First clip: A CNBC reporter dishes outsidery snark about Apple's supposedly botched iPhone launch. Second clip: CNBC's Silicon Valley bureau chief guzzles the Apple Kool-Aid. Is this the same network?
CNBC's change of tune is a classic cautionary tale. Reporters trade favorable coverage for access to products and executives all the time. But Jim Goldman, the network's tech reporter, has turned access journalism into a cringe-inducing parody of itself.
When the iPhone launched in the summer of 2007, CNBC didn't get a review unit. NBC's Today show did, but a staged call between hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer famously failed. Later that day, a CNBC reporter went on air for an On The Money segment and launched into a tirade about Apple's botched PR, its unshowered fanboys, and its trouble with the SEC over stock options. (That reporter was not Goldman, as we incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this post; Goldman tells us he was "livid" with the segment.) The rant was acidic, funny, over the top — and, for a cable-news network, shockingly accurate.
After that, CNBC insiders say, Apple's PR operatives called up executives at the network and threatened to cut off access for good. The show's producer was called onto the carpet, and soon afterwards left the network; to this day, many employees still believe he was fired under pressure from Apple. (He actually wasn't, but he told an acquaintance that the Apple incident left a bad taste in his mouth and hurried his exit.)
Goldman, on the other hand, has been carefully toeing the Apple line, and was rewarded last summer with a face-to-face interview with Jobs. The Apple CEO's scarily gaunt appearance was on everyone's mind, including Goldman's. But the subject never came up. Goldman later wrote that he was privately horrified by Jobs's "sickly" state but thought better of probing into it.
Which brings us to the latest Jobs health scare, which turned out to be well-based in fact. Goldman sputtered on air as he had to explain the denials he was spoonfed by Apple PR — and acted outraged when a coworker made a joke about Jobs's hormonal imbalance — the root of his weight loss — being like PMS.
And who wielded the spoon? Steve Dowling, Apple's top corporate flack under Katie Cotton, was Goldman's predecessor as CNBC's chief Silicon Valley correspondent. We hear he left the network on bad terms. If so, that surely made the revenge of turning his replacement into Apple's pet all the sweeter. Do you think that if Goldman's really nice, Dowling will hire him, too?