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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Jimmy Orr
White House Internet Director

July 29, 2004

Jimmy Orr

Hello all, thanks for joining me today on Ask the White House. My last time on here was in October. It is good to be back, although I'm present for almost each Ask the White House.

We've done a lot since that time. We are steadily trying to increase the number of guests on this "program." Our goal? Have a guest on every day. And we should be able to do that. Our feeling is you should have access to your government. And there are plenty of issues out there to discuss. So we are moving forward. We have had some great guests on this month. From Condoleezza Rice to Richard Armitage to Secretary Norton to Secretary Snow. Some great serious discussions. But we've also had some fun when we had on the Pastry Chef two days ago.

So we are going in the right direction. We've added a lot of content. And that unique content is key to keeping you all coming back to the site.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Joshua, from Princeton, NJ writes:
How do you select questions for the "Ask the White House" forum? It seems that many of the sessions are pre-screened and limited to those with "softball" questions. I doubt even this question will be posted, but hey, I really do want to know the answer (as do others, I imagine).

Jimmy Orr
I love this question. We purposely tell our guests to take some confrontational and negative questions. We try to balance the questions actually. So, I invite you to go back and read some of the transcripts. You will see that we answer questions that are “negative.”

Do we take “supportive” questions too? Sure. Like I say, we try to balance it out. But we don’t duck hard questions.

Depends on the guest too, Joshua. I mean, the Pastry Chef really didn’t have tough questions. So it was a “softball session.” But go back and read Richard Armitage’s transcript or Condoleezza Rice’s transcript. They both appeared this month.

Sometimes the chats get confrontational. Go back and read Jim Wilkinson’s chats. He relishes the confrontational questions.

It’s really up to the guest though. I saw your question. I wanted to answer it. It’s that easy. There isn’t an elaborate screening process. Not only is there not the time for that, but if we just put up supportive questions – who would read the chats? It would be preaching to the choir.

I would suggest reading any of the above mentioned chats – and peruse some others as well: Paul Wolfowitz, Jim Connaughton, Treasury Secretary Snow, Commerce Secretary Evans, Margaret Spellings, etc. etc. I could go on forever. These are real exchanges. Check out Karen Hughes from earlier this year as well. Tons of examples out there....

Also, read any of the exchanges in White House Interactive. Yes, we have fun exchanges as well. But there are plenty of issues being discussed as well. It’s a good balance.

The most important thing is we are putting these individuals online to take your questions. It's been compared to by many critics as a good step in e-democracy. I have to agree with that.

Terrence, from Italy writes:
Yes, I submitted a question back in the middle of June and I have yet to get an answer back. I would like to know why.

Jimmy Orr
Terrence, we receive a TON of email. So, if your email doesn’t get answered, don’t take it personally. I would re-submit it. Here are some tips for getting your question answered on White House Interactive:

1. Keep the email short and to the point. 2. Try to limit the amount of questions within the question.

You'll see that most of the questions posted in "White House Interactive" have these traits.

Tom, from Midvale, Utah writes:
Who designs the website? Tom

Jimmy Orr
We have three primary designers who work on the site. Marvin Gonzalez, Linda Sloan and Amanda Wu. They are very, very good. And it is an intense environment. But the designs they come up with are great.

Some of the most recent ones I'll mention are:

Independence Day page

The White House Calendar/Datebook page, which is under construction. But it is very good and our move to be more "bloggish."

Our education page is strong.

The new Pastry Chef page is great -- under construction as well, but will soon be up hopefully today.

The economy page is strong

There are a lot more. I like the clean look of White House Radio. We have great stuff out there and I'm missing a lot. But these are some recent pages.

Ama, from Montgomery, NJ writes:
I just want to know who is it that you talk to in the White House about REAL issues I recently posted a question dealing with why we are fighting a war in Iraq when there are multiple issues right here in this "golden country" that need to be addressed. As citizens how far do our rights go as to having the ability to talkto these high political officals in the United States?

Jimmy Orr

I go back to my earlier comments. Look at the guests we've had on Ask the White House and the responders to questions on White House Interactive.

We've discussed Iraq numerous times. Richard Armitage and Condoleezza Rice discussed Iraq just this month. Last month, Paul Wolfowitz and Jim Wilkinson discussed Iraq. Not to mention the many times Colby Cooper and others have answered questions on Iraq in White House Interactive.

Look at how many radio interviews we've posted from individuals discussing Iraq. Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, General Richard Meyers, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, Dan Senor, etc. etc. etc. They have been on multiple times.

And we'll have plenty more radio interviews, Ask the White House sessions and White House Interactive sessions on the topic in the near future.

If you want to see anything the President has said on the topic, please go to the Iraq page.

Darien, from Nantucket, MA writes:
How has the White House website changed since the Clinton administration? How do you anticipate its being used in the future as a power of the EOP and the bully pulpit?

