Andrew North begins his weekly tour of the Usenet newsgroups with alt.president.clinton
The Usenet newsgroups have come of age as sources of political gossip during President Bill Clinton's term of office. The Bush years brought the odd bit of chit-chat, but few took any notice. Certainly not George Bush, famously illiterate in technology matters. Today, the noise levels in newsgroups covering US politics are almost deafening, with right-wingers and liberals battling it out. The Clinton White House has itself helped to bring these cyberforums in from the cold by using them as a noticeboard for official announcements.

You don't go to the newsgroups for balanced political comment. Dishing dirt is the stock-in-trade of most contributors, but reading them makes a change from the mind-numbing election coverage of the mainstream media. And President Clinton and his entourage have been a gossip-monger's dream. In the run-up to tomorrow's presidential election, the main talking shop, alt.president.clinton, has been overflowing with rumour, comment and innuendo. When I logged on last week, there were more than 2,000 postings. In hushed tones, and with one of those anonymous-looking e-mail addresses, someone offered secrets on the "supposed Ron Brown accident", referring to the death of the US Commerce Secretary and others in a plane crash. This conspiratorial morsel was posted just below turgid White House announcements on topics such as the Commercial Satellites Export Executive Order. Such is the democracy of Usenet: everything, serious or wacky, gets equal billing.

Further down were yet more White House press releases and yet more scandal postings: a discussion on the Vince Foster case and praise for Paula Jones for having the courage to stand up to the might of the White House and make public her sexual harassment allegations against the President.

It is not just tabloid stuff. There was a provocative claim that the Clinton administration has authorised more phone taps than any. And an exhaustive if partisan examination of the Clinton record, entitled "Claims v Facts". Do Bill's claims to have created 10.5 million jobs really stand up? asked the author. "Two-thirds of the new jobs created were in states with Republican governors who have striven to cut taxes and balance the budget," he says. He goes on to accuse Mr Clinton of abandoning military veterans and cutting back on drug enforcement.

No surprise to see a plug at the end for a Conservative newsletter and a Pro-Life mailing list. If the polls are correct and Mr Clinton does win a second term, these people will go into a frenzy. Watch this newsgroup in the coming weeksn