"You think I'm an arrogant [expletive] who thinks he's above the law, and I think you're a slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong," Apple CEO Steve Jobs told New York Times writer Joe Nocera, in the course of Nocera's reporting on Apple's cult of secrecy . The top subject, of course, is Jobs's health. Jobs insisted on speaking to Nocera off the record, so we cannot know what, exactly, has gone wrong with Jobs's body of late. We do know this much, however, thanks to Nocera: Top Apple flack Katie Cotton, who has long put Jobs's interests above those of Apple shareholders' , flat-out lied when she attributed Jobs's gaunt appearance to "a common bug."Apple's secretive ways have paid off for it in turning every product release into a marketing event. But by applying that same Kremlin-like opaqueness to its corporate affairs, Apple has gone astray. "By claiming Mr. Jobs had a bug, Apple wasn't just going dark on its shareholders," Nocera writes. "It was deceiving them." It's one thing for Jobs to lie about Apple's unreleased gadgets — for example, when he publicly dismissed the notion of producing an iPod that played video in 2004 , even as Apple was secretly working on one . That kind of maneuver can be put down to competitive misdirection. But to extend it to the health of a public company's CEO? Unseemly. As unseemly, really, as the Apple apologists among us who join Apple PR in repeating the mantra that Jobs's health is a "private matter" . Wishing doesn't make it so. With Jobs personally accounting for a quarter of Apple's market cap, it's everyone's concern. Apple's fans have a choice: They can join Jobs himself in insulting award-winning reporters like Nocera , and dismissing the whole affair. Or they can face reality: Steve Jobs let his personal flack lie for him — and they bought it. That must really bug them.