Today's New York Times has a story about Apple Computer's decision -- an arrogant and counterproductive move, in my view -- to ban sales of all books from a publisher that is releasing a new biography about Apple's Ruler Supreme. The article includes a quote from Mitchell Kertzman. (Note: He's a friend.) I was a bit surprised by the quote, and asked him about it in an e-mail. He said it was out of context. I asked him if he'd like to explain why in a posting here, and he agreed.
Here's what he wrote to me:
I've been getting angry emails because I was quoted in a column in today's New York Times about reactions in the industry to Steve Jobs/Apple's decision to not only refuse to sell the new Jobs book (iCon) but to pull the publisher's books from the shelves at Apple stores. Here's the quotation, which closes the article:Update: John Dvorak asks how I (or Kertzman) know that Jobs himself ordered the book banning from the stores. Fair point: I don't, and have corrected my introduction to reflect that. (I also notice that the Times story carefully does not go as far as the headline on the piece, which attributes the decision to Jobs himself, though when you read the first two paragraphs the implication of Jobs' participation is clear.)
"It is not possible, aside from things unimagined, to damage his reputation," said Mitchell Kertzman, a partner at Hummer Winblad Venture Partners in San Francisco. "Steve is on such a roll in both of his companies, he's earned the right to do whatever he wants."
I had a long and enjoyable conversation with Carolyn Marshall from the Times, who contributed to the story. She wanted to know if this incident/issue would in any way damage Steve's reputation in the industry. My comments were first, that nobody who had followed Steve Jobs would find this inconsistent with his past behavior. Second, Steve has had a spectacular string of successes with both Apple and Pixar. He has a long and distinguished career and has been serving all his constituencies very well. That, then, was the context of my quotation (which I actually did say). I believe that Steve has earned a permanent spot in the esteem of his colleagues and that he's been so successful that he's earned the right to do what he wants in his businesses with their products, strategies and offerings.
Somehow, the people who emailed me (and probably countless others who didn't), interpreted my comments to mean that his string of business successes permitted him to do ANYTHING, no matter how unethical or criminal. I can certainly see how someone deeply suspicious of the behavior of business executives might, at the extreme, read my comments that way. Of course, that isn't the way I intended them. Unlike the online journalism world, of course, there's no way to correct the ink on the paper, so I thought I'd offer my thoughts here.
I'm not sure what lessons can be learned here - certainly, comments quoted (no matter how accurately) out of context are dangerous. However, it also shows me how much people bring their biases to all they read and hear. I personally think it's a giant stretch to interpret my quotation in the way people did, and anyone who knows me would find it laughable to read it that way. We live in an "assume the worst" time, I guess.
By the way, I certainly wouldn’t have done what Steve and Apple did on this one, so I’m not saying I agree with it, just that Apple and Steve are a package that’s been pretty great for customers and shareholders for some time.
It's inconceivable to me that Jobs wasn't party to this move. But John is right: I don't have proof.