Tech Check

Where's The "Real" News On Apple?


Friday morning, and we're waking up once again to a flurry of headlines surrounding the ongoing Apple Inc. stock options backdating controversy--the scandal that just won't go away.

Dueling stories over the last 48 hours from the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, breathlessly reporting what appear to be new developments in the case. But pouring over the stories, I can't seem to find any news. Both papers report that the Feds are actively investigating those backdated 7.5 million options awarded to CEO Steve Jobs after a bogus compensation committee meeting that apparently never took place. This is Steve Jobs. An icon. Apple has admitted to finding questionable behavior. Do you honestly think the Feds WOULDN'T be ACTIVELY investigating?


Both papers also report a "new" name in the mix: A company attorney named Wendy Howell who apparently is being fingered as the one who actually falsified meeting documents and was the one who took care of the paperwork in all this. She left the company last month and worked for former General Counsel Nancy Heinen--who left the company last May for reasons her attorney says had nothing to do with the controversy. San Francisco's legal paper, The Recorder, however, reported Howell's name on Tuesday. Both papers report that investigators want to talk with former Apple CFO Fred Anderson. But as the company's ranking financial officer, do you think the Feds WOULDN'T want to talk to him? His attorney, incidentally, maintains he did nothing wrong.

Ummmm, news?

Look, I don't want to become Apple's defender. But I'm also trying to be a journalist looking for the details and coming up with the facts of the story instead of merely re-hashing the existing facts, and re-packaging them to make them look like news in order to keep this story alive.

Did something untoward happen at Apple? Yes. The company has admitted as much. Did something illegal happen? Sure seems like it. Was it civil? Criminal? What did Steve Jobs know, when did he know it? Is he tainted? Will he resign? Will he retire? Will he be indicted? All great questions, yes. But the answers will have to wait until investigators come up with their findings, or someone inside the company steps forward with some kind of "smoking gun" documents.

Sources have been leaking information from within the company; sources have been leaking information from outside the company. But so far, the information is in kind of a holding pattern until the Feds come up with something definitive. (Or leaks it to a reporter who reports something more definitive.)

This is something I asked Steve Jobs about earlier this week when I interviewed him following the introduction of the company's iPhone at Macworld in San Francisco.

"It's a little frustrating sometimes what the press is writing, a lot of these folks just have no idea what they're talking about. It is frustrating to read it," Jobs told me. "But, you know, we did our internal investigation and then we actually got an independent investigator, a former Federal prosecutor who's extremely highly regarded, and they looked at, Jesus, the better part of a million documents, they took several months, and they came out with their report that said what it said, and one of the things it said was that no current management had any misconduct. We did find some things that I wish we hadn't found, that I as CEO, to some extent am responsible for. But, we turned that all over to the SEC and they'll take a look at some of those things we found. But I don't think they're going to affect current management and I think everything's going to be just fine."

There's no question that Apple is feeling the heat. The frustration. That this is a distraction. And the company is probably having difficulty coming to terms with the fact that this simply will not go away, no matter what it says--or what Jobs says--until the SEC gives them both a clean bill of health.

And while I'd never preach restraint in going after a story like this, I do preach that we approach this fairly and judiciously. Sadly, investigations never occur at the speed of media. They're always too slow, too plodding, too fact-specific, always too much attention to pesky details, too focused on the truth, which always takes too much time.

But honestly, is that such a bad thing? There's enormous pressure to be "first" on this story, and believe me, I feel it every day. I'm more interested in being right.

To conclude our interview, I asked:  "Steve Jobs, here to stay?"  He answered:  "I serve at the pleasure of the board and the shareholders. And as long as they want me, I'd love to keep doing this job."

Bullseye on Jobs