Understanding Microsoft

Part 50. The Golden Goose

They will complain and fuss and moan and groan about Microsoft, but the computer trade press just can't bring themselves to stand up for an alternative -- to say "instead of Microsoft" -- because they just can't kick the habit. The habit is, of course, money.

No, this isn't about payola or any of the other crooked schemes to control the marketplace and sap it of its freedom of choice; instead, this is about the cowardice that inhabits the modern journalistic empires, empires bought and paid for by major corporations like General Electric, Westinghouse, and Capital Cities. Empires that, once wealthy beyond any ancient king's fantasies, begin hedging their bets when it comes to the news that they display before the public. Whereas the classic old movies showed journalists and newsmen as courageous investigators, today's crop of writers and editors feel compelled to pull their punches for fear of getting canned.

It's not just the relationships that these information empires have with their parent corporations, or with Microsoft -- although the threat of having their software licenses pulled always looms -- but rather the simple fact that unlike the mythical Randy Stone of "Night Beat" or other heroic portrayals of the news media, the mere ownership by a major corporation makes a news outlet fearful of doing anything that's not a "sure thing." To challenge a major supplier, to expose a corporate partner's crimes, to pull the plug on a consistent and reliable source of news stories, any of these acts could have a crippling effect on the parent company's business condition or even lead to major lawsuits. The risk of getting canned is a lot higher when the boss is not just a former reporter, but rather an appointee approved by a huge international conglomerate, a person whose main interest is keeping the parent company happy by being just controversial enough to be interesting -- but not controversial enough to kill the Golden Goose that keeps bringing forth the valuable eggs (stories).

This is why journals like *Info World* and *PC Week* constantly pander to the Microsoft agenda: because there's a lot of money at stake. If Microsoft goes down, their "sure thing" will be gone as well. That would mean WORK -- that would mean suddenly having to decide to recommend one choice from among competing products that don't have a monopoly position. That would mean RISK -- every article would have a significant chance of being so far off base as to become a laughingstock. That would mean advertising money might not necessarily flow as freely since so many other companies have bet their whole roll on Microsoft as well.

It has been said that a free press is necessary for a free society. However, the degree of freedom is liable to be squelched by the amount of financial interest at stake with every story. This is why Microsoft can get away with various shenanigans as long as the computer industry economy is robust, because nobody wants to risk killing the golden goose when the money keeps rolling in. Politicians and wheeler-dealers can always get away with more when the economic conditions make the agenda a case of "let the good times roll."

Most recent revision: April 18, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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