Power to the Internet
Barring unforeseen delays, and providing the system does not break down under the strain of a sudden surge in traffic, many millions of people all over the world will log on to the Internet today for the biggest story of the year.
Television reports can only carry a fraction of the 445-page report on President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Many newspapers, including this one, had to go to press before the report was published in full. But, in the Internet age, anyone with a computer and a modem can access the full version of independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr's account of misconduct at the White House.
The Lewinsky scandal has shown in a most dramatic manner the way in which the World-Wide Web has changed the way information is distributed. It was on the Internet that the story broke, after Newsweek magazine decided against rushing into print with its information. While the scandal would have eventually made it into the mainstream media, even if Web gossip maestro Matt Drudge had not posted it on his site, there is no doubt that the Internet has driven the story on at a faster pace than would otherwise have been the case.
The Internet's scope is demonstrated today when anyone who wants can have instant access to the Starr report. Analysts will be busy offering interpretations, and the White House will put out a defensive spin. But, this time, the public can judge for itself - and in full - without having its information fed through the filter of the conventional media or politicians. This is real information empowerment.
But that empowerment has its other side, evident in the way that untrue 'revelations' and gossip have flowed over the Web without any of the attempts at verification which conventional media would make as a matter of course.
The Lewinsky scandal has marked the coming of age of the Internet as a news medium. There is a price to be paid in the junk that runs alongside the real information. Again, the public can make its choice. If this is the price to be paid, it is a small one when set alongside the benefits that the Internet brings to informing the world about itself.