Microsoft, Election 2005, Media

Microsoft

Depending on who tells the story, Microsoft either chickened out when threatened with a Christian boycott of its software or chickened out long before that. Or it didn't chicken out, it merely had other priorities—no, really. In any event, the company did not come out in favor of HB 1515, the gay-rights bill, which it has endorsed in past years, and that bill failed in the state Senate last week by one vote—not that Microsoft's lack of opinion had anything to do with it (and it shouldn't). It says something about Microsoft, though, that there is so much confusion among so many people, inside and outside the company, as to the reason for neutrality this time. It also says something that the humility-challenged Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond came away thinking that Microsoft's newly neutral stance on gay rights was all his doing. Even if it was, you don't let a guy with a 3,500-member congregation leave your office thinking so. Perhaps he is mistaken. Meanwhile, in various blogs (here and here, for example), Microsoft employees are lashing CEO Steve Ballmer, who conceded in a weekend crisis-management e-mail that he and Chairman Bill Gates are wrestling over whether publicly advocating a value the company embraces internally, but "on which our employees and shareholders hold widely divergent opinions," is the right thing for a publicly traded company to do. Besides, wrote Ballmer: "What message does the company taking a position send to its employees who have strongly-held beliefs on the opposite side of the issue?" Um, well, they work under rules that embrace that position. If it's such a matter of principle, why don't they quit? Wrote company technical evangelist Rob Scoble in his personal blog: "Steve, I'm sad. Very sad. This is leadership? What if we were a company in Germany in the 1930s? Would we have taken the same position you just did?" In an interview with The Seattle Times, Gates said the company might reconsider its stance next time. CHUCK TAYLOR

Election 2005

The so-called top-two primary is about to be challenged in court. In November, Washingtonians approved Initiative 872, establishing a September primary that sends the two candidates with the most votes in any give race to November's general election—regardless of their party. State Republican Party Chair Chris Vance says, "Sometime soon there will be a lawsuit filed, probably in federal court, saying the top-two primary is a violation of the First Amendment." Paul Berendt, Vance's Democratic counterpart, says his party will support the GOP's lawsuit. Last week, the GOP wrote all of Washington's 39 county election departments to say it would not allow the top-two primary to function as envisioned. Instead, Republicans will nominate a single candidate for each race for this September's primary using county caucuses and conventions. In King County, precinct caucuses will be held May 17. That's not to say someone else who is Republican couldn't file for a race, but Republicans assert that only candidates of their choosing can identify themselves as Republican on the primary ballot. Democrats assert the same, although this year they will use a different process: Precinct committee officers will nominate candidates. Some elections officials are expected to dispute the parties' right to control the use of "Republican" and "Democrat" on the ballot. Vance says the GOP hopes the court will toss out the top-two primary, as happened with the state's previous primary election form, the blanket primary. Failing that, Republicans hope the courts will uphold the parties' First Amendment right of free association to nominate a single standard-bearer for the primary ballot through a process of its choosing. GEORGE HOWLAND JR.

Media

The article ran nearly 1,400 words, but the only revelation came near the end. In a survey of America's alternative weeklies for England's Guardian newspaper April 18, Jeff Koyen cited a "plausible" rumor that Phoenix-based New Times, owner of 11 U.S. free weeklies, would "assume a controlling interest in Village Voice Media later this year"—Seattle Weekly being one of the six papers owned by New York-based VVM. According to Koyen, "representatives of New Times did not answer repeated requests for comment." We asked our top exec, Village Voice Media CEO David Schneiderman, who replied: "As a matter of policy, we never comment on rumors." So that leaves Koyen's claim in midair. There's precedent for rapprochement between the rival chains: In 2003, they were disciplined by the U.S. Justice Department for anticompetitive behavior in Los Angeles and Cleveland. Arguing for an acquisition's plausibility is the Guardian's reputation. Against it is author Koyen's well-known contempt for almost all of America's alt-weeklies, which he calls, among other things, "unimaginative swill," "a heart-breaking waste of print," and "completely out of touch with the younger folk." He reserves his deepest contempt for VVM's flagship Village Voice. Perhaps his idea of what an alternative paper ought to be is captured in the title of the piece that recently caused Koyen to quit the job of editor of Voice competitor The New York Press: "The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope." ROGER DOWNEY

 
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