White House Goes High-Tech With Question, Answer Site


Inquiring Minds That Want to Know have a surprising new place to turn for answers: the White House.

Starting today, White House aides will field queries posed by visitors to America Online Inc. and other Web sites featuring daily news and political discussion.

The new foray into cyberspace is not an attempt to make an end run around the White House press corps, officials say, but an effort to stimulate democratic discourse online.


AOL, which first raised the idea with the White House a few months ago, has been running a trial version of its question-and-answer site called “Ask the White House.”

Today, the nation’s largest online service plans to unveil a Web page showing the White House’s response to several questions already asked by a small group of AOL members. The questions include whimsical ones, such as whether President Clinton got a flu shot this year (he did) to controversial subjects such as whether the president and other U.S. officials will make a point of pressing concerns about the World Trade Organization raised by protesters last week in Seattle.

The White House said that as of today, it will start scrolling news-oriented Web sites and accept up to five reader questions from each site during a given week. Officials anticipate that news organizations with Web sites, including The Times, will respond by setting up such services. Each question will be answered within a week.

“We view this as another way for the White House to expand our use of the Internet as a way of communicating with the American people,” said White House spokesman Barry Toiv. “It also gives the public the unique opportunity to pose [questions] to the administration.”

Neither Clinton nor Vice President Al Gore will personally answer the questions. And officials say they are uncertain whether they have sufficient resources to answer what could turn into a deluge of questions from the several dozen major Web sites that offer news content.

But Toiv said, “We’re going to give it a try.”