IJMC - Microsoft's Propaganda Campaign: The Best Press Money Can Buy?
Don't worry...this is probably the last Microsoft post for a while...
unless someone submits another one soon. But that's ok, Microsoft just
hasn't been funny for a while. Big and dangerous, yes. Funny? Not since
that pie in the face...and the video clips of that just weren't good
enough. I think someone should stage another, but should get Spielberg to
direct the pie throw... -dave
[BTW, this one's verifiable...April 10, 1998...CNN, LA Times among others]
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 Salvadorans against the
Sandanistas. Sociologists call it "black propaganda."
>From Paul Linebarger's 1948 study entitled Psychological
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 out.
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.
Brooke Shelby Biggs is a San Francisco-based freelance
journalist specializing in digital culture and new media.
She is a founding member of the Technorealism group, and a
host of the technology news forum on Netscape's NetCenter.