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Lies, Lies and More Lies

It’s a sure thing that there are different attitudes about the stories you read about Apple Computer. Some are favorable, some otherwise, and others attempt to toe the line. But you have to wonder about the motives when a story is undeniably false.

Take that claim, described in yesterday’s commentary, that sales at the iTunes Store were in free-fall. It was quoted around the world, but, according to commentator Daniel Eran, it all got its start at a UK tech site, The Register. According to Daniel, Register writer Andrew Orlowski misrepresented a set of statistics to deliver a conclusion that wasn’t true.

While you can be charitable and regard it as a mistake, the fact that Orlowski didn’t bother to mention that Apple denied the story, and that other surveys showed opposite results, leads you to question his motives. Since I don’t know him personally, or why he might have it in for Apple, I’ll just leave it be for now. But I will take future commentaries under his name with a huge grain of salt.

At the same time, it fueled the desires of tech writers who appear to have it in for Apple. They went ahead and quoted the same misleading information without bothering to consider the source and the accuracy. Whatever happened to the traditional journalistic standard of trying to line up two sources for every story where possible? Well, I suppose that doesn’t help when it doesn’t advance your agenda, whatever that agenda might be.

It almost seems as if some alleged reporters are desperately seeking the slimmest thread of negative information about Apple before diving into the waters.

Take the claim that the Mac OS would be more vulnerable to computer viruses now that the platform is gaining traction. Every single proof of concept that appears, or potential vulnerability, and you read more and more stories that the dam is about to burst. It won’t be long now before Mac users must protect themselves against malware lest they suffer from the same misfortunes that beset the Windows platform.

Even supposedly fair and balanced information resources make similar claims. Consumer Reports magazine, for example, is run by a non-profit corporation that doesn’t accept advertising and purchases all the products it tests at retail. So it shouldn’t have any built-in prejudice against a company.

Yet it has run stories claiming a reader survey showed that roughly 20% of Mac users reported encountering a virus. The question is, of course, which virus? If Mac OS X viruses aren’t getting into the wild, just what really happened to these people? Did Consumer Reports make it all up? Probably not, but it’s quite possible they put a spin on the results that misrepresented what’s actually going on.

Worse, when a reader questioned the survey in a letter published in a later issue, CR’s unnamed editors quoted a Symantec statement that there were indeed Mac OS X viruses. They didn’t bother to add that little tidbit that they were proofs of concept, and nothing more. That would effectively demonstrate that something went terribly wrong with those results. I might say, to be kind to CR, that some Mac users might believe that, when they have a system problem, it must be caused by a virus. Why? Because that’s what causes problems on the Windows platform.

You may regard that as a silly idea, but I do have one consulting client, a professional photographer, who asks me about viruses whenever her Mac misbehaves. So maybe that’s it.

Certainly some of the early favorable press Microsoft received for its Zune music player came from folks who believed that Apple’s iPod was due for a big fall. Since Microsoft defeated Apple in the operating system arena, surely they can beat Apple in other market segments too.

Now maybe Apple is somehow fueling such tall tales. Its penchant for secrecy no doubt doesn’t sit well with reporters who are accustomed to detailed product roadmaps or — at the very least — background briefings with all the information they lust after.

But that’s just too bad. And it doesn’t give anyone an excuse for deliberately putting a bad spin on a story, or just ignoring some inconvenient truths because they might be a little too favorable.