Don Cullars didn’t know he was going to be sued by IBM, but Dave Collins, the television news reporter, sure did. IBM’s lawyer had alerted the reporter a day or so before IBM went to court. Joanne Skoog, the editor of the weekly Business Journal of Charlotte, North Carolina, where the suit was later filed, […]
Don Cullars didn’t know he was going to be sued by IBM, but Dave Collins, the television news reporter, sure did. IBM’s lawyer had alerted the reporter a day or so before IBM went to court. Joanne Skoog, the editor of the weekly Business Journal of Charlotte, North Carolina, where the suit was later filed, knew too. An IBM public relations guy in Charlotte, Bob Page, had called her two days before the litigation began. Kathy Payton, the reporter working for Skoog, who eventually wrote an article about the suit, was in in the know. So was Jim Barnett, on the business desk of the News & Observer newspaper in nearby Raleigh. We’re surprised Cullars didn’t fully realise what was about to happen to him. Barnett had called to tell Cullars that IBM was about to haul the computer dealer and his company, American Data, into Federal Court. Barnett called Cullars on Thursday morning, October 15, to talk about the pending suit, which would have been news to Cullars. But Cullars wasn’t in, so Barnett left a message.
They did talk, later. On Saturday morning, October 17, Cullars got a call from one of his 20 employees. If he wasn’t wide awake before picking up his phone, he certainly was afterwards, because that call told him his company was famous on television. A story on the prior evening’s 11.00 news broadcast of WCNC, the Charlotte NBC affiliate, said IBM had charged American Data, along with half a dozen other companies, with trafficking in counterfeit circuit boards and bootleg microcode. More than that, the television story suggested that Cullars and his co-defendants might be responsible, or partially responsible, for an undetermined number of deaths and injuries. The television station news people knew their story was right because IBM told it to them. Mike McCoy, IBM’s lawyer, had explained it all to reporter Collins… well before IBM actually filed its lawsuit. McCoy said that the people named in IBM’s lawsuit were dealing in inauthentic versions of circuitry IBM calls feature 3100 and illegally copying some computer programs IBM calls feature 5010. McCoy explained that these things soup up a box called the 3174 Establishment Controller, which connects terminals to IBM mainframe computers. McCoy, whose firm Bell, Seltzer, Park & Gibson represents IBM locally, also told Collins where 3174s were used. The most dramatic use of 3174s cited by McCoy was at services that respond to calls on 911, the standard emergency telephone number… and that is what was dramatised on television. McCoy didn’t make this up; it appears in IBM’s complaint. But Collins didn’t get the 911 angle from the complaint, which he hadn’t seen, nor from IBM’s press release, the content of which he had been given ahead of time. The press release refers to the 3174’s use in hospital record-keeping systems, not the services that dispatch ambulances or other emergency vehicles. To his credit, Collins called the local emergency services agencies and confirmed that they indeed used 3174s. On the evening of Friday, October 16, the city of Charlotte was shown film of a police helicopter and a hospital operating room while listening to chopper noises and the voice of a police or ambulance dispatcher.
By Hesh Wiener
As viewers watched this dramatic bit of video, they heard Mike McCoy. Nowhere was McCoy identified as IBM’s lawyer. His talking head was captioned Patent Attorney. McCoy said a 3174’s failure would stop a network, presumably one that makes rescue operations possible. Next, reporter Collins talked about circuit board counterfeiters infiltrating the 3174 business. Thus, the broadcast’s implication was that a faulty 3174 – faulty because it contains a counterfeit circuit board – can lead to a loss of life. Collins completed all the video for his first story including the interview with McCoy – on Thursday, October 15. That was a full day before computer dealer Cullars got sued. Cullars was not interviewed by anyone from WCNC television the day the video was recorded, nor on the next, when IBM filed suit. Cullars finally got his moment bef
ore the cameras the following Monday, October 19. In the news broadcast, WCNC omitted relevant facts that would have undermined the drama of the story. Reporter Collins knew that the local 911 agencies whose activities were shown use redundant 3174s to protect against failure. Collins did not report whether the local emergency services bought equipment directly from IBM or from a used equipment dealer. Nor did he report whether the local 911 operation’s 3174s were equipped with the circuits in the suit feature 3100. And, despite his willingness to accept McCoy’s assertions about 3174s, Collins did not know whether IBM had found even one secondhand 3174/3100 with reworked circuit boards at any 911 service. None is mentioned in IBM’s suit. In the news broadcast, IBM’s lawyer said a single 3174 failure would absolutely bring down a whole network. This statement is patently false. Not many IBM systems have only one 3174. Even if they did, the failure of a reworked feature board that supports no more than half the terminals would not necessarily disable the rest of the machine. The most mysterious aspect of the situation is the way the first news story, which did not include defendant Cullars, got on the air. After reporter Collins completed the first news segment, he waited for a call from IBM’s law firm saying the litigation had begun. It never came.
Waiting for a call
But while Collins was waiting for a call about the filing, Bob Page of IBM’s public relations department was pressing for coverage of the suit at the Charlotte Business Journal. The Business Journal closes its weekly issue early Thursday, before the suit would be filed. Page tried to persuade editor Skoog that it would be OK to run the story immediately because it would be true on Friday when the paper hit the streets. Skoog declined, and reporter Kathy Payton’s piece, which was held until it could include an assertion of innocence from defendant Cullars, ran on October 26. When the suit was filed on Friday, WCNC reporter Collins wasn’t told. At the end of his working day, about 5:30 pm, he left. He told news producer George Schellinger – whose job it was to see that the evening news show fitted together properly – as well as another colleague in the news department, that the tape shouldn’t be run yet for two reasons: the suit had not been filed (as far as Collins knew) and the local defendant, Cullars, hadn’t been contacted for his reaction to the suit. About 9.30 pm, according to reporter Collins, someone from the Bell, Seltzer law firm called WCNC’s news department and said that the suit had been filed. Somebody from the station tried to contact Collins, but reached only his answering machine. The station’s news director, Ken Middleton, wasn’t available either; he seems to have gone out of town for the weekend. But producer Schellinger took Collins’ tape and wove it into the 11.00pm news programme. The rest became history.
Copyright (C) Technology News of America Co Inc; from Infoperspectives International, December 1992, published by Technology News Ltd, 110 Gloucester Ave, London NW1 8JA