Here's what we know, regarding the health of Steve Jobs:
In mid-2004, Jobs announced to his employees that he had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his pancreas. The prognosis for pancreatic cancer is usually very grim. Jobs, however, stated that he had a rare, far less aggressive type known as islet cell neuroendocrine tumor. Survival in islet cell carcinoma is highly dependent upon the degree of disease involvement. Surgical cure is possible if the tumor is resected completely...After initially resisting the idea of conventional medical intervention and embarking on a special diet to thwart the disease, Jobs underwent surgery (pancreaticoduodenectomy) that successfully removed the tumor in July, 2004. SOURCE
Steve Jobs is a cancer survivor. He is, however, facing severe side-effects related to his cancer, possibly including digestive issues but primarily consisting of invasive and uncomfortable press speculation.
Most of this speculation has been based on two separate appearances at Apple's World Wide Developers Conference (2006 and 2008) during which Jobs' "thin, almost gaunt" appearance raised questions about his ongoing health.
Various members of the press as well as assorted blogs, including Fortune, Ars Technica, "one interviewer", the Wall Street Journal and, most recently, the New York Times, have been relentless in their pursuit of the truth behind Jobs' health status, to the point of raising concerns among shareholders and analysts and ultimately driving down Apple's stock performance.
Going down the list, only Fortune appears to have looked into possible side affects of the surgery Jobs is believed to have underwent to treat his cancer:
What Jobs didn't tell the staff was that the operation he had undergone had radically rearranged his digestive organs and would permanently change the nature of his health.
The Fortune article reported - and Apple has not disputed - that his surgery was a variation on the Whipple procedure, or a pancreatoduodenectomy, the most common operation for pancreatic cancer. SOURCE
Speculation, yes -- but speculation based on something more than "looking thin" and FUD, designed to generate page-views. According to the Fortune article, side-effects of the Whipple procedure are "consistent with both Jobs' medical history and the changes in his appearance."
Adding fuel to the fire, the official word from inside Apple amounted to little more than reassurances that Jobs would continue to perform his duties at Apple and that his health was not an issue. Unsurprisingly, representatives also declined to provide details, citing Jobs' privacy.
Despite Fortune's attempt at investigative reporting, the shareholder unease and the feeding-frenzy continued, fueled by further press inquiries.
In particular, Joe Nocera (NYT) made repeated attempts to obtain official word of Jobs' health, but was repeatedly turned away with nothing to show for his diligence.
Eventually, Jobs' himself called Nocera, providing the sought after details -- with the caveat that he be allowed to speak off the record -- limiting the information that Nocera can report to what has essentially already been stated: Jobs' health is not affecting his ability to maintain his role as CEO at Apple, Inc.
The details of the phone call comprise little more than two paragraphs at the end of a wordy two-page article:
Because the conversation was off the record, I cannot disclose what Mr. Jobs told me. Suffice it to say that I didn't hear anything that contradicted the reporting that John Markoff and I did this week. While his health problems amounted to a good deal more than "a common bug," they weren't life-threatening and he doesn't have a recurrence of cancer. After he hung up the phone, it occurred to me that I had just been handed, by Mr. Jobs himself, the very information he was refusing to share with the shareholders who have entrusted him with their money.
You would think he'd want them to know before me. But apparently not. SOURCE
The not-so-thinly-veiled snark in that last sentence is attributable to one or two things:
- Nocera's premise was based on Jobs' desire to keep secret details of his personal health, and the negative impact this could have on Apple stock. By agreeing to go "off the record" Nocera now knows those details, but must also keep them secret, at the risk of losing his journalistic credibility. This puts Nocera in a bind, and kills the story.
- Jobs began the phone call by referring to Nocera as a "slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong." Nocera is now in a position to concede what has been stated all along: Jobs health is not an issue which affects his job performance. Thus, Jobs' jibe at Nocera probably cut too close to home for comfort as, it would seem, those covering this story have been getting their facts wrong due, primarily, to not knowing the facts.
With no chance of pushing further FUD, Nocera resorts to a cheap shot by accusing Jobs of wanting to divulge information to a reporter before releasing said information to shareholders.
This is interesting because, as has been noted, most of the concerns about Jobs' health have been fueled by reporters chasing a lead. Everyone wants to be the guy who breaks the story on Jobs' (alleged, assumed, hoped for, etc.) recurring cancer, and a lack of official details meant a feeding frenzy of speculation. This speculation negatively affected Apple's stock. Without the reporters and speculation, there would be no health crisis that the shareholders would allegedly "need" to be informed about.
So, Jobs reconfirms with details what has already been publicly stated -- under the veil of an off-the-record conversation with one of the sharks at the center of the frenzy -- and Nocera turns around and blames Jobs for speaking to a reporter rather than Apple's shareholders despite the fact that the FUD turned out to have been completely without a basis in reality, as tends to be the case with FUD.
