Regarding Harry McCracken’s Departure From PC World

On Wednesday, Kim Zetter reported on Wired’s Epicenter weblog that Harry McCracken stepped down as editor of PC World after Colin Crawford, a senior vice president at IDG and former CEO of Macworld (which, like PC World, is published by IDG), forced McCracken to kill a story titled “Ten Things We Hate About Apple”.

Paul Thurrott concludes that Apple had a hand in this:

And bad, frankly, for Apple: Its insane desire to constantly control the messaging raises its ugly head so often these days (witness: Suing blogs, trying to prevent publication of “iCon”, and so on) that the company just seems diabolical.

Nowhere in Zetter’s weblog entry, nor in the CNet story Thurrott links to, is there any mention of any pressure coming from Apple whatsoever. Even if you accept that everything reported about this so far is true — a big “if” at this point — it’s entirely possible that Apple had no involvement in this matter whatsoever. Of course it’s possible, but no one, not even anonymous sources, has alleged that.

Regarding Crawford’s time at the helm of Macworld magazine, Zetter wrote:

Crawford was former CEO of MacWorld [sic] and only started at PC World about a month ago. According to the PC World source, when Crawford was working for the Mac magazine, Steve Jobs would call him up any time he had a problem with a story the magazine was running about Apple.

How does Zetter’s unnamed source at PC World know this? If it were true, it strikes me as something Crawford would keep to himself. Worse, the use of “was running” — as opposed to, say, “had run” — clearly implies that while Crawford was running Macworld, articles were sent to Apple for approval in advance of publication. Uh-huh. And we’re supposed to believe Steve Jobs himself effectively supervises Macworld each month?

I will remind you that I am now an occasional back-page columnist for Macworld. But I’m not an IDG employee, and I have very little insight into how Macworld’s editorial team operates. I am certain, however, that Macworld does not send articles for approval in advance of publication to Apple or any other company — no publication with any integrity would.

Zetter herself disclaimed that Harry McCracken was her “former boss at PC World and someone I greatly respect. He’s a top-notch writer and one of the smartest editors I’ve worked with.”

The scenario as outlined by Zetter is this:

  1. McCracken, the editor of the magazine, wants to run an opinion article critizing and/or making fun of Apple and Steve Jobs.
  2. Colin Crawford, McCracken’s superior at IDG, kills the story because he doesn’t want to displease Apple or Jobs, and is instituting a policy of publishing favorable coverage of the magazine’s advertisers.
  3. McCracken won’t stand for that and quits.

No named sources back this up. Colin Crawford flatly denies it on his own weblog. And McCracken himself told Zetter, when asked what he plans to do next, “I’m going to blog and freelance at least for a while. I’ll probably write for PC World by the way.” If he quit as editor because the magazine’s publisher is enforcing a “You can’t write anything bad about Apple or other major advertisers” policy, why would McCracken still be willing to be associated with the magazine in any capacity?

Regarding the article itself, Zetter writes:

The source didn’t know the specifics of what was in the story Crawford wanted to kill but said it was nothing new. “It was supposed to be light fare, just really innocuous stuff. The same kinds of things people have said about Apple before — things that teased Steve Jobs,” he said.

So here’s an alternative scenario:

  1. The article was fundamentally flawed, the sort of thing that’s fodder for a jackass-of-the-week award.
  2. McCracken, for whatever reason, likes the article. He thinks it’s funny or something.
  3. Crawford says no, the article sucks, we’re not running it.
  4. McCracken won’t stand for that and quits.
  5. An anonymous PC World staffer who liked McCracken pitches Zetter on the angle that Crawford is an Apple sycophant who won’t abide any negative coverage of Apple.

I have no sources for this, anonymous or otherwise. I made it up, based solely on Zetter’s brief description of the article and PC World’s history of publishing stupid articles about Apple. I’m not saying it’s true, I’m just saying it’s plausible — or at least more plausible than Zetter’s scenario.

It boils down to this: Did Crawford kill a fair and truthful article because it was unflattering to Apple? Or did he kill it because he thought the article wasn’t good?

Without seeing the article, it’s impossible to say.