MS makes Dow Jones eat ‘breakup clause’ story

It'd be even funnier if we hadn't followed it up ourselves...

In a rare victory Microsoft seems to have Dow Jones Newswire on the floor in tears, and has extracted a grovelling apology and correction. Dow Jones had reported that new Microsoft contracts, apparently drawn up with the possibility of Judge Jackson deciding to smash the company into little pieces in mind, covered for the eventuality. Defeatist lawyering? Well no, because the contracts don't seem to have been anything of the kind. The contracts, in fact, as Dow Jones whimperingly admitted yesterday, weren't even one contract. And the clause wasn't even a clause. Nor was it inserted by Microsoft's lawyers. It was, er, included in a draft contract between Microsoft and, er, Dow Jones. The whole thing would be even funnier if The Register hadn't followed up the original Dow Jones story as well, but in mitigation we plead that it was a damn convincing one. The Dow Jones apology* doesn't specify the origin of the clause, but a gleeful Microsoft shows no mercy. Microsoft says that Dow Jones attorneys inserted the clause in the draft, and that Microsoft attorneys promptly chopped it out again. Swelling up to full Redmond Poison Toad size, Microsoft's statement thunders: "In addition, the fact that a draft legal document being negotiated between Microsoft and Dow Jones was apparently shared between the Dow Jones business and news divisions raises serious potential ethical and professional issues." Well content/archive/84-doody, there would appear to be evidence of a shocking breach of trust somewhere along the line. The Dow Jones correction says that the "Microsoft Contract Story Had Substantial Errors." But that doesn't really give you the full flavour of the original. It begins: "This time, Microsoft's lawyers may have gone too far." Then it explains the new clause, and gets an antitrust attorney to surmise that "it reflects careful lawyering on their part, but it reflects a recognition that certain things are in the realm of possibility." Scene nicely set, right? Then we get the Microsoft denial of knowledge of the clause, then (and this is one of the oldest gags in the book) the Redmond spokesperson is induced to speculate that Microsoft's business partners may have requested it.** The anonymous spokesperson is no doubt currently being dragged by the heels back and forth along Microsoft Way. But yes, then we have sign-off. Attorney Paul DeStafano is then quoted as saying that "clients of his were put at ease by [the clause's] presence." So there you have it. The original story puts Microsoft's lawyers in the frame from the off, then gets a plausible explanation from another source who was probably just commenting on what he heard from the reporter, nails the MS PR flack, then tacitly suggests this is a new standard contract by getting another attorney to effectively suggest that a number of his clients are participating in such contracts. We fear the reporter may be being dragged behind a chariot as well... * As Dow Jones has apologised, we should too. We're sorry, the story was wrong, but it was all Dow Jones' fault, OK? ** Register tip for PR spinmeisters: Sooner or later, some goddam journalist is going to phone you up claiming something you've never heard about but that is deeply damaging is now in the public domain, and is going to be plastered all over the papers unless you do something about it now. In the UK the classic example is Daily Mail vs Hackney Council press office, where the mug in the latter was persuaded to try to explain the new (and entirely imaginary) Hackney schools anti-racist policy which involved changing the nursery rhyme words to: "Ba, ba green sheep, have you any wool?" Explanation is confirmation - don't go down that road, spinmeister. ®

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