CNBC tech reporter Jim Goldman blew the biggest story on his beat by insisting his "sources inside the company" said Apple's Steve Jobs was in tip-top shape. Do these sources even exist?
Though Goldman never discloses it on air, one of his Apple sources is Apple spokesman Steve Dowling, who previously worked with Goldman at CNBC'S Silicon Valley bureau. Does he have other sources within Apple?
All along, sources (and yes, there are several) inside Apple have reassured me that Jobs was firmly in charge, executing his responsibilities, and performing his role as C.E.O. One source, who I have known for years, told me recently that Jobs was 'fine,' and that everything was under control. All of it was fine. And I stand by every word of that reporting. Even today.
"Several" sources: Does that mean Goldman spoke to Dowling, his former colleague, and Katie Cotton, Jobs's personal PR guru at Apple, who has a track record of lying about her boss?
Take this earlier blog post from Goldman, when worries first emerged that Jobs, who had undergone surgery to treat pancreatic cancer in 2004, was skipping the annual Macworld Expo event where he usually delivers a keynote address, because his health was failing:
I can tell you that sources inside the company tell me that Jobs' decision was more about politics than his pancreas. Sources tell me that if Jobs for some reason was unable to perform any of his responsibilities as CEO because of health reasons, which would include the Macworld keynote, I should 'rest assured that the board would let me know.'
Sounds like Goldman has a direct line to the Apple board, right? Wrong. That's the same statement Dowling gave every other media outlet:
If Steve or the board decides that Steve is no longer capable of doing his job as CEO of Apple, I am sure they will let you know.
The only conclusion to reach here: Either Goldman is puffing up flacks as sources, or his sources don't exist.
That's what one former colleague of Goldman's thinks:
Here's the key to revealing Goldman - he doesn't have any sources. And his bosses back in New Jersey don't know that. His only Apple "source" is a flack, Steve Dowling, who once worked at CNBC as the Silicon Valley (off-air) bureau chief.
The question you should raise - does CNBC's managing editor know who Goldman's sources are? He inflates his bogus persona as a Silicon Valley insider by inventing sources. At any legitimate news organization, if you can use an unnamed "source" your boss must know who it is, by name.
Does CNBC follow this practice? (The answer, as I know well, is: no).
I've watched Goldman sit at his desk without picking up the phone for hours, then go on the air and say "I just got off the phone with a source inside Google who tells me..."
He flat out makes it up. He IS Jayson Blair. And he's the only person at CNBC who even tries to get away with it.
Fast Company's Adam Penenberg tried Googling "CNBC ethics" and came up short. We called Kevin Goldman, a spokesman for CNBC, to ask what the network's policies on anonymous sources were — how they were to be used, and whether reporters were obligated to reveal their identities to their editors and producers. (Such is the practice at most magazines and newspapers.)
Goldman (no relation to Jim) said, "CNBC has policies and guidelines that are followed by everyone. And we don't disclose those policies to the public." And he would not comment on the identity of CNBC's sources at Apple.
Blogs are not known for impeccable sourcing. (We call them "tipsters" for a reason.) But at least we're upfront about it — indeed, we're the first to question our sources, often in the same blog post that we cite them. That kind of probing uncertainty makes for a better path to the truth. But it doesn't make good television, and it doesn't fluff up the easily deflated ego of a self-declared "insider."