CyberAlert -- 04/04/2000 -- MS Lost, But Consumers Won

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MS Lost, But Consumers Won; Scandal Avoidance, Except Hillary's VRWC

1) The networks led Monday night with the "sweeping defeat for Microsoft." CBS touted "consumers" as the winners, suggesting the ruling will mean "lower prices down the road." Tom Brokaw scolded Bill Gates for his bad deposition and for not settling.

2) ABC and CBS promoted the move in Massachusetts, in the words of CBS's Jim Axelrod, to make "an end run around the traditional gun control debate by making gun safety a consumer product issue."

3) NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer raised the charge of "kidnapping" against the Miami family taking care of Elian Gonzalez.

4) "There's a decided lack of aggressive pickup on Clinton administration scandal stories these days," suggested Fox's Brit Hume to Howard Kurtz. On the e-mail scandal, The Washington Post's John Harris conceded: "We had not really taken the time to figure out what it was about...much less explaining it to our readers."

5) Today resurrected Hillary's VRWC, giving air time to the left-wing authors of a new book, "The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton." Matt Lauer wondered that as "supporters of this President" if "you've connected some dots that other people might not connect?"

Corrections. A bunch of errors in the Monday, April 3, CyberAlert kept Webmaster Andy Szul busy correcting them for the Web-posted version. First, the item on "those impersonating liberal media figures" by writing April Fools quotes, left out two contributors: Liz Swasey and Tom Johnson.
Second, an item stated "ABC initially refused to air, on Good Morning America last week, Elian saying that he does not want to return to Florida." Obviously, since he's in Florida it's Cuba to which he said he does not wish to return.
Third, the same item quoted Cal Thomas as suggesting on FNC "that if he had said he didn't want to go back to Cuba it would have been a soundbite." That should have read "if he had said he DID want to go back to Cuba."


All three broadcast network evening shows led Monday night with multiple stories on the federal judge's ruling against Microsoft after CNN, CNBC, FNC and MSNBC offered live coverage starting at 5pm ET of the announcement. The ABC, CBS and NBC stories on the ruling leaned heavily in favor of the government's case as each outlined the judge's conclusions and then only provided a quick single soundbite from Microsoft for a response.

Looking at the impact of the decision, ABC stressed how the fast pace of changes in technology make the issues in the case less relevant, but CBS News declared consumers the victor. Jerry Bowen asserted: "So what's in it for consumers if Microsoft is forced to open the window to greater competition? Maybe, lower prices down the road."

Taking advantage of its partnership with the news subject, NBC Nightly News landed the only broadcast network interview of the night with Bill Gates. (At least on the east coast feeds. Tuesday's Good Morning America ran an interview with Gates taped the night before with Charles Gibson.) Sounding like an upset Microsoft stock holder, Brokaw held Gates accountable for the court's ruling, telling Gates his deposition went over poorly and that many say he was "stubborn, even arrogant, not to try to find a way to solve this outside of court."

Here are some notes and quotes from April 3 coverage of Microsoft on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening shows:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Filling in for Peter Jennings, Gibson opened the show:
"A sweeping defeat for Microsoft today. A federal judge ruled the computer software giant quote, 'maintained its monopoly by anti-competitive means.' Microsoft stock took a tremendous beating today in anticipation of the ruling and that triggered a massive sell-off of other technology stocks. The NASDAQ market suffered its worst single day loss ever..."

"Microsoft lost on almost every point," ABC's Bob Woodruff emphasized in summarizing the judge's ruling. Woodruff did note that the decision will make it easier for other companies to win suits against Microsoft. Up next, Jack Smith looked at how "the industry is changing in ways that make the present legal face-off look less relevant." Specifically, he pointed out how operating systems are less important in new "smart devices" so Microsoft is now becoming a supplier of Internet services and software via the Web.

-- CBS Evening News. "It was a major defeat for the software giant," Eric Engberg announced before reporter Jerry Bowen decided the decision would help consumers, though it obviously hurt consumers who are also investors.

