Searching Flytrap

Chatterbox was ready to declare the print medium king when it came to dissemination of the Starr report and the two batches of supporting evidence released by the House Judiciary committee. Quickie paperbacks of the report itself (number one on this week’s New York Times paperback best-seller list) and the more superfluous document dump seemed easier to manipulate and harder to misplace than Chatterbox’s unruly pile of computer printouts. But Chatterbox didn’t anticipate the advent of the Flytrap Search Engine.

The New York Times and the Washington Post have both come up with the ingenious idea of putting on their websites dedicated search engines that can slice and dice the Starr report (with White House rebuttal). The Post version also lets you search Clinton’s testimony and Lewinsky’s testimony. This does the idea of a Flytrap Index–which, Chatterbox previously complained, is sadly missing in all the quickie paperbacks–one better. Chatterbox tested both search engines (there may be others on different websites, but Chatterbox hasn’t found them) by entering the word “anal”; it just so happened that Chatterbox hadn’t actually seen for himself the much-discussed reference to “oral-anal contact” in the Starr report.

On both the Times and Post search engines, Chatterbox was given a choice between “Narrative Footnotes” (these tend to be the lurid ones) and “Grounds Footnotes” (these tend to be focused on legal issues). Chatterbox clicked “Narrative Footnotes” and got the whole batch of ‘em. What you’re supposed to do next (the Post search engine tells you this, the Times search engine doesn’t) is hit “Control” and “F” on your keyboard to search the “Narrative Footnotes.” Chatterbox did this once and found a reference to “polymerase chain reaction analysis” (something to do with FBI analysis of Monica’s famous dress stain); did it again and got “polymorphism analysis” (ditto); then did it a third time, and, bingo, hit Footnotes 209: “Lewinsky 8/26/98 Depo. At 20. They engaged in oral-anal contact as well. Id.”

Chatterbox, who’s growing weary of the evidence itself, is nonetheless impressed by the technological might being marshaled to slice and dice it.

Timothy Noah