Early this month, Microsoft founder Bill Gates made the news by
coming to Washington, D.C. to defend his company against charges
that it was a monopoly. The networks gave Gates’ testimony before
the Senate Judiciary Committee ample air time, but failed to present
viewers with the most persuasive case free-market advocates make in
defending Microsoft against government antitrust bureaucrats.
Media Research Center analysts reviewed all of the stories about
the Microsoft case on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News,
NBC Nightly News, and CNN’s World Today during the first
two weeks of March. There were a total of nine stories about the
Redmond, Washington software giant’s troubles with the Justice
All the stories thoroughly reported the case against Microsoft.
Dan Rather, on the March 3 CBS Evening News, wondered whether
"some policing may be needed along the information superhighway,"
where "fellow-travelers say Gates is trying to run them off the
road." Expanding on this theme, correspondent Sharyl Attkisson added
that "Microsoft told computer makers that if they wanted to install
Windows, they’d have to carry Microsoft’s browsers, not their
rivals’. The government said that was anti-competitive and illegal,
and ordered it stopped."
That evening’s ABC World News Tonight devoted three full
stories to the case. Correspondent Linda Douglas first reported that
rival computer companies "charge Microsoft is using unfair tactics
to try to dominate access to the Internet." In the second report,
correspondent Jack Smith visited Microsoft rival Netscape’s
headquarters. The report was entirely from Netscape’s point of view,
with Smith charging that Microsoft "forced computer makers to take
its version [of Internet browser] by using its dominance of the
software that makes most of the world’s computers work." This, Smith
said, lets Microsoft "call the shots."
ABC’s third report of the evening featured Peter Jennings
interviewing journalists Gina Smith and Robert Cringely. They both
agreed that Microsoft was a threat to consumers. Accused Cringely:
"If a Japanese or Korean company was doing what Microsoft has done
with the distribution of Internet Explorer, it would be called
Only NBC Nightly News interviewed an independent critic of
the Justice Department. On March 3, correspondent Pete Williams
reported that "some in Congress worry that Microsoft is too big, a
monopoly threatening to dominate the computer Internet." But he also
ran a soundbite from the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy, who
equated Justice’s case against Microsoft with its case years ago
against IBM: "It was resolved not by lawyers in the Department of
Justice, but by guys like Bill Gates working out of the backs of
garages and dreaming up products that Justice Department lawyers
never even imagined could exist."
But there’s one thing all these reports ignored — Microsoft’s
spotty record in tying products to its operating system.
Levy, in a Cato Policy Analysis, points out that a look at the
last time Microsoft was accused of an anti-competitive tying
arrangement should ease monopoly concerns. In 1995, "Antitrust
Division head [Anne] Bingaman was reportedly concerned about the
link between Windows 95 and the Microsoft Network (MSN), an Internet
service provider intended to compete against America Online (AOL),
Compuserve, and others." Learning that Windows 95 users could, with
a few mouse clicks, bring up an AOL or Compuserve icon, the Justice
Department dropped its threat to stop sales of Windows 95.
"In retrospect," Levy argues, "Bingaman’s concern was just plain
silly. MSN now loses an estimated $200 million annually providing
service to fewer than three million customers. AOL, by contrast, has
nine million subscribers and will add nearly three million more with
its acquisition of Compuserve’s consumer business." According to
Levy, "Whatever competitive advantage Microsoft may enjoy in the
sale of operating systems, the company has been singularly
ineffectual in leveraging that advantage. Customers refuse to buy a
product they do not like." No report mentioned this argument.
Levy further notes that Microsoft could comply with Justice
Department orders by offering Windows 95 without its Internet
browser at the same price it offers Windows 95 with the browser.
"It’s all quite remarkable; [the Justice Department’s] stance is
unfathomable. Essentially, [it] is bent on forcing Microsoft to
offer PC makers an inferior product." Reporters have yet to explain
how this will help computer buyers.