Bowen began his advocacy of the Justice Department position: "So what's in it for consumers if Microsoft is forced to open the window to greater competition? Maybe, lower prices down the road."
Kevin Fogarty, Computer World: "Reductions in price on Windows, reductions in price on desktop productivity applications like Word, and potentially reductions in the price of our PCs, as Microsoft maybe drops the price it charges to PC makers."

Bowen touted the benefits of a non-Windows world without explaining the role of the court decision in bringing that about since it was already happening: "And a computer world where Microsoft Windows isn't the dominant operating system may also be a simpler place, where consumers can find just the computerized appliance they want, without all the complicated bells and whistles. Like the hand-held organizers that don't depend on the Windows operating system, and smart phones, already here."
Peter Coffee, PC Week: "Instead of going into a computer store and seeing this ocean of beige boxes that all look the same and all work the same, you will see more opportunity for people to buy what they want to do what they want."

Bowen then undercut his argument about the benefits of the ruling by acknowledging it may never be enforced: "The real impact on consumers may not be felt for years, as Microsoft plays out its appeals. The irony is that by the time the case is over in the slow-moving justice world, the computer world that Microsoft now dominates may be a very different place."
Fogarty: "Ultimately by the end of this case, the question of whether or not Microsoft has a monopoly on operations systems may be moot, because we'll all be living on the Web."
Bowen concluded: "The World Wide Web, where every kind of program from word processing to spread sheets will be available online with the click of a button, a place where Microsoft will no doubt be a player but no longer run the show."

In other words, the marketplace will provide plenty of challenges for Microsoft and make sure consumers get the best choices.

-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw declared at the top of the program: "Tonight a federal judge threw the book at Microsoft, ruling that it blatantly broke the anti-trust laws of this country in a variety of ways. It was a tough ruling, spelled out in uncompromising language and sets the stage for an epic legal and business battle between the software giant and its billionaire officers, the federal judiciary and 19 states. Microsoft, which has a business partnership with NBC, vowed to fight on."

Pete Williams outlined the main points in the "the blistering legal opinion" and how Justice lawyer Joel Klein called it a "victory for consumers." Bill Gates got a counter soundbite before Williams ran a clip of a former Justice official predicting the judge will impose a stiff punishment. Anti-trust lawyer Matthew Schwartz got an "In His Own Words" segment to discuss the impact of the "case of the millennium."

After Mike Jensen examined the reasons behind the big NASDAQ sell off of high-tech stocks, Brokaw interviewed his business partner, Bill Gates. Brokaw's questions seemed to reflect the concerns of a Microsoft stock holder disturbed about how the company's approach to the case may have contributed to the adverse impact on the stock price:
> "Judge Jackson in his ruling ruled against you on 23 of the 26 points. Many people are going to be saying you were not only not wise you were merely stubborn, even arrogant, not to try to find a way to solve this outside of court."
> "But his ruling is bound to give others -- the states and other people who want to file class action suits against you -- a greater foundation. Don't you expect to be in court for most of your adult life now as a result of this ruling?"
> "The judge ruled that Microsoft's conduct and quoting here now, 'as a whole reinforces the conviction that it was predatory, that it would spend whatever it needed to protect its share of the marketplace.'"
> "Mr. Gates, a lot of people believe your deposition in which you claimed not to know a lot about the internal workings of Microsoft rankled this judge. As you look back on your performance during that deposition do you have any regrets?"


ABC and CBS Monday night trumpeted how Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly found a way to get around opposition to gun control by using consumer protection laws to regulate guns. On the April 3 CBS Evening News Jim Axelrod admired the tactic:
"The Massachusetts strategy amounts to an end run around the traditional gun control debate by making gun safety a consumer product issue like toys, furniture, and clothing. Instead of arguing the Second Amendment, the state simply said it had as much right to regulate the safety of real guns as it did toy guns."

Axelrod didn't bother with another point a view, running soundbites only from Reilly and a gun control advocate.

