Exit Steve Jobs, pursued by his double

So why is Dan Lyons, a tech journalist who earned an international reputation with brilliant and sometimes savage satires of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, now being so snotty and unbearable in BeastWeek about the disclosability of Steve Jobs’ health problems? I think the world officially has a new “Least Appropriate High Horse Ever” titleist. Surely Lyons must sense how the “Now that his cancer’s probably back, Igottatellya I really loved the guy all along” schtick looks?

Well, OK, Dan, I’m speaking out of love, too: I think Fake Steve Jobs is your ticket to the American pantheon of ironists, but it’s been pretty obvious all along that you had weird misgivings about this fact, judging by your intermittent, distracted care and feeding of your creation. So forgive us for concluding that your pre-emptive, nonspecific attack on journalists who might eventually ask difficult questions about Jobs’ health is not some outburst of great ethical insight, but rather the chittering of a bad conscience. I figure that when a newsman announces that he has moral difficulties doing news reporting, he shouldn’t say “I’m sorry” snarkily; he should say it sincerely.

Jobs has a right to take measures to keep his health private—as long as investors aren’t actively misled by him or by Apple, which, as the normally cynical Lyons is careful not to mention, might already have happened. Either way, everyone else has the same right to ask questions and speculate, or even to gather and report information. One assumes Lyons would be forced to agree if it were put to him that bluntly, but comments like this make one wonder:

I’m sure there will…be stories where a reporter talks to cancer specialists and tries to get them to speculate on what might be wrong with Jobs this time. They’ll talk about life expectancies for people, like Jobs, who have had liver transplants after suffering pancreatic cancer. They will try to make this all seem respectable.

Just imagine a world where financial journalists sought objective information that affects the future of the second-largest publicly-traded American company! Fortunately, we don’t live inside that particular nightmare.

The cash value of much of what journalists do is pretty hard to specify. What’s interesting about this case is that it seems like the one instance in maybe a thousand (even within business journalism) where that’s just not so. The economic value of better, more accurate information about Steve Jobs’ prognosis is unquestionably enormous. If you alone knew that Jobs was really just taking six weeks off to cure a nasty case of psoriasis by immersing himself in an Anatolian mud bath, how much could you auction that information for?

A lot, I’d say, given that twenty billion US dollars in market value disappeared when Jobs sent the e-mail announcing his health leave. And while the figure might represent mistaken beliefs—indeed, capital has since corrected its collective estimate to more like ten billion—it is certainly not irrational. Lyons knows this: his handwaving about how “there is no real news value to any of this stuff” (even accurate and relevant stuff garnered by wholly conventional news techniques) is inconsistent with his description of Jobs as a visionary genius superman. It is certainly inconsistent with having had an entire sub-career pretending to be Steve Jobs.