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Clinton Holds First Cyber-Chat

President Clinton said his "virtual town hall meeting" Monday was the Internet age's answer to Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio chats with the nation and the televised presidential press conferences during John F. Kennedy's administration.

"Like FDR's fireside chats and President Kennedy's live press conferences, this first presidential town hall meeting on the Internet taps the most modern technology for old-fashioned communication between the American people and their president," Mr. Clinton said at the start of the online exchange.

But the modern technology didn't always work as planned, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports.

Moderator Al From of the Democratic Leadership Council lost touch with several mayors before a successful connection was made.

The forum differed from a true town hall meeting in more ways than the novelty of having questioners linked by computer.

Although the president and other officials could answer questions from the 23 Internet participants, there was no provision for a true back-and-forth. Organizers of the 90-minute session Monday night were screening the questions. Questions gave the president a chance to deliver his standard pitches and even provided some comic relief.

A questioner named Cynthia from Arizona wanted to know whether ordinary citizens needed to prepare for Y2K. "We've had so many jokes about that - about taking our pickups to Arizona and all, " Mr. Clinton responded. " The answer is, 'no, I wouldn't,' because I think America is in good shape."

White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said the session was "in the tradition of town halls that's so much the part of our system."

Mr. Clinton headlined the exchange sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council and the Internet firm ExciteAtHome. The forum was limited to 50,000 participants to ensure the computer network could handle the traffic.

For Mr. Clinton, who frequently laments that he is "technologically challenged," the format was basically an interview with a moderator reading aloud from among questions submitted over a special World Wide Web site. Mr. Clinton's image and his spoken responses were "Webcast," so that participants could see and hear the president on their computer screens.

"It's been our intention for it to be an open forum for people to ask anything they like of the president" and five local and state Democratic politicians, said DLC spokesman Matthew Frankel.

The other participants were New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, San Jose, Calif., Mayor Ron Gonzales, Wisconsin state Sen. Antonio Riley and Bethlehem, Pa., Mayor Don Cunningham.

Here is the White House transcript of the session.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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