Jimmy Orr
That’s a great question, Darien. The web site has changed dramatically over the last few years. I ought to get screenshots and put them up, actually.

I’ll try to do that. Check back here a bit later and hopefully I’ll have some samples up.

We’ve made great strides.

Most people don’t have the opportunity to visit the White House or Washington, DC for that matter. The only White House they will see is the online White House. And the online White House is available 24/7. Therefore, we should put significant resources into the site.

Those who visit the site should be able to see all aspects of the Presidency. The policies outlined by the President, the Press Briefings, the biographical information, information on the White House itself and the people who work in the White House.

The two keys to a successful site, in my opinion, are web exclusive content and interactivity.

And we’ve tried to take full advantage of both. We can create content that people can only get here on our site. That’s important because people know to see or watch that content, they have to come here.

Some examples of the unique content include: Ask the White House, White House Interactive, White House Radio, any unique video content we create,, the history page, any of the special pages we create, like the World War II Memorial page, the Independence Day page. The Holiday pages. The White House Ghost stories page. And we’ve got a great new page with the departing White House Pastry Chef that we will hopefully unveil later today.

But the interactivity is so important too. Never before have people been given the opportunity to interact directly with the White House in an immediate format. But with “Ask the white House” and “White House Interactive,” – people can do that. People can ask a question and get a response live on our web site.

This is a big deal. Our goal is drive traffic. We want visitors on our site. The way to do that is to create that web-exclusive content that no one else can create and interact with your visitors. Both are extremely important.

Think of the sites that you go to. Think of what they offer. is moving in the right direction, but we still have a ways to go.

One of the sections I am most pleased with is White House Radio. Dan Bartlett was on the air with Hoppy Kercheval in Charleston, WV, last week. If you were listening to Hoppy in Charleston at that time, great. If not, you missed it. So we put up our radio interviews on our web site now so everyone can hear them.

We need to do the same with TV. We aren’t there yet. We’re moving in that direction.

We are moving toward a society that doesn’t rely on the clock as much. If you miss a TV program, you can record it for example. The successful web site will offer all of their programming at any time of day. I don’t understand why networks aren’t offering that now, really. If you miss a TV program, you really should be able to go to their site and watch it online at any time of day. Same goes for popular news programs – you want to increase viewership and name recognition – put the program on the site.

I’m rambling….but this is a very powerful medium and it really hasn’t been taken advantage of yet.

Joanne, from Chicago writes:
Hello, How many e-mails you get a day and are there some from other countries, too?

Jimmy Orr
Tens of thousands per day, Joanne. And we get emails from virtually every country. We get a lot of emails to White House Interactive as well from nations across the globe. I just took one from Terrence in Italy, for example. We get a lot of email....

Ron, from Undisclosed writes:
You should have a Secret Service Agent on Ask the White House

Jimmy Orr
Great idea, Ron. I'll try to do that.

Ashley, from Thomasville, Ga writes:
I am teacher and we are going to be getting deep into the election this fall.. i would like to know where i can get materials for my students so that when we have our debate, they will have the correct information reguarding President Bush.

God Bless

Ashley Gray

Jimmy Orr
Hi Ashley

This isn’t a campaign web site, so you won’t find campaign information here. But there is plenty of information on the President’s policies on this site. By the way, our kids site will be updated soon, so check in on that in August. Good stuff coming…….

Jeff, from Salt Lake City writes:
What are the most popular sections of the website?

Jimmy Orr
Jeff, it is a mixture of the informative and the entertaining.

Our mission statement is to: Communicate the President's message while recognizing the rich history and traditions of the web site.

Without the two-pronged approach to the site, we're not going to get a lot of traffic which makes our goal ineffective.

Many people come to the site for the policy areas. But many others come for the more "personal" side of the White House. We get a lot of traffic when White House Chief of Staff Andy Card does an "Ask the White House" session -- but we also get a lot of traffic when someone like the Pastry Chef appears.

So, again, it is a balance. And it's a good balance.

Obviously, the news section of the White House is a top destination of our site, which is good. We're seeing increasing numbers on White House Radio -- which is very good. And our numbers on the "Ask the White House" and "White House Interactive" sections are increasing as well.

And on the "personal" side of things (remember we have a two-pronged mission statement), the History and Tours page is always a top section and the big "up and comer" is the Barney page, People really seem to like the Barney photos of the day.

It's all about balance.

Denise, from Texas writes:
Who's been your favorite guest from all the Ask the White House chats? And Why?

Jimmy Orr
Well, Denise, there have been great guests here. White House Chief of Staff Andy Card is always fun. And he insists on typing himself.

You know what was really fun, was when Greg Mankiw was on in December and Mrs. Bush was on a couple days later. There was a marriage proposal in the email. Greg decided to post it and wished the person good luck. But there was no response.....

