The Molly

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Apple spin machine 1, reporters 0

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal ran, as its top story in the weekend print edition, a piece about how Steve Jobs was still in charge of key decisions at Apple, and that story was re-worded and rebroadcast across the Web all weekend long. Well, let’s have a look a the first two paragraphs, emphasis mine:

More than three months into a medical leave from Apple Inc., Chief Executive Steve Jobs remains closely involved in key aspects of running the company, say people familiar with the matter.

Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook runs the day-to-day operations at Apple, these people say. But Mr. Jobs has continued to work on the company’s most important strategies and products from home, they say. He regularly reviews products and product plans, and was particularly involved in the user interface of the new iPhone operating system that Apple unveiled last month, these people say.

The story goes on in essentially that same vein. Mr. Jobs does not comment. A spokesman who is named says Steve Jobs “continues to look forward to returning to Apple at the end of June.” And then the story itself points out that Apple’s stock price tends to suffer when shareholders are feeling uncertain about whether Jobs is at the helm.

Hey, you know what happened today, the first Monday after the story appeared? Apple’s stock was up almost a full percent. Also today, analyst Shaw Wu raised his target price for Apple’s shares, three weeks after he publicly downplayed Apple’s stock potential. The rest of the major analysts followed suit, further helping to buoy the share price … and all of this happened a little over a week before Apple’s earnings report, scheduled for April 22. Handy.

Now, here’s what I know about Apple’s PR machine, having been on the receiving end of it off and on for nigh on 10 years now. It’s relentless, and it’s quick on the draw. This is a company that insists on a 90-minute phone briefing for editors who are going to be reviewing the Apple iLife suite. They’re so good at the overwhelming PR assault that their phone briefing talking points even show up in USA Today reviews and the like (it’s the line about how iPhoto’s face recognition technology is “still in its infancy” — a pretty convenient way of excusing any flaws the software might have). Apple PR will call you on the carpet for long, impassioned briefings if a reviewed product gets anything less than, say, an 8. They regularly ask reporters and reviewers to change ratings, change stories, and take down reviews and reports that they dislike. Ask any reporter who covers the company regularly: this is a well-oiled, aggressive PR machine and it will hammer and hammer and hammer and hammer in hopes that you’ll eventually say what it wants you to say.

So, look at this week’s news. If Shaw Wu took Apple stock off his “Focus List,” effectively declaring a vote of no confidence in it three weeks ago, you can bet that Apple’s PR machine hit the phones, and hit them hard. Suddenly, Wu is bullish on iPhone 3.0, the Snow Leopard launch, and “[t]he potential for a new form factor, perhaps Apple’s answer to the netbook, with a large screen iPod touch-Mac hybrid.” You think he’s just reading Mac Rumors? Other analysts are suddenly warming (again) to the potential of the iPhone App Store. And the Wall Street Journal just happens to get a couple of anonymous insiders to dish about how Steve Jobs is sitting at home in his own personal Apple Situation Room, pulling all the strings at the company (subtext: everything is fine). No. Come on. Apple insiders do not randomly dish.

It’s not a crime for a company to have a good PR machine. It’s working for Apple and it has for a long time. But this is a nation that is, at the moment, finding itself in quite a pickle because we blindly believed everything that companies were telling us. So, if we’re trying to be skeptical about, say, large financial institutions and their outlandish and/or reassuring claims, shouldn’t we also cast the same critical eye on a convenient flood of information that does little other than improve Apple’s stock price a week before they have to answer to angry and worried shareholders? Or, hey, maybe the Wall Street Journal just trying to boost the Nasdaq on purpose. You know, to help the economy.

Journalists are supposed to be watchdogs. Let’s watch some dogs, shall we?

6 Discussions on
“Apple spin machine 1, reporters 0”
  • hello I just heard a sound player with this molly wood character and I looked her up to tell her that she was right on about what she was talking about (and coming from an expert like me this should be a real confidence boost) so keep up the good work molly wood, and keep fighting the good fight for the freedom of people

    over and out

  • Isn’t this what America is based upon?
    This is a criticism all countries, it’s just the US has perfected it without being a dictatorship. Media is manipulate to create the image that people want to believe is the truth (and often what others want them to believe is the truth).