After all that, it might seem as though the story could be laid to rest.
Enter Dan Lyons, who once posed as "Fake Steve Jobs" but who now writes as the "The Real Dan".
But people who want to set the record straight about themselves don't go off the record. They don't need to. They don't want to.
So why did Nocera agree to this lousy deal? My sense is he figured that while he might not get the truth, he would at least get something, and even if it's all bullshit it would still be the hottest story of the week and put him ahead of everyone else on this and produce the one story that everyone else would be talking about for the next few days. In which case, okay, mission accomplished.
But the Nocera story doesn't necessarily help shareholders, because, let's remember something: We still haven't heard Steve Jobs or anyone at Apple say, on the record, that Steve isn't sick. SOURCE
The first and most glaring problem with this analysis is the assumption that Steve wants to "set the record straight about himself" despite the fact that the word of the day on the issue at Apple is "private" and has been for weeks, now.
Ultimately, it's difficult to deny that the information contained in the Nocera article seems to be pretty much in line with the Steve Jobs that the public has come to "know" over the past 30-odd years, despite the ways in which Lyons attempts to spin the story. Ironic, then, that Lyons misses the mark despite having built-up a reputation by writing a spot-on satire of Steve Jobs personality quirks.
Jobs' request to keep the details off-the-record lays the speculation to rest because, had their been a major health issue, Nocera could have reported as much without breaking his agreement to keep details off-the-record. He didn't, and therefore we must assume that Steve Jobs either 1) lied or 2) told the complete truth and that there was no crisis for Nocera to report.
Given that Nocera confirms that his health issues amount to "more than a common bug" (as has been claimed in the past) it would seem that Jobs did open up, and his history as a private individual is perfectly in-line with his request to keep the details of his health off-the-record and previous requests for privacy.
Lyons wants to psycho-analyze the surprise nature of the call to Nocera, but this too is quintessential Steve Jobs, right down to calling Nocera a "prick" and questioning his poor handling of facts. Most who are familiar with Steve Jobs recall the story of an interview in which he questioned a prospective employee about his status as a virgin -- just one example in which Steve Jobs has historically used awkward and/or confrontational language to maintain the upper-hand in a discussion. Jobs is impulsive, and there's little reason to suspect that his sudden call to Nocera was anything more than an impulse based on anger regarding a perceived invasion of privacy.
It's worth nothing that Jobs once called the family of a teenager (NYT LInk) who died after a group of teens attempted to steal his iPod, stabbing him in the chest as part of the theft. Point being, there's a history which demonstrates that if Jobs decides he's going to do something, he's going to do it, and he's going to do it his way.
(If Jobs were an actor, you can bet he'd be the one you see on the news, punching over-eager cameramen and reporters, and this call to Nocera doubles as that punch and a functional effort to quell baseless speculation.)
In response to Lyons' analysis and assertion that Jobs should be willing to speak on-the-record if his health isn't an issue of concern, John Gruber (Daring Fireball) responds with:
Even if he's recovering fully from this problem, set to live a full life for decades to come, is it any wonder he might not want to speak on the record about digestive problems like, say, extreme diarrhea? Fuck that. SOURCE
This too, seems unlikely, and assumes that Jobs would have to announce the problem to the press as "a painful case of the ass-plosions" or in some other awkward, embarrassing, and/or personally incriminating fashion.
Not so: Jobs (or any representative speaking on his behalf) could simply concede that "a side-effect of his cancer surgery has caused issues with digestion, which have in turn resulted in weight loss -- neither of which should affect his job with Apple now or in the future." Even if diarrhea were the root of the problem (and no one knows that it is, save perhaps Jobs, Nocera and others in Jobs' inner-circle) it's not as though there aren't ways to address that diagnosis in subtler terms.
Still, the "what if" question always provides a juicy story, and despite the fact that we've been given most of the puzzle pieces, a lot of journalists will refuse to admit that one can pretty clearly make out the overall picture, in order to keep the game alive.
In this case, there should be little doubt that Jobs isn't going anywhere, anytime soon. Speculation beyond that must be based on the assumption that he's lying and -- if he is -- there's simply no way to determine the truth of the matter until his health worsens to the point of revealing his hand.
If Jobs is lying about his health, and it turns out that his job has been affected, he would have been required to disclose this information, yes. This alone makes it unlikely that he would continue with the deception. On the other hand, if it turns out he's telling the truth -- that whatever it is that is causing the weight loss is not affecting his job performance -- he is under no obligation to share details, and is fully within his rights to cite privacy factors in refusing to go into further detail.
At this point, pursuing the story without unveiling new evidence simply adds to the FUD, is an invasion of privacy, and would seem to constitute stock manipulation by an over-eager press.
"Looking thin" is no longer a valid excuse to press for details, if ever it was.