Until Mrs. Bush hosted Ask the White House a few days later and there was a response. And it all happened on "Ask the White House." It was the first online wedding proposal we've had on I suspect it might be the only one.

Just for entertainment value, I think Tuesday's chat with Roland Mesnier, the outgoing Pastry Chef, can't be beat. I re-read the transcript last night and laughed out loud.

You know who was really great? Richard Armitage. That was just a solid chat. He was so great to work with. Powerful presence.

Secretary Snow has been a frequent guest and if you look at his chats -- he takes a lot of questions. Those guys over at Treasury understand the power of online communications.

And look at the Department of Justice! 3 days of consecutive DOJ guests earlier this month.

I don't know if I have any favorites, but I do know that this online medium is well respected and guests look forward to appearing.

Sarah, from DC writes:
Hi Jimmy I was wondering why the White House home page no longer has a scroll bar? And how are the daily pictures of Barney chosen?

Jimmy Orr
Hi Sarah

I didn't know we ever had a scroll bar on the White House home page. It could be a resolution thing on your computer as well. My resolution is set at 1280x1024. I know, that seems too small, but I don't like to scroll and if I have to scroll much, I move on. 1024 x 768 is another option. Some people still prefer 800 x 600, which is hideous.

Barney photo of the day".......we just get a photo and come up with wacky caption. Personally, I like July 24 and July 25. Continuing theme.

Robert, from San Francisco writes:
Why don't you offer your video in other formats outside of Real?

Jimmy Orr

We should. We should offer video in all formats. Money and resources is the issue. But we're moving in the right direction. At least we offer the video. We webcast live when we can -- when an event is on White House grounds.

In a perfect world, we would webcast every Presidential event live regardless of location (something that we are pushing for -- but $$ issues), and in every format. Hopefully, this will occur in the future.

It is important to do this because the news networks don't cover every Presidential address live. So where can you watch it? Some commercial sites carry it now. But really, the White House web site should be the first stop in my opinion.

Ken, from Arlington, VA writes:
What's the White House's position on the naughty White House site? Has anything ever been done to remove this threat to innocent children?

Jimmy Orr
Again, in a perfect world this web site address would be owned by the federal government. But back in 1994, who would have thought to reserve URLs? The medium was too new. Nobody knew.

It should be -- for this Administration and for all Administrations to come. It's really sad actually because you think of the children and others who have stumbled on to it. Some people have their sights set higher than others. I'm glad that's not my legacy.

Hopefully in the future, that issue will be resolved.

Bobby, from Horsepasture, VA writes:
When will the President appear on Ask the White House?

Jimmy Orr
That's the plan......

Ivana, from Brooklyn writes:
What is your goal in the amount of answers you are trying to provide? I understand you are getting thousands of questions a day and I am puzzled by the fact that there are sometimes two to three days when no question is answered.

Jimmy Orr
Good point, Ivana. We want more questions answered. No doubt about it. We've made good progress. The goal is for this section of the site to be updated all the time. That's why we have the time stamps on the responses.

It is important that people see that this section is updated all the time. If you were to go to a site that hasn't been updated for weeks or months, chances are you'd never go back.

I visited a site the other day which stated it was last updated in 1998. Ridiculous. Also, I don't get sites which use "counters." Why use them? What you consider high traffic might not be considered high traffic by the visitor. I went to one of my favorite bands' site the other day -- and it had a counter on it. And to me, it seemed low. Maybe people aren't as picky as I am, but why even take the risk. Updating the site is critical.

And our goal for White House Interactive? Update it several times a day. But it is only a few months old and each month we are answering more and more questions than the prior months.

A lot of the questions are answered in other areas too. Go to Scott McClellan's briefings, for example. He gets a ton of questions every day.

But your is well taken, Ivana. Steady progress, that is the path we are on.

Anna, from Wisconsin writes:
How do you choose questions to answer on Ask the White House? I have asked questions several times and never been answered. Thanks for taking this question. This is a great website

Jimmy Orr

Your question has just been answered.

It is really up to the guest. The guest is encouraged to take challenging questions, as I've mentioned. But it's their call. They take the questions which look interesting to them.

Keep visiting the site and keep sending your questions in.


Kimberly, from Manhattan writes:
I run a web site for a national media company. I check your site often to see how the site is updated and with what content. What is your strategy for updating the web site? What is most important?

Jimmy Orr

Content is key. Unique content is key. Of course, we have all the President's speeches and remarks on the site, but it is important to augment the site with other information. That's why I think White House Radio, White House Interactive and Ask the White House are all so important.

Photos are critical as well. Nothing says a site has been updated more than by new photos. So, we try to add new ones daily -- numerous new photos daily.

We don't have any today, so we began rotating some older photos on the site. But we expect to have some new ones soon.

