Village Voice, is collecting $2,000 a day in advertising revenue.

Arkansastroopers.com? Forget about it -- they didn't actually have sex with anybody, or see anybody having sex with anybody, or have the legal power to make anybody tell everybody else about having sex with somebody.

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But someone else did, and don't let it be said that other lawyers don't have a sense of humor about it. Independentcounsel.com is registered and used by one John W. Toothman, P.C., aka "the Devil's Advocate" -- a legal firm whose primary business is to monitor and challenge excessive legal fees on behalf of corporate clients who believe they're being poorly served. "The preeminent national authority on legal fee management," Toothman and co. could perhaps have turned their skills toward the Starr office's $50 million bill.

Kennethstarr.com is not fully operational but has merely been "reserved, using WebXess Domain Parking Service." Kenstarr.com is registered by a Seattle consulting company that put up a single page with a link to the Starr report, discreetly informing us that "this Web site is for sale," but the page is now gone. Kennethwstarr.com languishes unregistered.

Only when the tale about savings and loans, law firm cover-ups and other misdeeds got spiced with a whiff of sex could the scandal domain market heat up. Paulajones.com is owned by an entity known as either the Portland Business Directory or RockBottomDomains.com, where you are encouraged to "make offer" -- and isn't that how all this got started? Though at the time of writing there is no site up at the address, at times during recent weeks this domain name has been linked to the "Ultrasites" group of porn sites. RockBottom has also registered and listed for sale the names of most of the towns in Oregon with populations of more than 25,000, and other cities in California, Tennessee and Arizona.

Paulacorbinjones.com sits unregistered. Paulagate.com continues to be for sale at RAS.net.

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Enter Monica, Oval Office left

Here we not only begin to see more cash, but also our first international mystery registration. Did the mullahs approve that Daniel Khoshnood, who has presidentclinton.com registered to his company, Global Net 2000, at an office building in Tehran, would use that address to point to Sexflick.com -- registered in Woodland Hills, Calif., to one Danny Kay?

The hokey williamjeffersonclinton.com can't be registered -- it's one character too long for the 26 character limit for names, including the dot and the com. But Presidentbillclinton.com, williamclinton.com and williamjclinton.com are all registered by private investigator Joseph Culligan of Miami, Fla., who uses them to hawk ultra small spy-cams and nanny-cams.

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Whitehouse.com and whitehouseintern.com both point to the same porn site, which, in the spirit of public service, declares that it is in "no way endorsed by or associated with the U.S. Government."

Monica.com was intended to stay in California -- it's registered to Santa Monica Internet service provider Brand X Internet, whose Jim Pickrell says, "This whole monica.com thing has taken me completely by surprise." Brand X first registered the name on Sept. 21, 1995, with the intent to "create a Web site dedicated to our city, restaurant reviews, attractions, etc. Buying and selling domain names has never been part of our business." Pickrell offered proof of a $30,000 offer, and went on to say, "A lot of people write saying hi, others make offers, or say they think it's wrong to sell a name. Some don't like Monica Lewinsky and let us know. Some ask if we have pictures or anything else related to her." The attention and offers keep luring Pickrell to reconsider his $70 investment, but, he says, "In the end, we probably will put up that Web site on the city of Santa Monica."

Monicalewinsky.com is registered to SiteLeader.com, which claims the label of "premier domain registration site on the Internet." The folks who own this site list their administrative contact as "Douglas Fur" and an address of "Addison and Clark" -- recognizable to any Cubs fan or Blues Brothers aficionado. They suggest a minimum bid of $50,000.

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Most of the Monica-specific names were registered on or around Jan. 22, 1998, soon after her story broke. Of them all, Lewinsky.com's saga is the most intriguing. Until Jan. 24, 1999, it was registered by a graduate student in classical literature at Indiana University named Brett Robbins. True to his literary roots, Robbins' site featured the Lewinsky.com "bookstore," specializing in "books dealing with the most controversial issues, like Watergate, the Kennedy assassination, UFOs and apartheid, etc.," and whose orders were filled by Amazon.com through its "associates" program, which offers sites that feed the online bookstore traffic a small percentage of the sales.

Asked how he was doing, Robbins responded, "Are you kidding? I'm making a decent living just doing this." But though he says he was "very happy" with his 15 minutes of fame, he sold the name last month in an anonymous three person e-mail auction. The high bid, he says, was in "the tens of thousands, but it didn't get up to $100,000." Lewinsky.com now points to an adult site named dutchpleasures.com. Robbins -- on his way to teach a class -- says he wants to continue in the Amazon associates program, and has registered a new domain name, etexts.com.

Other scandal figures have fared more spottily on the domain charts. Vernon Jordan might have done better to try to land Monica a job in California -- where vernonjordan.com is blowing over quietly, registered, but not used, by a California man. Bettycurrie.com is up for sale by the DNS Planet site, offering "600+ quality domain names."

