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Technical Hooey from the White House

New staffers claimed to find the place in the "technological dark ages" and pledged a more "open" website. Here's the reality.

by
Charlie Martin

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January 29, 2009 - 12:10 am
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There have been a couple of real plum stories in the intersection of political reporting and technology in the last week: first, the Washington Post story on the incoming Obama administration’s shock and horror at the computer environment they found at the White House (“Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages“), then closely following, rather more technical stories on how the new whitehouse.gov website was very much more “open” that the Bush administration’s version.

Sadly, in both cases, the stories demonstrate a lot more knowledge of politics and attention to the “nasty, stupid Bush administration” theme than they show technical knowledge.

Let’s look at them in order. In the first story, Washington Post writer Anne Kornbluth writes about the “technological Dark Age” at the White House. It makes for some great sound bites, like “it is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari.” But when we look at their actual complaints, what do we find? That the Obama staff prefers Macintosh computers, but that the White House uses Windows, and worse, they use “six-year-old versions” of Windows.

In other words, the White House staff was using — horrors! — Windows XP.

What’s more, they discovered it was hard to reach their Facebook pages and their external email accounts.

My guess is that it’s inauguration amnesia that causes reporter Kornbluth to forget the scandal around Governor Palin’s use of an external Yahoo email account for personal email, or the extended complaints about the White House using RNC email accounts for political correspondence. Or the fact that the Clinton administration several times found itself in at least technical violation of the Hatch Act for using White House facilities for political purposes. And I’m sure that a professional staff writer at the Washington Post would never consciously write a story intending to slant it against the outgoing administration, but it’s clear that she wasn’t sufficiently sophisticated to understand the reality behind the spin she was being fed.

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