Once Bitten, Twice Shy

William Powers and Martha Sherrill

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

William Powers and Martha Sherrill

Once Bitten, Twice Shy
An email conversation about the news of the day.
June 8 2000 10:50 AM

William Powers and Martha Sherrill

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I can't wait for you to wake up: There's tremendous news for our "Breakfast Table."  The judge who's cleaving Bill Gates' whole world in two made the big decision based on your James Salter theory from yesterday's Table. It's stunning.

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Before I explain, let me give you a strategy for reading about Microsoft today. I know you're jet-lagged and sleeping off the ambrosial wine-cache specimen (Dry Creek fumé blanc reserve '97) I handed you on your arrival home last night and you'll need some shortcuts. Anyone who, like us, has been following the Microsoft case only casually should begin today with the Washington Post's lead piece. James Grimaldi's story obviously was written and edited with the layperson in mind, and explains the decision with terrific clarity. His nut graf (paragraph 4) is the best in all the three papers we get here at home.

After reading that piece (and you can stop at the jump if you're rushed) go straight to the Wall Street Journal, where there's a piece based on an interview yesterday with the Microsoft judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson, whom WSJ writer John Wilke describes as "a bear of a man." "What happened?" asks Wilke. "Why did the judge so thoroughly reject Microsoft's defense?" Now brace yourself for Jackson's answer.

The judge himself explains: "Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus," he says, citing a Latin aphorism meaning, "Untrue in one thing, untrue in everything." "I don't subscribe to that as absolutely true," the judge says. "But it does lead one to suspicion. It's a universal human experience. If someone lies to you once, how much else can you credit as the truth?"

Isn't that exactly what you were saying about Salter? He didn't lie to you in his memoir, but he didn't tell you the whole truth about himself, and you decided you could no longer credit him as a truth-teller. Dare I wonder whether Judge Jackson read you as he was preparing his decision---or at least as he was preparing to spin his decision for the WSJ? I mean, this is Microsoft's premier publication, and one would assume the judge peeks at it occasionally to see what the lying sods of Bill's dark kingdom are up to now.

Yes, I see Jackson reading you on Salter, thumping his bearish paw on the oaken table in his chambers, and shouting, "Exactly! It's a universal experience! Clerk, get in here!" Getting the idea from inside Microsoft itself gives it extra credibility. Anyway, hats off to you for taking the Breakfast Table to new heights of influence.

I wonder if James Salter's world can be cleaved in two. Maybe we divide the nonfiction from the fiction, and only trust the latter? As you're doing your victory lap, remind me to write about yesterday's miraculous Ted Hughes Incident. I momentarily brought a great poet back from the dead! 

Now you arise, too.

BP

William Powers writes a weekly column on the media for National Journal magazine. Martha Sherrill is a former staff writer for the Washington Post, a contributing editor at Esquire, and the author of The Buddha from Brooklyn (click here to buy it).