The Wall Street Journal’s article announcing that Apple CEO Steve Jobs has a liver transplant — which Bloomberg reported was a possibility in January — was unusual for two reasons:
- It did not name a single source for the information, not even an anonymous “source familiar with the situation.”
- It came at midnight on Saturday morning following another successful Apple iPhone launch, as thousands of people spent their Friday waiting in line for new Apple gadgets. (And Apple stock couldn’t easily change hands until Monday morning.)
So who leaked the story to the Wall Street Journal?
- A healthcare provider, disseminating the information without Steve Jobs’ permission.
- Someone at Apple, acting under Steve Jobs’ direction.
- An Apple board member, acting without Steve Jobs’ permission.
Gruber settles on the third, and makes a good argument for it:
The scenario I am imagining here is that Jobs does not wish to reveal anything regarding his medical situation, but that a member (or contingent) of Apple’s board believes it is in the company’s interest to release the basic gist of the story, regardless of Jobs’s wishes. This scenario would explain the timing, the certainty, and perhaps even the lack of sourcing. (Although if this scenario is the case, certainly Jobs himself must suspect the source of the leak is from the board.)
Note also that some portions of Kane and Lublin’s WSJ report must have been sourced from someone on, or very close to, Apple’s board of directors:
When he does return, Mr. Jobs may be encouraged by his physicians to initially “work part-time for a month or two,” a person familiar with the thinking at Apple said. That may lead Tim Cook, Apple’s chief operating officer, to take “a more encompassing role,” this person said. The person added that Mr. Cook may be appointed to Apple’s board in the not-too-distant future. […]
At least some Apple directors were aware of the CEO’s surgery. As part of an agreement with Mr. Jobs in place before he went on leave, some board members have been briefed weekly on the CEO’s condition by his physician.
Who else other than a source on Apple’s board would know that Tim Cook may soon join the board, or that some board members were briefed weekly?
And board members are often excellent sources for journalists: They know a lot, often have an interest in seeing private information become public, and tend to have looser lips than the rest of the company.