Kent, from Chapel Hill writes:
What do you think of bloggers? Who are your favorites and do you see them as a legitimate media form?

Jimmy Orr
Great question, Kent. Bloggers are very instrumental. They are important. They can lead the news. And they've been underestimated. But it all goes back to the power of online communications.

We see growth every year in the number of people online. You check the weather online. You get news updates online. You watch video online. You listen to radio online. I've got a radio station playing in the background right now -- from the Internet.

Here's what the bloggers do. They notice something in the news or something they've observed that maybe the "traditional" media hasn't covered or is spending much time on. But they think it is significant. So, they give the story a 2nd life (or first). And they talk about it. And others talk about it. Before you know it, it is leading the news.

And of course, the most successful -- in my opinion, are the ones who constantly update their blogs. And these bloggers are just starting.

Watch over the next couple years to how influential they will become. I like the Note, instapundit, taranto, many more. Bloggers are great.

Laurence, from Georgia writes:
How do you choose the guests on ask the white house?

Jimmy Orr
We just ask them. Let's look at the month of July. On July 7, the President was discussing Judicial Nominations, so we asked White House Counsel Al Gonzales to take questions on Judicial Nominations. He did so -- from Air Force One.

President Bush signed the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act on July 15. So it seemed logical that we the Department of Justice on -- specifically the person who oversees this issue -- James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General.

On July 21, the President signed the Project BioShield legislation, so the next day we had the Department of Homeland Security on to discuss it -- specifically the Assistant Secretary who oversees the project.

So, we try to line up guests with what the topical event is. And other days, we put on a guest because it is an issue of much importance or because we think our visitors will find it interesting. We want to keep you coming back to our site!

Carmyn, from New York City writes:
Why is it that government has not made available information technology free of charge to citizens within America, considering we pay for access already. Afterall, many of the websites that provide a service can be made available by our government free of charge should they so desire

Jimmy Orr
What kind of free information technology do you want, Carmyn? I would love to have a free computer and free broadband access (and a free house, for that matter), but I don't think that will happen....

In all seriousness, what specifically are you asking? Email me back at White House Interactive (on the home page) and I'll try to get you an answer....

Brahm, from Montreal writes:
Can we get someone from Air Force One on ASK THE WHITE HOUSE?

Jimmy Orr
I'll work on it. Good idea.

Neil, from Pennsylvania writes:
Are you planning to do a Barney Cam III? If so, will the title have a little extra zing to it like Barney Cam II: Barney Reloaded?

Jimmy Orr
There will be more Barneycams. And of course, we'll need a creative name. And you try to think of previous sequels for ideas.

You know, that's how we came up with Barney Reloaded was because of the Matrix (they should have stopped with the 2nd one, by the way. What was up with the 3rd one?)

So, I'm thinking right now of other movies which have had a third installment. There's Rocky III, but it was just Rocky III (they probably should have stopped with this one -- but Rocky IV was bearable).

I remember Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome -- we could do a Barney Thunderdome type thing. We can always ask Mel Gibson to help. Stay tuned.

Yolanda, from Houston Texas writes:
Why are the on-line achives only available for the psst two years?

Jimmy Orr
I don't believe that's right. Everything should be archived. What specifically are you looking for? Email me at White House Interactive and I'll help you find it.

Daniel, from Anchorage, Alaska writes:
Dear Sir, I heard that the President can send out a letter of congratulations for certain occasions. My parents will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary on Sept. 3rd 2004, and I wondered if such a greeting could be arranged and how to go about it.

Jimmy Orr
We get this question all the time. And we've answered it many, many, many, many times on the site. But always happy to answer it again.

You may submit a request via fax at 202-395-1232, mail to The White House, Attn: Greetings Office, Washington, D.C. 20502-0039, or by Web Mail.

We ask that requests for greetings are received in our office at least six weeks in advance of the event date. At this date I recommend you fax or use White House Web Mail to submit your request. We will make every effort to send the greeting in time for your special occasion. For more information on our guidelines and the types of greetings you may request please visit the White House.

Rob, from Canada writes:
Congratulations on making a great website. Are there sometimes "missed" Press Gaggles? I've noticed that there are often several days missing. Does the gaggle not take place everyday? Keep up the good work

Jimmy Orr
Hey Rob

Press Briefings do not happen every day. When they do, we post them. If Scott gaggles on Air Force One or away from the White House, we post that gaggle. There shouldn't be any missing briefings/gaggles on the site, but we'll double-check.

Myra, from Washington DC writes:
Do you "start over" with a new site after November? If so, what happens to the current site?

Jimmy Orr
No, we'll keep this one going. We've got some great ideas for the next four years as well.

Jimmy Orr
Thanks for your questions today. And we look forward to hosting more Ask the White House sessions in August. Talk to you soon. And feel free to email me at White House Interactive.

Thanks again

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