How does an MS-owned magazine cover the Microsoft trial?
Carefully - but not carefully enough, judging by the numbers of reporters going through the revolving doors
Michael Kinsley is the editor of Slate, Microsoft's expensive attempt (a budget of around $5 million budget and $500,000 subscription income) at Web publishing. In covering the trial, Kinsley obviously has a problem. Kinsley asked journalist Michael Lewis, who is writing a book on Silicon Valley to handle the trial, but he didn't last long. Describing Boies' showing of the first video extract on the first day, Lewis wrote: "The moment of high drama came when Boies played short clips of Bill Gates' videotaped testimony. Back and forth he cut between memos written by Gates and the great man himself, under oath, looking as if he had swallowed a bad oyster, denying much of what he had written. In the end Gates claimed he has never even read the Justice Department's complaint against Microsoft, or even a summary of it. "At this point in his testimony a few in the crowd were actually chuckling." Not only did Lewis mock Gates, he lashed the Microsoft lawyers, suggesting that Warden was in effect a buffoon, without much experience outside the appellate courts, and who asked questions that gave the witness the chance to elaborate. Sometimes Lewis put his finger on the dilemma for Microsoft rather well: he said that "the trick for Microsoft will be to persuade the judge that it doesn't have a monopoly without also persuading the stock market." It seemed to Lewis that "Gates was a front man for whoever ran Microsoft." Lewis thought Edelman vampire-like and recounted how Microsoft blew the case after the judge had asked his own questions of Apple's Avie Tevanian and been told that integrated browsers did not particularly help consumers, and that it was possible to separate a browser from an operating system. His last paragraph, on Guy Fawkes night, included: "That's when the judge made up his mind that Microsoft was going down." Defeatist talk is not allowed at Microsoft. Kinsley wrote in an editorial that "Lewis' views do not reflect those of Slate Magazine, its editors, or its advertisers. "Especially its editors." This was the last of Lewis' coverage. The blurb that Lewis would be covering the trial was removed, and he was replaced by octogenarian Herbert Stein, a political economist. At the end of his second column, the rather dull Stein noted that McGeady was outwitting the Microsoft legal team, and that he personally would not be returning to the courtroom. It was then the turn of Jodie Allen, Slate's Washington editor, who declared that she would not pretend to be objective - after all, she worked for Microsoft. She couldn't help but note that Microsoft's lawyers, Sullivan & Cromwell of New York, were "arrogant", whereas the DoJ's David Boies was "easy and charming". In her second report, she declared she hadn't "been so bored since fourth-grade grammar class", and made the mistake of saying her "chairman looks like a kid in after-school detention" during his deposition". So guess what happened next? That's right, a new hand was sent in to pen the reports. David Plotz is a writer for Slate, and looks as though he wants to stay in the job, so his only risque line was to say that when consultant Frederick Warren-Boulton was asked about the AOL-Netscape deal and replied that "Netscape had been forced to the wall", he didn't need to add "by Microsoft" because everybody in the courtroom knew that he inferred this. Slate was founded in an attempt to blaze a trail for 'ordinary' (as opposed to specialist IT) magazines on the Web, and star editor Kinsley was imported to give it weight and independence. But the super-rich proprietor is a challenge for editorial independence at the best of times. Now the super-rich proprietor is the story too, and Kinsley's looks like the job from hell. ® Complete Register trial coverage