As President Clinton delivers his testimony before a grand jury on the subject of his alleged relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, the Internet's citizen army of prognosticators and jokesters is weighing in on the scandal and its latest, extraordinary development.
President Clinton is being questioned regarding whether or not he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky and then lied about it in his deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, which has since been dismissed. The testimony--the first to be given to a grand jury by a targeted, sitting U.S. president--will be delivered by live video feed from the White House to a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C, where the grand jury sits.
One of the hottest topics of debate on the Net is the possibility that hackers will break the video feed's encryption to access the president's secret testimony.
Overall, opinion in the newsgroups is bearish on the hackers' prospects.
"Clinton will be testifying to the grand jury over a highly secured fiber optic cable, using the most sophisticated encryption to scramble the signal," reads one note posted to numerous newsgroups, including "alt.politics.clinton."
But some suggested that resourceful hackers will find a way.
"There is so much data in a TV signal, compared to short coded groups, that it should be easy to decode," wrote one "alt.politics.clinton" participant who claimed professional experience in radio interference. "As all the frames will be almost the same, it should be easy to decode. Even if the audio was encrypted using more secure coding, one could use the George Bush approach, and 'Read his lips!'"
The video's encryption provided fodder for some to accuse the government of hypocrisy in regard to its encryption technology import rules.
"It's fine for government officials to use the most sophisticated encryption available, but at the same time they don't want citizens to have access to the same technology," wrote another "alt.clinton.politics" participant. "Why does this sound familiar? Oh that's right, guns are OK for government but not citizens."
The consensus on the subject of leaks appears to be that word of mouth will achieve what hackers may not be able to accomplish.
"Both sides leak like sieves, and each for their own purposes," opined another "alt.politics.clinton" poster. "I suspect it will be mere minutes before the words Clinton speaks are reported worldwide. No electronic attack necessary."
Netizens also turned to newsgroups to spar over legal niceties regarding the grand jury, the accusations of perjury, and the specter of the president's impeachment.
"If all [special prosecutor Kenneth] Starr comes up with is perjury in a civil lawsuit, then I agree, impeachment is not realistic," wrote one "alt.fans.don-imus" participant. "However, if the president chooses to lie to the grand jury, then he will have done something far more serious, and easier to prove. Lying to a grand jury is both perjury and obstruction of justice rolled into one. If he sticks to his story, Clinton may give Starr all the crimes he'll ever need."
Another Clinton critic cited the historical example of Nixon--not former President Richard Nixon, but Judge Walter Nixon, who in the 1980s was impeached and sent to prison for lying before a grand jury.
"Perjury by a president is far more serious," opined the somewhat off-topic "comp.software.year2000" poster. "Impeach the bum."
Perhaps the most representative comment came from the "soc.retirement" newsgroup, where a participant wrote: "I really don't care about [the president's] sex life, and am utterly tired of hearing it discussed in the media. August is always a slow month for the media, and they are pretty desperate for news."
Indeed, today's testimony by the president has proved a windfall for the media, at least according to preliminary reports from CNET News.com partner ABCNews.com. The day is shaping up to be the biggest traffic day in the site's history, according to a spokesperson. A chat with former White House advisor George Stephanopolous drew 10,000 participants, she said.
Massive hit counts have strained capacity at various news sites.
"We've had a little bit of trouble with the giant surge in usership," said an MSNBC spokesperson. "But from what I understand, people are having trouble logging on to the Internet because of this."
MSNBC expects today's hit counts to reach a record high.
CNN Interactive was averaging close to 250,000 hits per minute at mid-day, a record for the news site. Weekday per-minute rates in previous weeks, by comparison, have averaged 160,000. In preparation for the onslaught of online newshounds, CNN.com has stripped down its home page to speed access. The site expects to exceed its previous high of 15.5 million page views.
CNN.com also is using an email distribution list to notify subscribers if the president addresses the nation on the subject of his testimony. The list has gained 6,000 subscriptions per hour since it was offered, according to CNN.com.
Back in the newsgroups, a large proportion of the testimony-related postings, most of which are salacious in nature, are intended to be humorous.