There are some things I hate about Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) . Topping the list is its propensity to shut out reporters who have a habit of breaking news the Mac maker doesn't like. Last week, a California court agreed to hear a case in which Apple's lawyers are pressing a blogger to reveal the source of a leak.
Here's the background: In 2004, rumor sites PowerPage and AppleInsider reported that Apple would release a device that would allow musicians to plug analog gear directly into a Mac to take advantage of the GarageBand composing software. Apparently furious with the leak, Apple filed suit. Its subpoena seeks to unmask the unnamed sources referenced in published stories.
Welcome to the 1970s. Here's your reservation to the Watergate. Please enjoy your stay; just don't make a ruckus while you're here. And don't go talking to anyone named Woodward or Bernstein, please.
So far, the court has proven sympathetic to Apple. According to News.com, a Santa Clara, California Superior Court judge last month ruled in favor of the subpoena, suggesting that the bloggers' need for confidentiality doesn't serve the national interest:
"Unlike the whistleblower who discloses a health, safety, or welfare hazard affecting all, or the government employee who reveals mismanagement or worse by our public officials, (the Macintosh news sites) are doing nothing more than feeding the public's insatiable desire for information."
With all due respect, this is silly. Not that I'm unsympathetic to the idea of Apple or others protecting their trade secrets, but breaking a story about a product in development without revealing exactly how to build that product -- as the bloggers did -- doesn't exactly strike me as corporate espionage. It's just . . . news.
What's more, this is hardly the first time Apple has played the bully when it comes to leaks. Does anyone else remember MacWEEK? Long before AppleInsider, PowerPage, ThinkSecret, and others like them, MacWEEK was earnings enemies at Apple for breaking stories about forthcoming products. It also published lots of rumors. But now that the journalistic gesticulating has fled from the pages of ink-stained weeklies to the URLs of digital dailies, the rights of writers have suddenly eroded?
My biggest problem with all this is the startling hypocrisy. Think about it: Apple and all of its backers in this case -- including Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) , Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE ) , and Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC ) -- have used leaks in the past to earn publicity. So what this all really means is that reporters can't publish leaks that aren't first approved by the subject of the story. There's a phrase for that, Fool: spin control.
You want to engage in that, Steve? Fine. But first you have to stop pretending you have the moral high ground on this issue and call off the lawyers. And then you have to open your checkbook. You're going to need to do this the old fashioned way -- by hiring an army of PR consultants.
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Fool contributorTim Beyerswas a PR consultant for more a decade before becoming a complete Fool. Tim didn't own stock in any of the companies listed in this story at the time of publication. You can find out which stocks he owns by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.