Media Reality Check
  Notable Quotables
  Press Releases
  Media Bias Videos
  30-Day Archive
  The Watchdog
  About the MRC
  MRC in the News
  Support the MRC
  Planned Giving
  What Others Say
  Take Action
  Gala and DisHonors
  Best of NQ Archive
MRC Resources
  Site Search
  Media Addresses
  Contact MRC
  Comic Commentary
  MRC Bookstore
  Job Openings
  News Division
  NewsBusters Blog
  Business & Media Institute
  Culture and Media Institute

Support the MRC


What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

Tell a friend about this site

Friday, April 7, 2000

Volume 8, Number 7

TV Reporters Aghast at Stock Slide, but Not At Government Prosecution of Microsoft

On Monday, April 3, federal Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson finally issued his expected ruling that Microsoft had illegally "maintained its monopoly by anti-competitive means," a decision that sets the stage for the potential break-up of the giant software company.

The very next night, the broadcast and cable networks offered extensive coverage of the stock market’s nail-biting performance, after both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the NASDAQ Composite swung more than 700 points on Tuesday, a record.

"If you watched it hour by hour, it was a disaster," said ABC’s Charles Gibson at the start of Tuesday’s World News Tonight. CBS’s Anthony Mason called it a "one-day whipsaw," while NBC’s Tom Brokaw termed it a "bungee jump, a roller coaster ride and a near-death experience all rolled into one heart-stopping day."

Most network reporters pointed to the usual suspects: inflated stock values, margin calls, uncertainty over the Federal Reserve’s next action. On the evening newscasts, only one correspondent -- CNBC’s Ron Insana -- pointed to the government’s pursuit of Microsoft as a cause for Tuesday’s market turmoil, even though the plunge in technology stocks had obviously accelerated after negotiations between the company and government lawyers failed over the weekend.

"Did the decision against Microsoft have any impact on the market?" Insana asked on NBC Nightly News on April 4. "It may have. Investors are worried now about government intervention and business. They say this could have a chilling effect on the market, asking whether technological innovation will be stifled in the future."

For its part, CBS didn’t make any connection between the Microsoft ruling and the market’s volatility on Tuesday, while ABC’s Betsy Stark dismissed the notion of a link.

"[Monday’s] plunge in technology stocks could be blamed at least partly on Microsoft," Stark reported on April 4, "but the broad-based decline the first half of today, which scorched both old and new economy stocks, was driven largely by momentum."

That explanation lets the government off too easily, argued economist Lawrence Kudlow. He noted that Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein, who heads the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, hailed Judge Jackson’s "landmark opinion" which, Klein said, will "set the ground rules for enforcement in the Information Age."

"Set the ground rules for enforcement? It is exactly these regulatory attitudes that sent a very cold chill down the spine of the NASDAQ stock market index, including dozens of company shares whose CEOs thought they might benefit from Microsoft’s regulatory and legal demise," Kudlow wrote in an April 5 commentary for CNBC.com.

"Think again, fellas," Kudlow warned. "When Uncle Sam starts on a trust-busting tear, plenty of unsuspecting victims fall prey to its anti-market and anti-growth illogic."

"The NASDAQ carnage has been wide-ranging," wrote the American Enterprise Institute’s James Glassman in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal. "And why not? The Internet intervention of government, often in league with trial lawyers, threatens every high-tech firm in America."

NASDAQ investors lost more than $500 billion on Monday and Tuesday, although gains on Wednesday and Thursday somewhat mollified the losses for those who didn’t sell. While the Clinton administration’s pursuit of Microsoft isn’t to blame for all of those losses, it’s certainly been a contributing factor, as Glassman and Kudlow argued. Largely as a consequence of the judge’s negative ruling, Microsoft’s market worth declined nearly 20 percent in four days, from a close of $106 per share on Friday -- before the collapse in negotiations -- to just $86 per share when the final bell rang on Thursday.

For the approximately 2 million Microsoft shareholders, that’s a loss of value of about $100 billion but, since nearly every mutual fund in the country has a stake in Microsoft, the losses could affect tens of millions of people -- and the bleeding could grow if the government imposes a "remedy" that investors see as damaging to the company’s long-term profitability.

The Clinton administration has justified its intervention as a way to help consumers supposedly victimized by Microsoft’s monopoly. "Today’s ruling makes absolutely clear how important it is to vigorously enforce our antitrust laws," declared Attorney General Janet Reno on Monday. "Such enforcement gives the consumers the benefit of competition."

But a poll taken after the ruling by Rasmussen Research showed that consumers aren’t buying the government’s line. The survey found that 67 percent of the public thought Microsoft had been good for consumers, and more people said the Justice Department’s prosecution had been bad for consumers (39%) than beneficial (23%), although a large percentage (39%) were undecided. By a nearly three-to-one margin (48% to 14%), respondents said they did not want to see Microsoft broken up by the government.

ABC’s Jack Smith probably had it about right when he reported on Monday’s World News Tonight that "the [software] industry is changing in ways that make the present legal face-off look less relevant....By the time the appeals in this case are exhausted, the industry may have changed so much, it is not clear if many of the remedies being contemplated will work or even be necessary."

Most of the recent news coverage hasn’t scrutinized the wisdom of the government’s continued pursuit of Microsoft. But if there’s only a slim chance that the benefit to consumers of prosecuting Microsoft will offset the financial losses to tens of millions of shareholders, now might be a very good time for reporters to start asking the Clinton administration some tough questions, before they ask the judge to impose a "remedy" that does more harm than good.


Rich Noyes


Home | News Division | Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts 
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact the MRC | Subscribe

Founded in 1987, the MRC is a 501(c) (3) non-profit research and education foundation
 that does not support or oppose any political party or candidate for office.

Privacy Statement

Media Research Center
325 S. Patrick Street
Alexandria, VA 22314