The Appalling Reaction to the Apple iPhone Leak

Photo: Apple iPhone leak

Remember when reporters had guts?

In the late '70s, when I was just out of college, and even before I began my career as a journalist, I worked in public relations at Hewlett-Packard Co.

These were the final years of HP as "the world's greatest company" under its two founders. ... And being in such comfortable and friendly surroundings and working for such an enlightened employer basically spoiled me for any other job thereafter.

Indeed, there were only two problems with that job:

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1. I didn't want to be a PR man;

2. Mark Simon.

As it happened, the two were closely related. Simon was a great big, linebacker-sized guy who was both whip-smart and tough. He was a few years older than me and was working for a weekly industry newsprint tabloid called Electronic News. EN was notorious for underpaying its reporters (which was why they were usually young and destined to quickly move on) and for having neither the time nor inclination to do much more editorially than rewrite corporate press releases.

That is, until Mark Simon came along.

He was as young and transient as the rest of EN's reporters; but he was also clever and fearless. Suddenly, under his byline, stories started appearing the likes of which the electronics trade press, notoriously deferential to the giant companies of the tech world, had never seen. Simon broke insider stories, published internal strategy memos and pre-introduced secret projects, all with seeming abandon ... leaving corporate PR departments, like us at HP, scrambling to do damage control and plug the leaks.

As the kid in HP corporate PR department, I both feared Simon for the damage he could do with his breaking stories -- my turf was hugely successful calculator business -- and was in awe of his reporting skills. I also wasn't allowed to talk much with him when he came into our offices for fear I would slip up and accidentally give my counterpart another news hook.

It wasn't until years later, when I was a reporter myself (and talked with Mark) that I came to realize that all Simon was doing was just good hard reporting. His techniques ranged from learning to read upside down the memos on executives' desks while conducting interviews, cold calling low-level employees who didn't know better than to talk with the press, pretending to know information to get official confirmation, and the whole rest of the toolkit of good investigative reporting.

Mark also told me that the biggest source for his insider information was, in fact, the rising golden boy executive at HP, who got a kick out of making controlled leaks to manipulate the press and his counterparts at the company.

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Mark went on to become a distinguished political reporter in Sacramento for the San Francisco Chronicle. And, having seen him in action, I redoubled my efforts to become a newspaperman myself -- which I accomplished a couple years later. And in those first years in the newsroom, I tried to pattern myself on what I had seen of Simon in action. He was my gold standard.

That was a long time ago. But what's important today about that story is that no matter how furious HP was at Mark Simon's ability to pre-announce its products and expose internal company documents, it never once crossed anyone's mind to call the cops on him.

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