A Jobs Tip & A Tweet

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the new iPod Nano in San Francisco, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the new iPod Nano in San Francisco, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008.

The growing, influential role of Twitterhas never been more evident than during the recent Iranian uprising.

But did the story that "The Wall Street Journal" broke last Friday night about Apple's Steve Jobs getting a liver transplant actually appear on Twitter first? I'm just asking. File this under FWIW...for what it's worth.

Maybe it's just coincidence. Maybe the guy didn't have a clue and was simply spreading an unfounded rumor. Or maybe he was onto something.

Curiously, someone with the handle Khroach on Twittersent out this Tweet on March 24th at 8:14 p.m.: "steve jobs (sic) will be getting a kidney transplant tomorrow. you heard it here first." His timing might have been right, but the organ was wrong. A few hours later he sent out this follow-up tweet to someone who appears to have inquired about the original one: "inside info from a quality source. Would short apple but it could never hit the media." I just started following "Kevin Roach" today in hopes of setting up a "Direct Message" relationship with him, where people who follow each other can essentially send private emails between Twits (Twitter users), but he hasn't followed me back yet.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request CNBC confirmed that Jobs' plane flew from San Jose to Memphis on March 24th and back to California on the 25th. We filed the FOIA inquiry after we got a tip at that time from someone in the Memphis media. The intel we got was that Jobs' plane was on the ground there. Our desk called around and a source on the ground eyeballed and confirmed the tail number for us. My producer, Ruth, established that Memphis is a liver transplant site, but it is not considered in medical circles to be in the top tier. Nonetheless, on a hunch that where there's smoke there's fire we flew down there on a reconnaissance mission. A hospital spokesperson was off site that day and couldn't tell us anything. My instinct was that if Steve Jobs were getting a transplant there, it'd be all hands on deck for the media relations folks in case of a leak. I spent the better part of a day inconspicuously, randomly sidling up to a number of hospital employees (outside the facility) trying to ascertain if Jobs was there or had been there. No one...no one...answered defensively or in a way that made me suspicious that they knew something and weren't divulging. And over the course of 25 years of reporting you get a sense for that kind of thing.

Based on the flight records we were only recently able to obtain through the FOIA request, Jobs' plane left Memphis the day before I arrived. While in Memphis I also talked over the phone with a couple of liver transplant experts in other cities who told me that several appointments for tests and screening are usually required in the weeks leading up to a procedure. They also explained that even though someone of Jobs' stature could easily go to a more prominent transplant center, that he'd have an easier time getting to the front of the line in Tennessee. But with the trail having gone cold in Memphis, we flew home.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman