This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Media Unspun email newsletter and is Copyright 2002 by Keith Dawson.
M E D I A   U N S P U N
The Endless Trial, Part XIX

Late yesterday the Justice Department announced that the judge weighing the Microsoft antitrust case will issue "opinions" at 4:30 Eastern time today. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has two intertwined tasks before her: Rule thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the settlement Microsoft and the DoJ signed (with half of the 18 complaining states); and decide what to do about the far harsher remedies proposed by the nine remaining states. For a refresher course on what the judge's options are and what the various proposed antitrust remedies could mean to Microsoft, see Matt Berger's bulleted summary in Information World.

Outlets had to cover the news that in 24 hours there will be big news -- the Boston Globe called the cases "the most significant antitrust rulings since the Bell telephone system was broken up" -- but they didn't have to like it. Especially in early stories, most outlets didn't so much as call a friendly law professor for a comment. This morning the New York Times headlined the story high but ran five paragraphs; in the Wall Street Journal the headline linked to an unsigned "online news roundup."

"Another year, another ruling," sighed the Register. And who could disagree? The time mismatch between the worlds of jurisprudence and technology has never been more stark. The Microsoft case has dragged on for four years now. Most outlets noted that any of the parties to the complex cases could file an appeal. The AP's D. Ian Hopper was more forthcoming: "Microsoft already has indicated that it plans to appeal to the Supreme Court if necessary." We may not see an end to it until 2005.

There was little in the announcement to speculate on, but reporters seized on what little there was, particularly how long it took to get this far and the use of plurals in the announcement itself: the judge "will issue Opinions in the Microsoft cases." On the first point, an early story by the AP's Ted Bridis made an observation that much of the later coverage echoed: "Many trial observers -- even Microsoft supporters -- have said the length of time Judge Kollar-Kotelly took to reach her decision might suggest she was leaning toward rejecting the settlement." Hopper's later AP story quoted a law professor: "I think it means the states are going to get something." But by the time they get it, will anybody care? - Keith Dawson

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