Steve Jobs and Tabloid Journalism

February 22nd, 2011

Those so-called supermarket tabloids, such as the National Enquirer, are notorious for publishing bad news. Usually, it’s about celebrities or politicians, and the readers appear to enjoy reading about the peccadilloes of the rich and the famous.

Most of the time, those stories appear to be made up in a reporter’s word processor, although some may be partly true, with lurid embellishments devised to generate headlines. On some occasions, though, they cover a story ignored by the mainstream media and they actually get it right. One particular example involved former Senator John Edwards, who fathered a child with his mistress. Nobody paid attention, but the National Enquirer had the photos and enough evidence to prove that their report was correct.

That takes us to a certain photo that recently appeared in which a frail-looking Steve Jobs appears to be exiting a cancer treatment center. In a curious move, that photo was submitted to a physician who, on the basis of what he saw and knowledge of Jobs’ past medical problems — at least the public versions — concluded he had but six weeks to live.

I don’t pretend to know the truth. But you can no longer say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” since anyone well versed in Photoshop could have edited that photo to make Jobs appear more sickly than he truly is. Naturally Apple has had nothing to say about the story. At the same time, Jobs joined other Silicon Valley executives some days later to have dinner with President Obama. The sole published photo shows Jobs from the rear, so you really can’t see much of significance, other than the fact that he is holding a glass in his hands, and it’s not tipping over.

Even if the story is, at least in part, true, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that Steve Jobs is going to die soon. Notice that nobody is holding Jobs, or helping him to walk in that photo. Further, a cancer survivor would, on a fairly regular basis, undergo periodic examinations to check on his condition. It’s also possible Jobs is undergoing treatment for other problems, such as adverse reactions to the powerful medicines he’s no doubt receiving because of that liver transplant he received in 2009. Maybe he’s suffered from the symptoms of rejection, or he just needs more rest to help the recovery process. I wouldn’t pretend to have any inside information.

At the same, it’s also been reported that Steve Jobs has been seen at the Apple campus since taking that sick leave a few weeks ago. If he is healthy enough to travel to his office, and to attend a dinner meeting with the President of the United States, it wouldn’t seem that he’s at death’s door. If his condition was so serious, you’d expect he’d be bed-ridden most of the time.

But that’s as far as it goes for me. The point is that, while tabloids are sometimes correct, stories are frequently highly exaggerated, deliberately sensationalized to sell papers. Nothing more, nothing less!

Should the worst occur, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple is going to suffer right away. Knowing that he was seriously ill when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few years ago, it would have made perfect sense for him to work with the company’s board and devise a succession plan. Apple is keeping it a secret, ostensibly because of competitive reasons. It may well be that establishing Tim Cook as the temporary CEO is not just supremely logical, because of his expertise as an operations person, but to test his skills to see if he could handle the job permanently.

Sure, you might say that Cook doesn’t have the incredible vision of a Steve Jobs. Certainly he doesn’t have the public charisma. Indeed, his verbal delivery is mostly laid back and dry, but perhaps a little coaching from an acting professional could enhance his performance. Such skills can, to some degree, be learned. More to the point, Cook has an incredibly brilliant team of executives who have absorbed Apple’s DNA and know how to expand on the dreams and hopes of Steve Jobs far, far into the future.

It may well be that Apple can survive and prosper in the tradition of Steve Jobs for many years, until their place in the sun has passed, and other visionary companies are poised to take their place. And even if Steve Jobs does survive for years, as we hope he does, Apple’s ongoing success is never assured.

Yes, the histories of great companies will no doubt give Apple a high ranking. But that’s also true of Ford, Microsoft and other companies that, in their own ways, also changed the world in one way or another.

But make no mistake! I am not inclined to take that tabloid story about the condition of Steve Jobs seriously. If he were truly that ill, I would think other information would have come forth by now to confirm the details. Well, at least I hope I’m right.


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One Response to “Steve Jobs and Tabloid Journalism”

  1. tzx4 says:

    A company founder’s ultimate success is creating a corporate culture that lives on after they are gone. Southwest Airlines and Mr Keleher comes to mind as an example.
    I think it possible Mr Ives offers artistic and user centric insights.

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