ANALYSIS: Media Watch - Gates' words fail to impress despiteimproved court demeanor

The Microsoft antitrust trial has been underway for nearly four years, and the software giant has already been found guilty of violating the Sherman Anti-trust Act. After an appeals court overturned an order to break up the company, the Justice Department and nine states reached a settlement agreement. But a new federal judge is currently hearing arguments for tougher sanctions that nine other states and the District of Columbia believe the company should face.

The Microsoft antitrust trial has been underway for nearly four years, and the software giant has already been found guilty of violating the Sherman Anti-trust Act. After an appeals court overturned an order to break up the company, the Justice Department and nine states reached a settlement agreement. But a new federal judge is currently hearing arguments for tougher sanctions that nine other states and the District of Columbia believe the company should face.

It was in this context that Bill Gates, chairman and cofounder of Microsoft, appeared in court last month for the first time to give his sworn testimony in the case. His mission was seen as serving two purposes: staving off harsh sanctions, and trying to rehabilitate the public image of both himself and his company.

Reporting on the event focused most often on Gates' interpretation of what the states' proposed penalties would mean to Microsoft. In particular, the media focused on Gates' statements that the sanctions were so onerous and far-reaching that they "would cripple Microsoft as a technology company

(The Seattle Times, April 23).

The media also widely covered Gates' testimony that he would be forced to take the company's Windows product off the market, since he thought it would be technically impossible to separate out the operating system from the other features that have been bundled together with it over the years.

There was less coverage given to reports that called Gates' interpretations of the proposed penalties overly dramatic. Gates' view was described as "apocalyptic,

and he was often compared to Chicken Little. Former Whitewater counsel Ken Starr, now with an anti-Microsoft lobbying group, told The Boston Globe (April 23) that Gates' comments are a bunch of hyperbole based on "an unnecessarily extreme and wooden reading of the state's remedies."

But reporters also devoted attention to Gates himself. A number of newspapers and TV networks discussed how different Gates acted in court last month compared to his videotaped deposition in the original trial four years ago.

Despite concerns about his questionable interpretation of the proposed sanctions, Gates himself was described as pleasant, courteous, and thoroughly knowledgeable in his court appearance. Many observers noted that the Gates who appeared in court this time was a far cry from the arrogant, surly character who rocked nervously in his chair, mumbling about forgetting key events, and debating the meanings of the simplest words. The Chicago Tribune (April 24) and others recalled how "that tape ... played a key role in Microsoft being found guilty."

Perhaps the harshest treatment of Gates was by the well-known San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor (April 24), who wrote that Gates' "Testimony 2.0 ... hasn't fooled anyone familiar with the previous version.

Gillmor railed against Gates and Microsoft, and stated that the company's "monopoly profits ... fund an endless legal, lobbying, and PR campaign to thwart law and the public good."

As Media Watch has noted in its previous coverage of the Microsoft trial (November 1999, April 2000, and June 2000), there are a lot of mixed opinions on Microsoft and the best way to remedy the situation. Even several years after the trial first began, there seems to be little consensus in the media on the most appropriate course of action.

Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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