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Faster Forward: Apple rejects Pulitzer winner's iPhone app

By Rob Pegoraro
Friday, April 16, 2010; 11:25 AM

A Pulitzer Prize can win you a round of applause in a newsroom, but it won't necessarily get your application in Apple's App Store.

Freelance artist Mark Fiore, winner of the 2010 prize for editorial cartooning and the first online-only recipient of a Pulitzer, found that out in December.

This story surfaced yesterday, when the Nieman Journalism Lab blog (a product of Harvard University's Nieman Foundation) reported on Fiore's computing rejection in a piece about his critical success. Author Laura McGann wrote that Apple refused to list an iPhone program presenting Fiore's animated cartoons because ... well, they were mean to name-brand people. She quoted an Apple e-mail forwarded by Fiore:

"We've reviewed NewsToons and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains content that ridicules public figures."

The message cited Section 3.3.14 of Apple's iPhone Developer Program License Agreement -- although Apple hasn't published it, the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently obtained a copy -- which bans things that "in Apple's reasonable judgment may be found objectionable."

In a phone call Thursday night, Fiore confirmed that account, said he uses Apple's products, pointed out that the iPhone's YouTube program plays Fiore's animated cartoons on his YouTube channel (Apple employees may also know them from the San Francisco Chronicle's site), and called Apple's actions "un-Apple-like" while comparing them to the dystopian vision of its "1984" commercial.

Then Fiore said he'd gotten a call from an Apple employee who hinted that if he re-submitted his app, he might find it would get a more hospitable reception. That wouldn't surprise me; Apple has a history of backing down once its App Store gatekeepers' conduct sees daylight.

An Apple publicist said she would forward a query about this to representatives working on the App Store, but none have replied yet. I'll update the post whenever they do.

This escapade raises an interesting question, one that media critic and tech writer Dan Gillmor has been asking for a while: Now that many news organizations use iPhone applications to publish their work, can Apple evict those programs if it doesn't like their content? What about, say, The Post's own iPhone app, which presents the often-scornful work of such colleagues as Dana Milbank and Tom Toles?

(After one reader raised the same point in comments here, I waved off his concerns. That's not looking like a good call.)

When I asked whether The Post's app could be yanked for featuring "objectionable" content, Washington Post Co. spokeswoman Kris Coratti suggested I first ask Apple for comment. A developer of The Post's app didn't want to speak on the record.

But there may be one way to test that theory. A Post writer could denounce Apple's conduct and then ridicule a public figure -- perhaps one connected to the Cupertino, Calif., company -- in a piece that is then distributed via the Post's iPhone app. Here goes ...

Ridiculing public figures is the birthright of every American citizen, enshrined in the First Amendment. Brave men and women have shed blood to defend that freedom, one we celebrate every time we boo a politician who can't keep an opening-day pitch out of the dirt. Apple once professed to speak for people who "think different" and, presumably, appreciated that right. Now, though, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs apparently thinks it's Apple's job to comfort the comfortable, sparing them the indignity of being mocked in a smartphone application. Since when is that Apple's work? Since when should it be any self-respecting, red-blooded capitalist's job? You have to ask: Why does Steve Jobs hate America?

Okay, Apple: Ball's in your court. Anybody want to wager on the fate of the Post's iPhone app?

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