Apple: Den of SecretsS

It looks as though Apple did a good job angering the New York Times with the news that Steve Jobs recently underwent a liver transplant. The paper's Tuesday edition dedicates two pieces to Apple's renowned penchant for shadiness.

It's no new story that Apple goes to greater lengths to prevent outside leaks than just about any corporation in recent American history, but who knew that even employees working at Apple often have little knowledge of what's going on there?

Secrecy at Apple is not just the prevailing communications strategy; it is baked into the corporate culture. Employees working on top-secret projects must pass through a maze of security doors, swiping their badges again and again and finally entering a numeric code to reach their offices, according to one former employee who worked in such areas.

Work spaces are typically monitored by security cameras, this employee said. Some Apple workers in the most critical product-testing rooms must cover up devices with black cloaks when they are working on them, and turn on a red warning light when devices are unmasked so that everyone knows to be extra-careful, he said.

Apple employees are often just as surprised about new products as everyone else.

"I was at the iPod launch," said Edward Eigerman, who spent four years as a systems engineer at Apple and now runs his own technology consulting firm. "No one that I worked with saw that coming."

In a separate piece the Times dug into the mysterious circumstances surrounding Jobs' recent liver transplant, going so far as to insinuate that Jobs may have used his wealth and status to his advantage in order to obtain a new organ.

Waiting times for a liver vary in different parts of the country, and people who can afford to travel are free to go to a city or state with the shortest wait and bide their time until they have reached the top of the list, a donor dies and an organ becomes available. Indeed, some patients rent apartments or stay in hotels near a hospital and wait for the phone to ring. It may not seem fair, but it is not illegal.

It is even conceivable that someone could go to the time and expense of registering for the waiting lists of several transplant centers around the country.

"If you had access to a jet and had six hours to get anywhere in the country, you'd have a wide choice of programs," said Dr. Michael Porayko, the medical director of liver transplants at Vanderbilt University, one of the Tennessee centers that has said it did not treat Mr. Jobs.

This isn't the first time the Times has called out Apple for its secrecy. In a piece published last July titled "Apple's Culture of Secrecy," Joe Nocera took Apple and Jobs to the woodshed over their unwillingness to divulge information about Jobs' declining health, which he speculated was the result of another bout with cancer, with company shareholders at the time, saying that Jobs "needs to treat his shareholders with at least a modicum of respect." This provoked Jobs to call Nocera a "slime bucket" in the course of denying that he was again battling cancer.

Since then Apple appears content to feed stories to the tech reporters at the Wall Street Journal, as they did with the news of Jobs' liver transplant that broke on Saturday morning, as well as a story earlier in the month about how Jobs was "starving to death" during a months-long battle with a mystery illness that left him unable to digest proteins. Near the end of May the Journal also reported that Jobs was, according to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, "healthy" and "energetic" and that he "doesn't sound like he's sick."

So while the Times persistent reporting on these matters may appear to be them lashing out at an entity they feel has disrespected them, the questions that they raise are valid and beg to be addressed, though one can hardly blame Jobs for doing everything in his power to hold onto to life. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal appears content to run with whatever scraps get thrown to them by Apple flacks, seemingly unwilling to question any of it out of fear of pissing them off, or not really caring one way or the other about the validity of any information they get fed as long as their stories get picked up by other media outlets.

Finally, at the risk of sounding morbid, you know how it's often rumored that rulers of totalitarian states have died, most recently in Cuba and North Korea for example, but that government officials are keeping it a secret from the people they rule, going so far as to splice together old film and audio clips to create updated propaganda and employing lookalikes and body doubles for occasional public appearances? It's not that difficult to imagine Apple doing the same thing when Jobs eventually dies, which is well beyond creepy, but sadly something that doesn't seem entirely outside the realm of possibility.

Apple's Management Obsessed With Secrecy [New York Times]
A Transplant That Is Raising Many Questions [New York Times]