    How objective news? CNN? Fox?

    How genuine are product reviews? Cnet? Oprah?

    Before visiting California for myself I had the idea that all Californians were health concious, toned, charming & intelligent, and that LA & San Francisco were the most beautiful cities in the world. The disappointment I felt when these dreams were shattered was terrible. LA was dirty and unsafe. SF was beautiful but had a beggar every 100 metres.

    People hate to have their perfect images shattered. An example of this follows. what is your reaction to truth?
    Mother Terressa created the sick people she cared for by preaching ‘no contraception’. Was she a saint or a murderer?
    Nelson Mandela was caught with bombs and weapons, preparing to attack targets which would have lead to the death of innocent people. Was he a hero or a terrorist?

    Apple are sadly just playing the game of capitalism. And winning!

    (PS – I’m from South Africa and I love post-apartheid Mandela.)

  • I’m not a fan of the above whining about Apple users and blah blah blah. This post has NOTHING to do with the users themselves, instead the company that puts out products. As a Mac user myself, I can tell you that I’m ok with paying a slight premium for something reliable. Call it what you will, but that’s that.

    To the article at hand, if Apple is calling reporters and asking them to remove, rewrite, or anything else which affects the initial post or report, then they are wrong (in my opinion.) On one hand, any company has the right to do anything they want to. You, as an owner, can call the NY Times and complain about the negative review that your restaurant just received. It’s a free country, so to speak. The people who are to blame, and Molly’s last line is absolutely correct, is the reporters who are actually allowing Apple to influence them to change. That is bogus. It’s the same as paying someone off. If the reporter gives in to Apple’s demands, then the fans and readers of that particular media outlet need to raise their voice.

    Props to Apple and any other company that actually has so much pull to sway reporters. But us as individual consumers need to do our own research. There are free demos for software; if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. There’s also a return policy on hardware; if you don’t like it, return it. It’s simple. You want to see one-sided reporting? Go turn on Fox News.

  • The term I’ve always used for Mac users skewed perspective of the world is “Selective Retardation”. They are clearly intelligent people, yet when it comes to right-clicking, figuring out which version of Windows to buy or understanding a simple commercial then they choose to be retarded simply to fulfill their own personal agenda. And your article is another example of that.

    Take a look at who is most effected by those latest PC commercials. Most average consumers don’t view it to be different than a Coke or KFC commercial, but the Mac defense force are jumping all over it and completely missing the point. It isn’t about Mac or PC. And despite what some may say, it’s not about Price either. The real message is that it is about Choice.

    These “real” fictional characters are pointing out the fact that whether want a sub-$1000 17″, a gaming system, a blu-ray capable computer or whatever then there is a Windows-PC out there for you. (But many times there ISN’T a Mac alternative. All I wanted was a basic $1000 15″ Macbook, but that doesn’t exist so I had to spend over $2300 for a Macbook Pro that is packed with kick-ass features I will never use and skimps on things that matter like HDD/RAM)

    But rather than the media pointing out that Apple is a company that dictates features rather than offers choice, they instead take the easy way out and simply agree with that small (but loud as hell) crowd that focuses on stupid things like “Lauren is an actress”, “Look! She didn’t even go in the store” or “They bought an HP twice therefore this commercial is a scam”.

    It really is weird how the press isn’t embarrassed by how they treat Apple stories. If you were asked to judge Apple’s marketshare based strictly on media then you’d think that they have 80% of the market because even in non-Apple stories then a “journalist” will throw in an Apple reference simply because “it gets more hits”. Now that is absolutely sickening and I hope more real journalists call them out on this.

  • Here, here — I couldn’t agree more! I see many problems such as this with ad-based journalism. Furthermore, with such a gossip-hungry reader constituency, editors who write about Apple in particular are constantly pressured from the reader side as well. (Or pressured by their business managers to cater to them.)

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