When I woke up last Saturday and picked up the Weekend Journal, I knew the WSJ had a scoop on its hand. The leading story on page 1 by Yukari Iwatani Kane and Joann S. Lublin, broke the news of a liver transplant that Apple CEO Steve Jobs received in Tennessee nearly two months ago.
Turns out the scoop had actually hit WSJ.com Friday night (when they usually put up stories to be included in print the next day) and already circulated buzz across the Internet.
What wasn’t yet clear was how exclusive the Journal’s scoop was. That has only come into clarity in recent days as the Silicon Valley press core has erupted with a wave of follow-ups, which have struggled to get anyone on record expanding on the Journal’s piece. Only on late Tuesday did the Methodist University Hospital acknowledge hat it had performed a liver transplant on Mr. Jobs.
Although Barry Meier, a health and medical device reporter, for the New York Times reported on that story, speculation continues to buzz around how the Times’ tech department got “out-sourced” by the Journal on the LiverGate scoop.
John Gruber over at Daring Fireball nicely chronicles how the Times has reacted to being scooped by the Journal, along with how they’ve failed to deliver information from sources in their follow up stories:
“So, note that the Times still does not have a first-hand source for the news regarding Jobs’s purported liver transplant. Read the sourcing carefully: according to people briefed on the matter by current and former board members. That’s second-hand information — ‘people’ who were told about it by board members who know about it.
And then this: Even senior officials at Apple fear crossing Mr. Jobs. One official, who is normally more open, when asked for a deep-background briefing about Mr. Jobs’s health after the news of the transplant had become public, replied: ‘Just can’t do it. Too sensitive.’
Translated into plain English, this is the Times’s acknowledgement that they couldn’t get anyone to talk to them about Jobs, even on “deep background”, which term Wikipedia describes thusly:
‘Deep background’ This term is used in the U.S., though not consistently. Most journalists would understand ‘deep background’ to mean that the information may not be included in the article but is used by the journalist to enhance his or her view of the subject matter, or to act as a guide to other leads or sources. Most deep background information is confirmed elsewhere before being reported.”
Gruber is pretty dead on with his analysis and doesn’t even knock the Times on the “culture of secrecy” focus, which regurgitates a lot of what Joe Nocera reported last summer (My interview with him about that run-in with Jobs here).
Gruber wasn’t alone in taking shots at Stone and the Times. Current Newsweek scribe Dan Lyons, writing again under the moniker of Fake Steve Jobs (yes, this is weird), took shots at Stone for his Monday morning quarter-backing (perhaps, it’s payback for outing him):
“Fact is, what’s really going on is the Times is pissed that they got scooped on LiverGate by their big rivals at the Wall Street Journal. According to the person we’ve got embedded at their Silicon Valley bureau, their boss Damon Darlin has been going &*%$! ever since the Journal liver story broke on Friday at midnight. Now they’re desperate to break some kind of second-day news on this. For what it’s worth, you want to know what Brad Stone was doing last week when the Journal was busy digging up the liver story? He was calling around to fellow hacks asking if they had galleys to some forthcoming Ben Mezrich novel about Facebook. According to Brad, Fortune had locked up some exclusive deal to run an excerpt of the novel — and Brad wanted to pee on their shoes and ruin their exclusive by obtaining the galleys and running excerpts first. In other words: Classy.”
Finally, Gawker did a good job bringing some additional light to this arguement, by illustrating the “spin” and “flackery” which is going on behind the scenes. Apple and Jobs didn’t take take the aforementioned Nocera column last July lightly, and has been content with feeding information to the Journal ever since.
Nocera, not surprisingly, hasn’t received any unsolicited phone calls from Jobs this time around, quoting the Journal as well:
“According to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Jobs has been keeping certain key board members, presumably his closest allies, up to date on his health.”