suck harder.
a fish, a barrel, and a smoking rejection.
for 25 July 1996. Updated WHENEVER we get a submission.

the fish
Citizen Gates



Bill Gates has trouble seeing

lines, and crosses them with

alarming frequency. Unfortunately,

his latest forays into the strange

new world of content creation

- Slate and MSNBC -

give him thousands of subtle,

sensitive and important lines to

steam-roll right over.


No longer content to simply produce

the tools of the information

revolution, Gates has bought into

the classic Orwellian ideal and is

intent on controlling its language

and ideas as well; combine this with

his ego, his thin skin and his

omnivorous ambition, and a towering

figure rises from history: the media

baron, the self-serving newspaper

mogul - Citizen Gates.


The creation of content, especially

journalism, is a powerful tool

towards the molding of public

opinion and while Gates' only

motivation may be to pad his ever-

expanding bank account, he is

undoubtedly willing to crush

anything in his way, journalistic

ethics included. Though Slate and

MSNBC are presented as traditional

media - nothing more, nothing less -

their paternity must make them

immediately suspect.


[Janet Reno]

Though rarely taken as far as a

court of law, Microsoft has the

well-deserved reputation of pushing

the ethical envelope; of, ah,

cheating. Though the Justice

Department has decided that it

is safer not to make an enemy of the

richest man in America, Gates'

business sense is well-known and

much-feared. Every one of

Microsoft's indiscretions, of

course, makes good business sense -

you take advantage of your

strengths. Are they ethical? Who

cares? In the hyper-competitive

world of Bill Gates, it hardly



[Charles Foster Kane]

But that attitude, that unceasing

desire to win at any cost, is

dangerous - even evil - when applied

to content creation, especially

journalism. Distasteful as the

specter of unfair business practices

is, the notion of unethical

journalism, of news outlets

controlled by the whim of powerful

men, harkens to days long and

hopefully forever dead. But Bill

Gates has the temperament, the

money, and - soon - the media to

grow into a latter-day Charles

Foster Kane, an editor of final

review. Gates may not wield the blue

pencil himself, but his attitude,

his opinions and certainly his

shadow hover over everything that he

pays for.


Witness Slate, "best viewed with the

Microsoft Internet Explorer."

Michael Kinsley is a journalist of

some renown, and is respected in

many quarters. But to watch him try

to hide what must be his profound

embarrassment at shilling for some

bad-haircut geek behind the pathetic

fig leaf of "Does Microsoft Play

Fair?" (Answer: Uh... Dunno.) is

indicative of things to come. This

is hard-hitting reporting? This is

an on-line magazine for political

and cultural thinkers? No, this is a

preventative strike, an excuse.

Whatever Slate's virtues, the sad

little baby slap Kinsely laid on his

boss is the result of Gates'

temperament and patience; the issue

has been dealt with, move on. Slate

will likely never deal with

Microsoft, or questions of its

fairness and corporate ethics,

again. At least we won't have to

read any more Steve Ballmer.


Of course, traditional journalism

hasn't been faring very well of

late, either. Is it coincidence that

Time ran a cover story on tornadoes

when corporate bed-made Warner

Brothers has "Twister" in the

theaters? Isn't it odd that the

local Fox affiliate will run a

"must-see" 30-second report on

"ALIENS AMONG US!" Friday night after

"The X-Files"? In an era when the

boundaries of entertainment and news

blur to the point of non-existence,

when the cost of prostituting

journalistic principles is a few

bucks, when the constant thump-

thump-thump you hear is Edward R.

Murrow spinning in his grave,

perhaps one more rung down the

latter won't matter all that much.


For example, NBC, the other half of

MSNBC, is hardly a bastion of

journalistic integrity, despite its

supposed grounding in classic news

production. The destruction of a GM

truck by a "Dateline NBC" firebomb

is an egregious example of the

Responsible Adult going completely

nuts. This is the organization

that's supposed to control the

editorial content of MSNBC, thus

freeing us from worrying about

Microsoft's influence?


The computer world has long produced

news outlets sunk neck-deep

in the industry they cover, like

Kane's papers featuring his election

bid. c|net and Ziff-Davis both walk

this ethically iffy tightrope,

occasionally (or more than

occasionally) tumbling into the

muck. Auto-fellation is often

the order of the day. And maybe

this article is simply an elaborate

ploy by Wired Ventures, which owns

Suck, to take a small piece out of

a soon-to-be-prominent media rival.

But as bad any of these companies

can be, Microsoft is the only one

that brings to the production of

journalism the powerful reek of past

sins, of greed, of self-promotion,

of using its 800 pounds to tip the

playing field whichever way it can.

Microsoft is the only one that

brings Bill Gates.



Only the hopeful or hopelessly naive

could even entertain the notion that

Gates won't take advantage of the

delivery channel of his dreams,

simply because it would be

unethical, simply because it would

make a mockery of decades of

journalistic tradition. Holed up in

his Seattle-area Xanadu, Gates

won't be left muttering about some

rusty childhood sled; he'll be

issuing commands to on-air anchors.


In these days of diminished

expectations, perhaps its enough

that Internet Explorer doesn't flash

subliminal messages - "Netscape bad!" -

at you while you work.


Of course, maybe it does...

courtesy of An Entirely Other Greg

the barrel

the gun