To Err Is Human, to Live Divine: How Exactly No One Got It Right About Steve Jobs's Health

Published on January 6, 2009
by Kara Swisher


You knew it was coming, of course.

Since the blogosphere couldn’t actually kill him off–deeply lazy and incredibly wrong in insinuating that Apple CEO Steve Jobs was dying imminently–it turned around yesterday and declared him a liar for not saying he had a “hormonal imbalance” sooner.

Of course, Apple (AAPL) has also played along in this bizarre game, along with its defenders, who have all tried to pretend nothing is wrong with a man who clearly looks like he has had the stuffing knocked out of him because of his long-running health issues.

Still, the worst offender, of course, was the original story in Gizmodo by Jesus Diaz last week about Jobs’s keynote pullout from Macworld, using a single source for the report that Jobs was doomed.

In it, Diaz went well over the top by using this one source as confirmation that Jobs was “declining rapidly” and “it may be even worse than we imagined” and, quoting the source directly, “Apple is choosing to remove the hype factor strategically vs. letting the hype destroy Apple when the inevitable news comes later this spring.”

That sounds pretty bad to me. Inevitable, of course, always means taxes or death and dying. As in pancreatic cancer returning. As in start cuing the pallbearers. Get Marcus Welby, M.D., stat!

As it turned out, it was also a bit of a premature diagnosis by someone not a doctor but playing one on the Web, as Jobs countered the rumors with his own news yesterday in a terse letter that ended with the back of his hand to crepe-hangers like Diaz and his specious source:

“So now I’ve said more than I wanted to say, and all that I am going to say, about this.”

So it’s done, right?

Sadly, no, it is not.

Not satisfied to be utterly wrong about relaying on a rotten source and posting it with a screaming headline and declaring someone on death’s door and then finding that perhaps he had a breath or two still in him–remind me never to tell Nick Denton I am feeling nauseous or I will be on my way to the morgue pronto–Gizmodo tried to twist its original story into a shape even the the malleable corpse in “Weekend at Bernies” could not get into, and got it wrong a second time yesterday.

Under the new title, “Steve Jobs Skips Macworld Because of His Health,” the new post started: “Looks like our source was partly right: Jobs’ condition was the a reason for his Macworld no-show.”

Except Jobs did not ever say that in his letter, except to note: “A few weeks ago, I decided that getting to the root cause of this and reversing it needed to become my #1 priority.”

Does the mean he quit Macworld because of that alone?

I have no idea and neither does Gizmodo, which seems to still have done no actual reporting on this issue it makes such a big deal of. Instead, the post whips up implied guilt without a shred of real reporting.

It could be true, it could be false. But Diaz does not help us, except to just ask us to take his say-so. It’s profoundly simplistic and reeks of an agenda.

More importantly, here’s the problem with portraying the Macworld withdrawal as so cut and dried: At all corporations I have ever covered, big decisions are nearly always a complex mix of emotion and business and chaos.

To wit: It is well known Apple hates Macworld, and having to introduce a fabulous new product at a weird time too.

My guess–and that is all it is–as to what seems plausible: Apple had no wow products to show. Execs have wanted out for a while. Jobs felt lousy and wanted to try to get better. A confluence of events seems more likely than one big Apple plot.

But it did not stop Gizmodo from declaring it so, by egregiously reading into Jobs’s letter, as if it were tea leaves and Diaz was that wacky divination professor from “Harry Potter.”

As Hermione Granger said of her: Rubbish.

Then, worse, Diaz goes for the full pretzel, noting about the Jobs letter:

“What does this mean? First and foremost, that his health is not declining rapidly now, as our source affirmed. Thank god for that. Like I said in the original article, I hoped our source was wrong about this point, and they were. The source’s information was probably from earlier in the year.”

What? Earlier this year? Probably? This is a whole new kind of backpedaling.

Actually, when you boil it down to the really important issue, it was posting the information about Jobs being on his deathbed that was wrong, and no amount of fobbing off blame on the source can fix that.

All this could have been solved if Apple were more forthcoming, of course, but this is akin to wishing for a miracle cure.

Apple should be, obviously, although the company is also well-known for its secretive behavior, which continues to surprise people covering it, despite it being business as usual for almost its entire history.

And, as the Gizmodo follow piece does correctly point out, the Jobs-Is-Fine-and-Dandy reporting done by CNBC’s Jim Goldman (and clearly fed by Apple) also went too far in the other direction and oddly ignored the obvious signs of some kind of health issue.

And Goldman’s own claim later that he was sort-of right was just as silly. Neither he or Diaz seems to be.

Jobs is not well as Goldman claimed, but neither is he dying as Diaz said (Sorry, Jesus, I mean your source said, although you talked to that source, used the info, typed it in and let it fly.)

Now, as the professional mourners disperse, it remains to be seen how much longer this will go on. My guess is for a while, since the obsession with Jobs’s health seems infinite in its creepiness.

(I know the drill, it’s only mentioned constantly because it is all about Jobs’s value to the stock, and that is the reason for the intense attention still, even though even Martians have gotten the message about his troubled pancreas. Right.)

But here is one thing I do know for sure: In a letter he was forced to write, Jobs seem to have declared yesterday firmly that he still has a life.

Now, everyone else should get a life too and move on.

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