Dan Lyons of Newsweek (Fake Steve Jobs) and Jim Goldman of CNBC got in a mud fight earlier this week over how Jim had been used by Apple to help mislead the public.
Dan devotes his column this week to saying again what he said on CNBC two nights ago: Most of the media has entered into a “Faustian bargain” with the folks in Cupertino:
It’s one thing for PR flacks to tell lies. That is, after all, what they get paid to do. But it’s another thing for the media to join in on the action.
The fact is, in the eyes of the media, Apple is the corporate equivalent of Barack Obama—a company that can do no wrong. Even in Silicon Valley, where much of the press corps are pretty much glorified cheerleaders (think of all those slobbering cover stories about the Google guys) Apple’s kid-gloves treatment stands out. Reporters don’t just overlook Apple’s faults; they’ll actually apologise for them, or rationalize them away. Ever seen reporters clapping and cheering at a press conference? Happens all the time at Apple events.
Jobs is famous for what Apple watchers call his “reality distortion field”—that is, his ability to convince people that the world is one way when it’s really another. The last six months have been the most outrageous example of the reality distortion field I’ve ever seen. Anyone with half a brain and pair of eyes could look at Steve Jobs last June and know that this was not a healthy 53-year-old man. Yet for months Apple fanboys and Apple’s friends in the media have bent themselves into pretzels in search of ways to argue that he’s in fine health…
[Because] some of my colleagues in the media have made a Faustian bargain with Apple. In exchange for super-special access to Jobs, they tacitly agree not to criticise the company or even to say things it doesn’t like. It’s one of those deals that seems great at first—”Hey, I just got an exclusive with Steve Jobs!”—but eventually it turns out to be rotten. For one thing, the access isn’t worth much, since all you get is lame, scripted, well-rehearsed comments. Essentially you get turned into an extension of Apple’s PR operation. And while it’s nice to get a peek behind the curtain, and it’s exciting to feel like you’ve been allowed into the “cool kids club,” the truth is that the cool kids who are pretending to be your friends are actually just using you to spread whatever disinformation they happen to need spread that week. You are, to them, nothing more than a useful idiot.
And when the you-know-what hits the fan, as it eventually must—when, say, Apple finally admits the truth about Steve Jobs being sick, a truth that was obvious and evident for months—all those wonderful “sources” and PR pals just slip away into no-comment land, leaving their sycophantic media dupes to take the fall for Apple’s dissembling.
That’s what happened to the poor guy at CNBC. Sure, he got his share of “exclusive” 10-minute spots with Steve Jobs. You can find them on YouTube. They look like training videos for a correspondence course on bootlicking. Now, of course, the CNBC guy says he’s outraged. He sputters about how Apple has been irresponsible and “deplorable.” His pals at Apple won’t care. They’re already moving on to the next useful idiot. Among the Silicon Valley press corps there is no shortage of them.