Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 8:32 AM

Why reporters must not be cheerleaders

Yesterday, Andy DeSoto, a graduate student at Washington University, who I know to be a serious person, asked how I reconcile my various opinions about Apple. I was in the middle of a fangasm, enjoying my first day with a great new Apple product, the iPhone 6. It really lifted my spirits in exactly the way I always hope these products will. As I said in the write-up, the experience made everything feel new and smart. Even a bike ride on 57th St in the middle of a business day felt special. That's something. And it was clearly coming through in the piece.

Andy asked, if it's true that the Apple product is wonderful, what's wrong with reporters reacting as a fan would, by cheering at the press conference, in a standing ovation. Now, in the sobriety of the following morning, I'd like to answer Andy's question.

I am a user, not a reporter

First, I am not a reporter. So there's no hypocrisy in my writing glowingly about a product I just plunked down $800 plus tax for (I bought the unlocked version of the iPhone 6, with 64GB). There would be something wrong if I didn't love the product. That's a lot of money to spend for a dud.

An analogy

I recently watched an old episode of Law & Order where the accused murderer tried to excuse the act, by saying he did it so he could continue to send money to Israel. He was Jewish, as was his lawyer, and the judge. And the lawyer packed the jury with Jews, people he felt would be sympathetic to the argument. And the defense lawyer was very good. He had McCoy convinced he was about to lose the trial, even though the defendant was obviously guilty (he had more or less confessed).

McCoy gave an incredibly good closing argument. He told the jurors that it was okay if they felt love for Israel, if they admired the defendant for supporting Israel, but this was America, and they were charged with deciding an American case, under American law. That the defendant, his wife, his attorney, and the judge were all obsessed with Israel was irrelevant to the case. They had to decide guilty or not guilty based on what happened in New York, not Tel Aviv. The jury came back with a guilty verdict. That's the right, satisfying outcome, no matter how you feel about the Jewish cause (and the case was much more compelling than I make it sound here).

Another example. In the 90s, just as the web was taking off, Congress passed and the President signed a law that severely limited the First Amendment on the Internet, in the name of protecting children from pornography. Luckily the courts intervened, and declared the law unconstitutional. Don't they love children? Doesn't matter. The First Amendment clearly applies to the Internet, they said. And Congress can't do what they just did. Thank goodness they weren't fanboys for Internet Decency, as the President and Congress were.

Why reporters can't be cheerleaders

I think by now, I've made my case.

If journalism is to mean anything, we need sober and dispassionate observers, who stay seated when everyone else is cheering. Why? Because that's what they're paid to do. We need to have the facts, not just the emotions. And we need every competitor to feel that in every product launch they have a chance to win, and for some (like Apple) they must feel that they can lose. When journalists are so obviously in the bag, standing up and giving a rousing ovation to what is a nice, but hardly revolutionary product, that's just plain wrong.

It's also important because of the huge power a company like Apple has over our freedom. They decide whether or not applications can ship. And often those apps are tied to our ability to communicate and share information. If Apple decides to curtail our speech, don't you want reporters to be free to tell us that's what's happening? In the current system, I would place almost no trust in the reporters, given the way they report on Apple. It's a corrupt system, and the reporters are complicit.

How does this relate to a customer enjoying the first day with a new Apple product? Not at all.

Last built: Sun, Mar 22, 2015 at 5:50 PM

By Dave Winer, Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 8:32 AM. Greetings, citizen of Planet Earth. We are your overlords. :-)