AN OPEN LETTER TO ALLTHINGSD
So the AllThingsD conference is happening now. For the rest of the universe, AllThingsD is a tech conference in which the tech media gazes adoringly at the tech CEOs who then lovingly bestow their approval back. This evening Mr. Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, took the stage, leading to this:
6:43 pm: On China, Kara notes, you have many critics, and not just fictional ones (a reference to Mike Daisey). Why doesn’t Apple have its own factories in China?
First, Kara, this isn’t even good wordplay—I’m not a fictional fucking critic. The word you would want is fictitious, though that wouldn’t really work either—you probably knew that, but I think then you got lazy and just said, what the fuck…who is really paying attention to that shit, anyway, right?
But it fits the evening—given the tone of the opening schtick, complete with marching band and “humorous” prop cakes, it’s clear that no one who actually worked in a theatrical context helps you with your industry mixer.
Kara and Walt—do you really think you asked hard questions tonight? Goodness, you got Cook to admit…that Ping was a failure! That’s amazing. If only you had another hour, so you could get him to tell us who he liked best on Dawson’s Creek and what kind of ice cream is best: vanilla or cookies and cream. (Trick question: it’s always cookies and cream.)
Since you dipped your toe into “comedy”, I’ll bite and tell you how you can do your job better.
Let me suggest some actual questions you could have asked Tim Cook.
You could have asked,
“Recently you went to China for the first time as CEO to tour Foxconn’s production lines. Apple’s first outside audits of Foxconn happened in 2006, after media coverage back then, and the report recommendations made six years ago are the same as the ones made by the FLA in 2012. Did it not seem important enough a priority for the CEO go until now, six years later? Why did it take so long?”
“You’ve worked at Apple since 1998, and are credited for creating an incredible supply chain that is a huge part of Apple’s success. But the New York Times and others have pointed to the squeezing of that supply chain as a big part of the problems at Foxconn. Do you think Apple’s responsible for some of the problems that Apple’s been documenting since 2006 without making inroads on until this year?”
I came up with these in less than five minutes, Kara—and as so many have pointed out, I’M NOT EVEN A JOURNALIST. Imagine what you, an actual living journalist with credentials and EVERYTHING—why, your questions must be devastating! You’re a journalist, so I’m sure you read all the stories I’ve read and more, so you know how documented the situation is…this is the kind of situation a journalist should kill for. You’re finally talking with Tim Cook! That dude is like the sphinx! Lashinsky couldn't even get word one out of him! This is your CHANCE.
But it is even more galling is that this has happened before.
When Steve Jobs at on that stage and spun a line of incredible horseshit about the amazing fairyland that was Foxconn, a fairyland that today everyone, including Apple, agrees must change. Jobs knew all that when he snowed you, Kara and Walt and everybody. You didn’t press him, you listened with your hands folded in your laps.
That was hard. But this is a lot worse. What’s even worse is that you know it, and you still won’t ask the questions.
Perhaps Ms. Swisher is not so much a journalist as a technology columnist. That was Mr. Pogue’s defense, after all, when confronted with massive ethics violations—that he was never a journalist at all. (I guess when you use that defense and write for the New York Times it actually works, as Mr. Pogue still has his job today.)
The kind of journalists who ask hard questions and value inquiry over appeasement have a name. It’s a simple title. They’re called journalists. They are the people I tip my hat to, and to whom I feel ashamed when I fall short, and they inspire me, and many of us, to tell better stories.
Maybe the problem is in part that these tech journalists, whom I have been told over and over again these last few months that will now carry the banner, now that Apple is awake, they will do the job I never could with “real reporting” and “impartial objective coverage”…maybe they aren’t actually journalists either?
Perhaps instead they are “journalists”, in quotes, as almost every writer for technology outlets must feel like: hemmed between the corporations who make the devices, the PR teams, and all the forces that exist in our marketplace. Maybe they arrive at a place where they have an outlandish conference that feels like an industry kissing party because that’s precisely what it is.
But why should this be surprising? Walt Mossberg, who was onstage with Kara tonight, came and saw AGONY/ECSTASY over a year ago in DC. We spoke together in the lobby, where I was insistent that the tech media were exactly the people who should be telling this story. He fobbed me off, saying it was “interesting”…but it was so clear that unless the big boys snapped their fingers, no one inside the tech circle was going to bite the hand. And no one did.
Well, it surprised me. Because I had such hope that tech journalists would lead. I had such hope that they would stand up and do their jobs. But they didn’t. Other journalists, with much less to lose, did their job for them years after the fact…and that gap, that delay, is a direct and deep failure of technology journalism. And my anger at their failure is matched by their callow blindness—after the TAL retraction, they decided to go back to sleep as deeply as they can, which is what they've been trying to do in the first place.
I don’t call myself a journalist—I never did. And I have paid the price for where I’ve gone wrong. I fucked up, and I’ve owned it. The nice thing about coming through something like that is that afterward, you don’t have anything to lose.
And even if it makes the tech journalists bray and whine and stamp their little feet, we all know there’s a lot of truth in this. Everybody knows it. Just get off your high horses and fucking admit it.
Have a good time at your conference,