I got a surprising (to me, at least) amount of email regarding my calling Engadget’s Ryan Block a jackass for his post on the bogus “iPhone and Leopard are both delayed” email. The question on many readers’ minds is how Block could have known, or even suspected, that the email was fake.

Easy: Because there was no actual press release from Apple.

Paul Kedrosky nails it:

There is no way — none — Apple would first announce a dramatic change in iPhone availability via wide internal email. No way.

It’s that simple. Apple cannot release news like this internally before issuing a public statement. It’s not just good manners, it’s the law. (And if it had been true, they almost certainly would have had to admit these delays during their shareholders meeting May 10.)

Block posted a follow-up a day later, but it was not, as some described it, an apology or supplication, but rather a justification. Block writes:

For a reporter, this kind of thing — an internal memo to a company’s employees — is solid gold. You don’t often get inside information more sound than a memo stating plans […]

Here’s the text of the “pure gold” bogus email sent to Apple employees:

Apple issued a press release today announcing that iPhone which was scheduled to ship in June, has been moved to October and the release date for Mac OS X Leopard has been moved to January next year. A beta version of Mac OS X Leopard will be given to developers at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

The red flag here is the phrase “issued a press release today” — which, you will note, is in the past tense. If they issued a press release, where was the press release? Not on the wire services, and not on Apple’s web site. Block, in his justification, claims to have called and emailed Apple’s PR team with no response, but admits it was still before 9:00 am on the west coast. But the simple fact is that without the PR, the email reeked to high hell as phony.1

I don’t blame the Apple employees who received this email and believed it to be true, at least at first; they had no reason to be skeptical. But Ryan Block’s job is to be skeptical of sensational news.

Block, in his follow-up, continues:

So we were sitting on news of obvious importance — the email was circulating, and it was enough to set off the alarms of other sources at Apple who also started forwarding it outbound. (As it happened, we were not the only site that acquired and published that memo, perhaps just the first.) Given the nature of that news, we felt we had an obligation to inform people that Apple had sent out an internal memo in preparation of a delay in the iPhone and Leopard. And so I ran the story; I believe most people in my place would have done the same.

Translation: I jizzed my pants at the thought of having a scoop on this, and posted it because I thought some other site might post it first.

And this leads to the second significant point of criticism regarding Block’s initial post on Engadget. He did not, as he claims, “inform people that Apple had sent out an internal memo in preparation of a delay in the iPhone and Leopard.” That would have meant posting something along the lines of, say, “A source at Apple forwarded us the following email, which they received via Apple’s internal-only Bullet News mailing list.” Instead, this is what Block originally posted to Engadget, under the headline “iPhone Delayed Until October, Leopard Delayed Again Until January”:

This one doesn’t bode well for Mac fans and the iPhone-hopeful: we have it on authority that as of today, the iPhone launch is being pushed back from June to… October (!), and Leopard is again seeing a delay, this time being pushed all the way back to January. Of 2008. The latest WWDC Leopard beta will still be handed out, but it looks like Apple-quality takes time, and we’re sure Jobs would remind everyone that it’s not always about “writing a check”, but just how much time are these two products really going to take?

No mention whatsoever that their only source for this information was an email broadcast internally at Apple via email, and, at least originally, no text from the email itself, which, for the aforementioned reasons, could have allowed Engadget readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether it might be fake. And if Block didn’t suspect it was fishy, why did he bother calling and emailing Apple PR for comment in the first place?

“On authority” implies just the opposite — that Engadget’s source knew, firsthand, as in like executive-level knowledge, that this information was true.

You can make an argument that Block would have been within his rights to post an article stating exactly what he knew: that this message had been sent via Apple’s internal Bullet News email list. I would disagree, on the grounds that it would be irresponsible, but at least it would have been true, hoax or not. But I don’t see how anyone can argue that what Block did post — which was completely and utterly false — was anything other than sensational jackassery.

  1. For another thing, although it doesn’t contain any outright spelling mistakes, the bogus email was very poorly punctuated. (E.g. the clause “which was scheduled to ship in June” should have been preceded by a comma.) Apple’s press releases are much better written than this (as are those from nearly all major corporations — some English majors do get jobs). But, again, there’s no need to nitpick the details of the message; what matters is that there was no PR issued by Apple. ↩︎