Ohio's Attorney General Gives the Media a Break

SAN FRANCISCO (01/27/2000) - There's nothing more boring than a lawsuit that becomes a battle of the briefs. So when the Associated Press reported that the Ohio attorney general wasn't entirely sold on the idea of a Microsoft breakup, the press was off and running on the news - and on a hunt for other defectors, among the 18 other states that are plaintiffs in the antitrust suit.

AP's report hit the wires on the same day that the feds had turned in their latest legal brief. The New York Times dutifully reported on the government's latest volley, pegging it as "stinging and disdainful." The Washington Post called it "needling" and reported that it accused Redmond of defending itself by taking "potshots" at Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's findings of fact and treating his conclusion that the company enjoys monopoly power as "nearly an afterthought."

But news of the latest brief played second banana to AP's account of a break in the states' ranks. AP's Ted Bridis quoted Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery as saying that a breakup of Microsoft "has never been on my top list." She added, "I indicated to my staff when we started this lawsuit that I was not looking out for a structural solution as much as a conduct solution."

Bridis also reported that an unnamed official in another state had hinted that a breakup might be too disruptive for consumers.

Because Judge Jackson had asked the plaintiffs to present a unified front, Montgomery's statement qualified as Big News. The New York Times and MSNBC ran AP's quote from the attorney general. The Washington Post included news of Montgomery's opinion but didn't attribute it to the wire service. At the Los Angeles Times, Jube Shiver Jr. reported that two other state officials also have doubts about a Microsoft breakup. Both officials spoke to Shiver off the record - but you can rule out Wisconsin, Utah, Iowa and New York, all of whom declined to either comment to Shiver on Montgomery's misgivings or elaborate on their own views about a remedy. Shiver's reporting indicated that he planned to run with the story: He pegged the "new dissension" as "the most significant division to develop among the Justice Department and the 19 states behind the Microsoft antitrust suit since South Carolina withdrew from the case 13 months ago."

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