Analysis: New York Times Article Misrepresents New White House Web Mail System

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WASHINGTON (Talon News) — A recent New York Times article takes aim at the Bush administration by criticizing the new Web mail service recently introduced on the White House Web site. The Web mail service is designed as an alternative means of communicating with President Bush other than sending a simple email message.

However, the New York Times story by John Markoff distorts the nature of the White House’s new Web mail service with reporting bias and incorrect information, a Talon News investigation has determined.


The article, published on Friday, suggests that the White House has essentially replaced its old email contact for President Bush ( with a new, cumbersome, “less user-friendly” setup designed to discourage Internet users from providing the President with their opinions.

The article derives its premise entirely from the unsupported assertion of liberal AFL-CIO online organizer Tom Matzzie, who claims that he received an autoresponse email from the White House Web site telling him that he had to send his protest letter via the new format.

Matzzie works for the AFL-CIO public affairs department and has developed software to aid nationwide union organization efforts.

Additionally, a Talon News investigation has determined that Matzzie coordinated list serves for working groups of the so-called Mobilization for Global Justice (MGJ) organization. The MGJ has organized “anti-capitalist convergences” in front of the IMF and World Bank, which it wants to shut down for causing an “economic smallpox.”

Matzzie was one of only three people interviewed for the article, and the only one asked his opinion as an actual user of the Web mail system.

Talon News tested the president’s email address, and it continues to function properly. The autoresponse e-mail which senders get in return now suggests using the new Web mail system as an alternate and more effective means of communication.

The new Web mail system is intended as an enhancement to the president’s traditional online correspondence methods. President Bush receives more than 15,000 emails every day.

The new system asks users to report whether they are providing a supporting comment or a differing opinion (“supporting comment” is autoselected) and to select the category and subcategory of their message. For example, one might write a supporting comment with the category “social” and the subcategory “prayer in schools.”

Subsequent forms ask the user for his or her contact information and allow the user to type a message in a form. Once the form is submitted, a follow-up email is automatically sent to the user’s email account. Once the user replies to the email, the original message is read, and a personalized response from White House staffers is sent within 1 to 3 days.

By extensively categorizing e-mails and ensuring that correspondence is legitimate, the White House is better equipped to send a personalized response. One would not learn this by reading the Times article. Nowhere in the article does it mention that the customized response available under the new system is unprecedented. Rather, it mentions that this response is not available under the traditional system.

Markoff takes all of his quotes defending the system from White House Spokesman Jimmy Orr, who is the Bush administration’s Internet news director. Yet almost all such quotes are essentially copied and pasted from the White House Web site — see: — or from the autoresponse email, and are thus extremely generic.

“[Web mail] provides an additional means for individuals to inquire about policy issues at the White House and get a personalized response in 24 to 48 hours,” one such quote from Orr reads.

Markoff then claims that some experts in Internet usability think the new method for sending messages is “not doing much to enhance communications between the White House and the public,” yet only quotes a single Web design expert.

The article ends with a string of critical quotes from Matzzie, who describes himself as a Web design expert. Matzzie claimed that he had not yet received an e-mail response. Talon News tested the Web mail service, and received responses to all its test e-mails within 5 minutes. However, the personalized response takes 1-3 days longer than the automatic response.

Another self-described web designer posting on a message board hosted by Yahoo! for discussing the article brought Matzzie and Markoff to task, as well as Yahoo! itself, which made the decision to run it as a top story.

“With all due respect to ‘Mr. Matzzie,’ [sic] the alleged ‘professional Web site designer’ (how many times have I heard ”’that”’ dubious claim in the last seven years?), the WH email ‘upgrade’ replaced an open architecture response system with a structured system very similar to CRM feedback at a retailer or service company,” the response read in part. “This professional Web designer’s conclusion: Another hatchet job by Yahoo’s ultra-leftist editors, and the Web site is only ‘less user-friendly’ to the computer-incompetent.”

The Markoff article also listed a number of essentially misplaced critiques by Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group, who complained about “a deeply buried privacy policy and a lack of indicators marking one’s progress in traversing each of the multiple Web page steps.” Nielsen also complained about “a poorly designed approach to confirming that a message had actually been sent.”

Nielsen’s complaints do not square with the actual site. The privacy policy is available in the list of FAQs, one click away from the main Web mail page. Once a user submits a message, a confirmation page immediately loads asking whether the user wants to submit any more messages. A navigation bar is at the top of every single page in the Web mail system.