Silicon Insider: Taking Jobs to Task

Why Does Apple's Steve Jobs Get a Free Pass on His Efforts to Crush Free Enterprise?

Commentary by MICHAEL S. MALONE

April 28, 2005 --

So, does Steve Jobs get punished this time for his boorish, anti-free speech, crush-the-little-guy behavior? Or does he once again get a pass because he builds such cool products?

As you no doubt have read, Apple Computer Inc. (read: Steve Jobs, because the company would never do this on its own accord), angry that the venerable publisher John Wiley & Sons is about to publish a book entitled "iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business," has ordered every Wiley-published book to be yanked from the shelves in all 104 Apples stores around the world.

What this means is that Apple (read: Steve Jobs) has decided to not only punish Wiley and the book's author, Jeffrey Young, but also the innocent authors of such other Wiley books as "Mac for Dummies." The books apparently have been boxed up and sent back to the publisher.

Meanwhile, according to Apple flack Steve Dowling -- who probably thought he had the world's coolest job before was forced to justify the equivalent of a book burning -- announced that Apple executives were declining to comment. No kidding. What that really means is that they think the whole idea is stupid and self-defeating, but they learned a long time ago not to argue with the overgrown child they have to report to, especially when he is in mid-tantrum.

Meanwhile, unfortunately, the author of the book, Jeffrey Young, responded with dismay. Jobs, he whimpered, had nothing to fear from "iCon." "I thought the book was pretty positive and laudatory," he said, "It covers his personal life and there is something about his illness. I wouldn't call any of it outrageous. I'm totally bewildered." Yeah, and he's probably wondering why he ever tried to be so nice to his subject.

Wiley, to its credit going ahead with publication of the book, sadly mewed something about having "worked very hard to establish a good relationship with Apple."

How Should You Deal With Jobs?

This is exactly the wrong approach to take, particularly with a character like Steve Jobs. What Young should be saying is that as soon as the book is published, he plans to go on a promotional tour in which he will read all the juicy stuff about Steve Jobs that was cut out of the book -- as well as repeat every rumor he heard about Jobs.

Meanwhile, Wiley should grow a pair and immediately rush into production a mountain of stickers that can be affixed to "iCon" announcing "The book Steve Jobs doesn't want you to read."

Finally, every other publisher of Apple-related books, in solidarity with Wiley and in defense of the freedom to publish, should voluntarily remove their own books from Apple Stores -- effectively ending bookselling at those stores at least until the other Wiley books are returned to the shelves. Meanwhile, independent bookstores should add "iCon" to their annual "Banned Book Month" displays, right next to Huckleberry Finn and the Satanic Verses.

Admitting Some Conflicts of Interest

Now, having said all of that, I should probably take a moment to explain all of my many conflicts of interest in this matter. I don't know Jeffrey Young, but I have read his stuff. Wiley, meanwhile, published a collection my writings (including some of these columns) a couple years back.

As for my connections to Apple…well, that's a complicated story. Steve Jobs was a neighbor of mine, and I was probably the first daily reporter to cover the beginnings of Apple Computer. For a while, I was even inside the company, helping write the infamous 1984 Annual Report for the truly bizarre duo of Steve Jobs and John Sculley. I watched Woz, Jobs and Fernandez buy parts for Apple I, attended the Wescon computer show where Apple first introduced the Apple II, was at the Mac introduction (covering it for the Economist) and was sitting on the floor with the huge crowd in San Francisco when Jobs returned to Apple and purged Gil Amelio. I have many friends who work at Apple (I ate lunch in the cafeteria a few weeks ago) and am a great admirer of its products. I am also pleased that the company has been amply rewarded over the last few years for having brought excitement back to high tech.

But what connects me most to this story is that a few years ago I also wrote a book about Apple Computer; a very big book -- 700 pages -- that told the story of Woz and Jobs and the company they built. That book ended roughly where "iCon" apparently begins.

I spent two miserable years writing that book. I say "miserable" because day after day, month after month, I had to relive all of the cruelties, lies and double-dealings in the career of Steve Jobs. I was unflinching, too, quoting one observer as calling Jobs a "borderline sociopath." But the most common term for Jobs, in perpetual use from his days on a Mountain View schoolyard to today in the boardroom of Apple Computer, was a common seven letter obscenity. It has been used by employees, customers, competitors -- even by Jobs about himself (as he told me one night over dinner years ago).

Writing that book was hard reporting, and it is painful reading. Some reviewers claimed I had an animus against Jobs. Perhaps so, but it was well earned.

Apple didn't try to boycott my book. There were no Apple stores then, and Doubleday wasn't foolish enough to send an advance copy to Cupertino. I do suspect that I will never speak with Steve Jobs again (gosh, no more two hour waits in the lobby), and, as long as he is in charge, Apple will likely never advertise in any publication at which I am employed.

That's fine by me. Somebody had to speak for the victims. As Jeffrey Young will come to realize, telling the truth is more important than placating plutocrats.

Jobs Will Never Grow Up

Still, there is something depressing in all of this. I was warming up my Little League team when my cell phone rang. It was the New York Times, wanting a comment on the story.

There really wasn't much to say, other than that it had come as a bit of surprise. Image aside, Apple, as I wrote in this column a month ago, is the most totalitarian of companies, forever crushing dissent and deviation, even at the cost of greater business success. The company's moves against bloggers in the last couple months have only underscored this dark side of Apple's nature. Nevertheless, I, like most people, assumed that Jobs himself had been mellowed by parenthood, success, middle-age and a serious illness, that he had finally put away his childishness.

I guess I should have known better. Since his early 20s, Steve Jobs has always been allowed to commit monstrous acts without suffering any consequences. On the contrary, we usually reward him, showering him with riches and fame. Outside of being exiled from Apple for a few years, he has never been punished for his bad behavior -- and even after the exile, we cheered his return as if the lost years had been our mistake.

Will Jobs feel any consequences for this latest fit of petty vindictiveness? Probably not. Had Jack Welch or Sam Walton pulled something like this, there would have been congressional hearings. But for Jobs, it's just another example of "Steve being Steve," which we've all been trained to accept. Windows users will just shrug and say, "Well, what did you expect?" And the army of Macolytes will just duck their heads and change the subject to the cool new Mac operating system upgrade.

Still, if I was a member of Apple's board of directors (which you can be very sure I'll never be) I might be wondering why, during a week when Apple has brilliantly stolen the spotlight from Microsoft in the OS wars, my CEO chooses to undermine everything by looking like an even worse enemy of free enterprise than Bill Gates. And why, just as my hottest profit generator, the iPod, is about to be assaulted by a brilliant new MP3 downloading cell phone from Nokia, my CEO is busy intentionally cutting the revenues of my retail division.

Yeah, as an Apple director, I might be wondering about those things. But would I dare mention my concerns to Steve?

Are you kidding?

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michael S. Malone, once called “the Boswell of Silicon Valley,” most recently was editor at large of Forbes ASAP magazine. He has covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 20 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury-News as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He has hosted two national PBS shows: "Malone," a half-hour interview program that ran for nine years, and in 2001, a 16-part interview series called "Betting It All: The Entrepreneurs." Malone is best known as the author of a dozen books. His latest book, a collection of his best newspaper and magazine writings, is called "The Valley of Heart's Delight."