Muckrakers. Depending on where you are, the term is worthy of a principled journalist, or a newspaper baron more interested in sales than fact finding.
Is Apple the victim of one or the other? Or both? Do muckrakers uncover the facts and expose the truth?
Or, are they simply out to sell papers, creat sensationalist headlines to gain web site hits?
Sadly, today’s internet allows for more of the latter—sensationalist perspective—than the former—dig for facts, expose truth.
My case today comes from Rich Duprey and The Motley Fool. The headline? “Apple’s Rotting Core?”
The key to the war between a principled investigation and a sensationalist perspective is the simple question mark. Add a question mark to nearly any accusation and the accuser is off the hook.
Duprey’s article doesn’t just border on the scandalous, it directly accuses but masks the accusation in the all important question.
For example, he rightfully asks, “Will Steve Jobs be able to survive Apple’s backdating scandal?” Fair question, though the whole affair is probably well behind Apple and Jobs.
The problem is the follow on question: “More importantly, should he be allowed to survive?”
See the difference? One purports to enlighten and display facts, while the other takes a moral perspective (all the while forgetting about the immoral use of sensationalist headlines to attract hits, not display facts).
In light of what we know of the so-called scandal and the impact on Apple’s shareholders, Apple’s Rotting Core? as a headline says more about The Motley Fool’s intent than it does about Apple, Steve Jobs, and backdating of stock options as a normal course of business.
As if to send shivers up the spine of AAPL’s shareholders, Duprey screams, “The probe by Apple found that not only was Jobs aware of the backdating that occurred at the company, but also intimately involved in selecting some of the dates at which an option was granted.”
There’s an attempt at gaining a moral high ground there, except that many, many companies have backdated stock options for many years, to the point where it has become commonplace and common knowledge. Why should Jobs be any different?
Does Duprey offer any details as to Jobs intimate involvement? Nope. Nothing. But that created a stir when you read it, right? Maybe the moral high ground isn’t so high after all.
The whole article is designed to do one thing. Stir your emotions, inflame your passions, incite your thoughts to take one side or the other—but keep coming back to The Motley Fool for more details.
Except for one thing. There are no details of anything coming from The Motley Fool’s piece on Apple’s Rotting Core? It’s an empty and futile exercise in journalistic titillation.
This isn’t an investigation perspective. It’s a questioning perspective, right? No, not even that. It’s an accusatory muckraking piece worthy of the British definition of muckraker.
Absent any facts to the contrary, Duprey cuts his own throat with his own pen.
So, Jobs should not be forced out? That’s good, considering what would happen to AAPL should that occur.
But he shouldn’t be allowed to remain head of Apple without some “recompense to shareholders?” Hmmm. What form would that take? Oh, I don’t know. How about a double or triple increase in the stock price since 2002.
That should be sufficient recompense for anyone holding AAPL in the past few years. Fortunately, it will be. There may be a dust trail at Apple regarding the backdating scandal, but it’s not a dirt trail.
The Motley Fool did nothing to benefit anyone with their 21st century version of muckraking; certainly not shareholders, and certainly not anyone interested in facts, because The Motley Fool’s new age journalism doesn’t appear to engage in fact finding, does it?
Sensationalism these days is all in the question mark at the end of the accusation. If you’ve got something to add to the issue, add it. But don’t point fingers for the sake of finger pointing.
Then again, isn’t that what you would expect from The Motley Fool?