Over on ABC's World News Tonight Terry Moran traveled to Boston to tout the new strategy. After outlining how Reilly is regulating guns just like the state regulates cars, Moran ran through a list of the rules, including trigger locks, tamper resistant serial numbers, performance tests, and a warning label on every gun sold urging the owner to keep it in a locked place. Moran gave lengthy soundbites to Reilly and John Rosenthal of something called Stop Handgun Violence, before at least hinting of another point of view in allowing a short comment from Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America.

Moran concluded by justifying the new liberal maneuver: "The Massachusetts approach to gun control that begins today is just the latest example of the new dynamic in the gun debate. With Congress unable or unwilling to move on gun control issues, the states and the courts are taking the lead."


Kidnapping? Monday morning NBC's Matt Lauer raised that charge against the Miami family. MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed that on the April 3 Today Lauer repeatedly pressed Kendall Coffey, an attorney for the Miami family, about whether they will turn Elian over to his father if he comes to the United States.

At one point Lauer argued: "But let's go back here because, he has, the family has temporary custody from the INS. That was granted so that the boy would be okay in the short term. If the father comes the INS, you know, wants this young boy returned to the father so what legal right do they have to keep him from the father? That's tantamount to kidnapping."


The media's reluctance to pursue the White House e-mail scandal was the lead item in Howard Kurtz's "Media Notes" column in Monday's Washington Post. After noting how the rest of the media initially failed to pick up on Washington Times stories, he quoted Fox's Brit Hume contending: "There's a decided lack of aggressive pickup on Clinton administration scandal stories these days. This is where unconscious bias has an effect."

As the story went unreported through late March by major mainstream outlets, Washington Post reporter John Harris conceded: "We had not really taken the time to figure out what it was about, even to our own satisfaction, much less explaining it to our readers." Kurtz attributed the lack of media interest in pursuing the story to "Clinton scandal fatigue."

Here's an excerpt from Kurtz's April 3 article, titled "The Missing E-Mail: Flag for Follow-Up."

On Feb. 15, the Washington Times reported on its front page that "the White House hid thousands of e-mails" involving various administration scandals from a federal grand jury and three congressional committees.

Most of the media didn't much care. Over the next several weeks, newspaper coverage of the e-mail controversy was largely limited to a few wire-service dispatches. But on March 23, when the Justice Department announced an investigation, the story got precious seconds on the major networks, and hit the front page of the next day's New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

So is this a full-fledged scandal -- the White House insists the e-mails were inadvertently misplaced through computer glitches -- or a minor flap pumped up by a criminal probe?

"Almost every story on this has to say high up there is no evidence that these e-mails were hidden or concealed on purpose," says Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. "The key question is whether the White House or anyone else reacted appropriately after the fact. You're left in this murky zone of determining people's motivations.

"This one may turn out to be a big deal. Or it may turn out to be much ado about nothing."

Jerry Seper, the Washington Times reporter who broke the story, says he wasn't surprised by the tepid media reaction. "This ain't the first time it's happened to me," he says. "I've done stories in the past that were basically ignored until The Washington Post and the New York Times wrote it, and then it was true."

Brit Hume, Washington managing editor of Fox News, says that "there's a decided lack of aggressive pickup on Clinton administration scandal stories these days. This is where unconscious bias has an effect. People who organize their lives around a belief in media bias believe that the closer you get to an election, the more pronounced it becomes."

The impetus for the story clearly came from the conservative side of the spectrum. The allegations were first made by Sheryl Hall, former chief of White House computer operations, in an affidavit with Judicial Watch, the conservative organization that is suing the administration on a number of fronts....

As the controversy grew, the New York Times ran a staff story on March 14. John Harris, a White House correspondent for The Post, says he was gearing up for a story, covering a Burton hearing March 23, when news of the Justice probe broke -- revealing for the first time that not just incoming e-mails were involved but also those written by Vice President Gore during the 1996 fund-raising scandal.

"We felt like we were averting our gaze from this story," Harris says. "It was obviously out there percolating with unanswered questions. We had not really taken the time to figure out what it was about, even to our own satisfaction, much less explaining it to our readers."

Some journalists may be suffering from Clinton scandal fatigue. In the wake of impeachment, with less than 10 months to go in the President's term, the prospect of digging again into recycled White House scandals likely seems less enticing than covering the 2000 campaign.