Lindatripp.com is registered and run by a small Honolulu Web design and Net hosting firm. MCS Internet Solutions, run by Bruce Fischer and Dan Stetser, grabbed the name and put up a site on Jan. 24, 1998, to snag a little traffic and showcase their talents. Their home page read: "Linda Tripp -- An American Hero or a lousy friend ... you decide!" and offered a "Quick Poll" and TrippCard postcards to send to your friends.

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Someone in the Tripp camp took notice, and Tripp's lawyer, Anthony Zaccanini, called Fischer the first week of March to ask if the firm would be willing to host Tripp's "official" site. He agreed, and had the new site up about 10 days later. By November, though, Tripp had apparently fallen behind on her payments, and Fischer and MCS had replaced the site with a "stand by" message. Fischer claims Tripp owes $10,000 in back payments, $6,000 to design the site, $4,000 for the rights to the domain and an additional $1,500-$1,600 in hosting fees. Tripp attorney Zaccanini did not respond to a telephone message left at his office.

In December, Fischer put his own site back at Lindatripp.com's front door, with a link to the "official" site. He still controls both the domain and the Tripp site, and since he seems to be no fan of Tripp's (he also holds the registration for lindatrippsucks.com), it's a surprise the site hasn't been changed or discontinued. He still claims to be getting 10,000 hits a day on the name alone. And last month he posted a notice about a "RIGHT WING ATTACK ON OUR SERVER!!!" -- claiming that a "denial of service attack" originating in Bethesda, Md., had targeted his site on Jan. 19.

The Starr Report, impeachment and beyond

Many of the sites operating at Clinton-scandal domain addresses offer a link to the text of the Starr Report. It's a good thing they do, because if you point your browser to Starrreport.com, you're not going to get there; you will get to sleaze of a higher (or lesser) order, depending on your point of view. Here a New Milford, Conn., man offers domain name registration services, "Naughty Mail" and links like a "gay spy cam, offering a hidden camera in San Francisco's hottest bathhouse." We are again reminded at page bottom that the proprietor is "Not affiliated in any way with the U.S. Govt. or the Office of the Independent Counsel."

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Freudian puns ruled the Net's joke circuit this summer -- but not at the headquarters of the Chicago company that owns presidentialcigar.com. A spokesperson said, "Some people talk about it, but it's not a big deal here." She professed to worry more about the "coincidence," and seemed concerned about misrepresenting her boss in regard to a matter so, well, presidential. Not to worry -- a Presidential Cigar is still just a Presidential Cigar.

Impeachment.com, which bills itself as an "impartial discussion forum," turns out to be the only Washington, D.C., registration in this bunch. They may still have things to talk about once the Senate trial concludes Thursday or Friday, but the folks at Cyber Locations of Dallas must be especially nervous: They still have the domain impeachmenttrial.com for sale, and their domain stock is about to drop precipitously. If you're Prism Internet, on the other hand, and your under-construction erotic site is not ready by the end of the trial, six years of history have proven you'll be able to have clintonscandal.com point to spicegirlsclub.com again at a later date. And if Hillary Clinton runs for office, some might suggest you should consider going public.

Where will the Bill-and-Hillary Web point after the impeachment, after the presidency? The Friend to Friend Foundation, a Lenexa, Kan., evangelical Christian group that registers the names of popular figures in order to make sure they are not used for porn sites, has made sure that billandhillary.com will stay off the market.

As the rest of us finally heave a sigh of relief at the conclusion of the Lewinsky scandal, the domain-name hustlers are now focusing their attention on Hillary. Hillary.com is owned by a New Jersey software company, which has become the target of a lot of jokes and one very serious request for a photo from a Massachusetts girl. Hillary2000.com is "under construction." Jim Tabilio of Hermosa Beach, Calif., says Hillaryforsenate.com will be used to "encourage Mrs. Clinton to stay involved, whether for Senate, or something else. A not-for-profit thing."

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Senatorclinton.com and Hillaryforsenate2000.com are up for grabs should you (or she) be so inclined. Realistically, though, a political organization would likely favor an address in the .net or .org top-level domains. A recent New York Times article described how potential candidates can tip their hand by registering a slew of names, yet Hillary appears to have taken none. Not many think she would need one.

Thomas Bottenberg, a California reinsurer and registrant of hillary2000.org, claims not to be a speculator, and said simply, "If they want it and they're nice to me, they'll probably get it." He learned his lesson, having once registered nba.com: He was overrun by the league's "very aggressive lawyers," he says, and eventually turned it over in exchange for "a bunch of NBA socks for my son." Perhaps he could get Socks for his daughter.

Strange as it may seem to those who have never felt the rush of a domain registration, there are readers who will finish this article and speed to the InterNIC, blood pulsing, to see which Hillary-related names are still available. The top three in my book? Hillaryforsenate.org, hillaryforsenate2000.org and -- the champ -- Senatorclinton.org.

Sure, you could get them. But why?

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Patrick J. Shields

Patrick J. Shields runs Shields Window Cleaning in New York City and is in preproduction for his first independent film, "White Flight."

MORE FROM Patrick J. Shields

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