Newsweek staffer Daniel Lyons apologizes for Apple interference claim

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On one point, at least, there is no dispute: Apple executives are not big fans of Newsweek tech writer Daniel Lyons, who couldn't even get an advance iPad while Steve Jobs was granting an exclusive interview to Time.

Lyons, after all, writes a personal, often biting blog as Fake Steve Jobs.

But the question of whether a former Newsweek staffer sent word that Apple would no longer cooperate with the magazine because of Fake Steve's hiring has sparked a dispute in the blogosphere. It is a contretemps that has pit Lyons against Newsweek's previous tech reporter, Steven Levy, and highlighted two very different approaches to the much-hyped maker of iPhones and iPods.

The tangled tale began Sunday on my CNN program "Reliable Sources," when Lyons said that before Newsweek hired him in 2008, a top Apple PR executive told Levy "to pass word to the powers that be at Newsweek that Apple wasn't happy with the idea that they were going to hire me. Yes, that happened."

"That's just totally wrong," Levy, who now writes for Wired magazine, said Tuesday. "I didn't pass anything on in terms of a message from Apple. It just simply did not happen."

But naturally enough, in a story about technology reporting, there is an electronic trail to unravel.

Lyons apologized Tuesday for misstating the sequence of events. The conversations he recalled -- quite vividly, he says, because he "was so freaked by it" -- took place shortly after Newsweek agreed to hire him as Levy's successor, not before. Lyons says Levy told him directly that Apple was upset at his hiring and told others at Newsweek (including then-business editor David Jefferson).

On June 30, 2008, Kathy Deveny, now Newsweek's deputy editor, e-mailed Lyons to say: "apparently apple has already complained to levy that we hired you. you should be proud!"

Lyons responded to his new boss: "i think it's a bit shady of levy to be writing to me telling me how happy he is for me, call anytime, etc., and then lobbying against me at newsweek."

Deveny wrote back: "don't worry about this!! hard for me to tell exactly what apple said -- levy only told david jefferson. . . . maybe flack was just trying to suck up to levy. so i wouldn't exactly call it lobbying against you."

The next day, Lyons e-mailed Levy to ask who at Apple "complained to you about Newsweek hiring me" because he wanted to "mend fences," and the two men spoke later in the day.

In a follow-up interview, Levy says that he may have been gossiping with Jefferson but that "Apple never told me to tell Newsweek anything. I was never carrying water for Apple in any conversation I might have had with David Jefferson."

To Levy, "this is like hiring Rush Limbaugh as your White House correspondent" and expecting to get interviews. Lyons's "most notable professional accomplishment is a vicious satire of Apple."

Apple did not respond to requests for comment. Deveny says she recalls talking to Levy at the time and did not regard him as passing on a warning from Apple. "He was just basically saying, 'They'll never talk to you guys again.' Steven's very positive on Apple, and that's fine. Did we get better access when Steven worked here? Yeah, we did."

As for Apple's lack of cooperation with Lyons -- who nonetheless praised the iPad in last week's cover story -- Deveny says: "He's pretty mean to them in his blog."

Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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