Given Jobs’s storied record, the quasi-religious hosannas were predictable. As Walt Mossberg, the Wall Street Journal’s technology columnist, wrote, Jobs rivaled Henry Ford as an industrialist and Thomas Edison as an innovator. In just over a dozen years, he transformed a foundering computer company into a giant of commerce and culture, with a broad influence on movies, music, advertising and retailing.
Reporters ate up Jobs’s oracular utterances at the annual Macworld convention and parsed his sentences for clues to the future. He could be charming to favored reporters, but he was also quick to rebut and rebuke critics. When Rolling Stone magazine declined to put the father of the Macintosh on its cover upon the introduction of the computer in 1984, Jobs called publisher Jann Wenner to complain. “Don’t hold your breath,” Wenner told him, according to journalist Steven Levy in a profile of Jobs on Wired.com on Thursday. Jobs’s demands for featured magazine coverage would later be “eagerly accommodated.”
“He could bully underlings and corporate giants with the same contempt,” wrote Levy. “But when he chose to charm, he was almost irresistible.”
Journalists may have been Apple’s original fanboys (and gals). Early on, the company presented an irresistible underdog story, the garage start-up taking on the corporate behemoth — a narrative Apple stoked in its “1984” and “Think Different” ad campaigns. It’s true, too, that many reporters were early adopters of Apple products, and many use them to this day, surely enhancing positive media feelings.
Jobs stoked Apple’s mystique by perfecting the art of the selective leak. The secrecy surrounding its new products is legendary, which only intensifies journalists’ desire to know what’s afoot. The iPad generated more than 25,000 stories before anyone outside the company had actually seen one — but Jobs and his underlings became masters at passing off-the-record tips into the ears of eager reporters.
For all the coverage, a remarkable number of important things were not revealed about Jobs. No one wrote that he had a liver transplant in a Tennessee hospital until days after the operation. Only a few photos of his wife and children have been published in mainstream publications. For someone as rich and famous as Jobs, particularly in an age in which the technology he created made privacy more difficult, he had an astonishing zone of seclusion.