But there are certainly questions for reporters to explore. Employees of a private e-mail contractor have alleged that administration officials threatened them to keep quiet about the missing records, and the White House never notified congressional investigators after learning of the vanished messages in 1998.

Throw in a federal investigation, and the belated press coverage probably won't subside for a while.

END Excerpt

We'll see. I think it already has subsided if ever really rose in the first place. As Kurtz noted, it only earned "precious seconds on the major networks." See the March 24 and 31 CyberAlerts. The first House hearing on March 23 and Justice Department announcement the same day of a probe got 20 seconds on ABC's World News Tonight, 16 seconds on NBC Nightly News, zilch the next morning on CBS and NBC while ABC's Good Morning America gave it 17 seconds.

To read all of Kurtz's Monday "Media Notes" column, go to:


Today viewers have yet heard a word about the e-mail scandal, but last Friday, the morning after a House Government Reform Committee hearing with White House counsel Beth Nolan about the e-mail, an appearance Today ignored, the NBC show devoted a segment to Hillary Clinton's contention that there is a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Today co-host Matt Lauer reminded viewers: "First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared on the Today show back in January of 1998 just after the name Monica Lewinsky had surfaced in the Paula Jones investigation." After playing the infamous soundbite from Hillary Clinton in January 1998, Lauer introduced his March 31 guests:
"Well, guess what, two writers took up that challenge and are out with a new book: The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. The authors are Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. Gentlemen, good to see you. You took up the challenge, you went out looking for that vast right wing conspiracy. Did you find it?"

Lauer ended the interview by suggesting their liberalness helped them see the conservative plot: "Do you think it's possible that being supporters of this President that you've connected some dots that other people might not connect?"

Before getting to that last inquiry, Lauer allowed them to elaborate on the "Arkansas Project" and did pose a few slightly more challenging questions, as taken down by MRC intern Ken Shepherd:

-- "You mentioned the words and it is a word game. But conspiracy, if you look it up in the dictionary means, 'an evil, unlawful, treacherous or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons.' In the book you call it a loose cabal which if you look that up in the dictionary, is very close."
Gene Lyons replied: "But it's not illegal. We leave out illegal. Although, I think actually if someone who reads our book carefully could probably make the case that any number of laws were broken at different times by different people. But an illegal conspiracy, no. In fact our book begins in the fall of 1989 with a meeting between Lee Atwater and Arkansas Republicans discussing a dirty tricks campaign to take out Bill Clinton in the 1990 Arkansas gubernatorial election."
Lauer prompted him: "Which became known as the Arkansas project?"
Joe Conason: "That was an early precursor of the Arkansas Project. The Arkansas Project became an official effort to get Clinton after he became President, which was funded by a billionaire in Pittsburgh who was very conservative named Richard Mellon Scaife and was funded through the American Spectator magazine. But, but, the idea of an Arkansas Project began with Atwater back in '89 because they were afraid in the Republican Party of Bill Clinton's presidential aspirations. They were worried about him as a candidate."

-- Lauer: "But how much of this is outside the norm. We have a two party system in this country and when one party is in power and has the White House, it's pretty standard operating procedure for the other party to find a way to undermine them. Why was this different."
Conason maintained scurrilous information was spread, the mainstream media accepted false allegations and the judicial process was co-opted.
-- Lauer: "So some people involved -- after reading portions of the book -- some people involved in this loose cabal it seemed, were merely con men type. Guys out to make a buck. Which to me, dilutes a little bit the idea that this was for ideological reasons that they gathered to bring down the President. Would that be fair?"

-- After soliciting their less than glowing opinion of Ken Starr, Lauer concluded:
"In closing, you interviewed hundreds of people for this book. You read an enormous number of documents. No one's ever accused either one of you of being great Republicans, okay. Do you think it's possible that being supporters of this President that you've connected some dots that other people might not connect?"

How about crediting Clinton's adversaries with connecting some dots his friends in the media are unable to connect. -- Brent Baker

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