Autonobook on Tue, 21 Apr 1998 17:49:06 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> [NETINSIDER] Microsoft's Propaganda Campaign
Microsoft's Propaganda Campaign: The Best Press Money Can Buy?
By Brooke Shelby Biggs

The irony from Redmond just never stops.

According to highly sensitive, confidential documents obtained by the
Los Angeles Times (more on that irony later), Microsoft has been
planning an unethical media strategy to win back the public's good
faith. Mind you, this is the good faith Microsoft lost after being
accused of using business practices that were illegal and, well,

Perhaps you should sit down while the shock wears off.

This points up the real problem with Microsoft's positioning itself as a
media company. If it owns the airwaves (or can buy them), it can
manipulate public opinion.

The details of this covert PR campaign are hilariously shocking.
Microsoft planned to commission news articles, letters to the editor,
and op-ed testimonials, written by Microsoft's own spinmeisters, but
signed and submitted by local businesspeople who would be paid for their
efforts. All this chicanery to create the appearance of a vast
grassroots groundswell of public affection for Microsoft.

No, really: Paid agents of Microsoft would fake these heartfelt
expressions of brand loyalty and slip them past the media gatekeepers,
and there they would be in the newspapers on breakfast tables
nationwide. You can't buy advertising that good, obviously, or Microsoft
would have done that instead.

It lends a whole new meaning to the term "making news."

How tough do you suppose it would be for Microsoft to get these stories
on MSNBC or in Slate? And there have been rumors circulating within the
print journalism crowd that Microsoft might be looking to buy several
newspapers to expand its media empire. How handy might that be?

Yet even without these channels, news organizations would certainly bite
if offered something other than the "evil empire" spin from the usual
suspects in the software business community. Of course, the reason the
pro-Microsoft perspective is so fresh and alluring is because actual
local businessmen don't feel that way.

But the capper is that Microsoft's spokespeople denied the plan, then
denied the denial. How very Microsoft.

If you think Microsoft would never be so brazen as to control the news,
then have a look at the MSNBC website archives and search on the words
"Microsoft" and "antitrust." The top article when I last looked was a
soft-pedaled blurb about the news that 12 states were on the verge of
suing Microsoft individually. (Notably, the documents the LA Times
uncovered mentioned the 12 attorneys general of those states as primary
targets for the PR campaign. It wasn't just public favor Microsoft was
manufacturing -- it was legal hay.)

Better yet, try to find mention of the Microsoft media blitz story.
Despite the fact the story was carried by both the Reuters and AP wires,
CNN, ABC News, The Washington Post, and dozens of other mainstream news
operations, Microsoft's own news outlet stayed mum.

Yet the calmness with which the online media has taken this story is the
most unnerving thing of all. David Coursey, commentator at ZDNN, had
this blase question for readers: "So, Microsoft wants to encourage its
friends to make a loud noise on its behalf  -- do you really think
Netscape hasn't been trying to do the same thing? Or any other group
with interests in Washington?"

Problem is, there's a big difference between "encouraging friends" and
"pimping for lackeys." This was a plan to deceive editors and plant
stories deceptively portrayed as spontaneous to create the false
illusion of public support for the company. It wasn't just one guy
asking his buddies to put in a good word for him.

It is an old ploy. The U.S. government (and probably dozens of other
nation states) has used it in its efforts to turn Cubans against Castro
and Nicaraguans against the Sandanistas. Sociologists call it "black

>From Paul Linebarger's 1948 study entitled Psychological Warfare: 

Black propaganda operations, by definition, are operations in which the
source of the propaganda is disguised or misrepresented in one way or
another so as not to be attributable to the people who really put it

Coursey's justification that "everybody's doing it" ignores the fact
that what everybody does -- aggressive public relations -- is white
propaganda. Microsoft's exposed plan was a blatant case of the black
variety. It clearly planned to use the media, which trades on its
objectivity, as a pawn for its own ends by means of deceit.

But I have to say that I got a chuckle out of reading the story in the
LA Times. This is the newspaper that, under cereal tycoon Mark Willes,
has decided to merge the advertising and editorial sections of the
newspaper, subordinating news judgment to the bottom line. Each section
actually has to account for profit and loss. If a story about George
Michael's spanking the monkey in a public restroom makes more papers fly
off the shelves than that downer story on Bosnian atrocities, well then,
Wham! There's your lead story. Selling editorial space is a heartbeat

The LA Times and Microsoft's marketing department: two peas in a pod.
Stay tuned for updates on merger negotiations, and imagine -- MSLAT.
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