Sorry, No, I’m Not Going to Write a Piece Arguing That Dan Lyons Is a Jackass

So I get another call from my payola rep at Apple, and she’s like, “Hey, thanks so much for all the antenna-related links over the weekend. I just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate it, John.” They punctuate a lot of their sentences with your first name. Oldest trick in the book, but it works, even if you’re aware of it. Seriously. Anyway, I’m all like, “No problem, it’s my pleasure. You just keep those checks coming.” Laughs all around.

But then she gets serious, and says Apple will make it worth my while if I’d close out this antenna saga with a “Jackass of the Week” piece responding to Dan Lyons’s Antennagate story. So I say, “Who’d he write that for? I didn’t see anything on the Fake Steve blog about it.”

She says, “Newsweek, of course.”

“I thought they went out of business a few months ago.”

“No, they’re still around. I swear.”

She sends me a link to Lyons’s piece, “Apple’s Rotten Response”, which starts like this:

I wonder if panic has started to set in at Apple yet. If not, it should. Because today’s hastily called news conference — ostensibly to discuss problems with iPhone 4 and how Apple intends to fix them — only did further damage to Apple’s reputation.

Which is a polite way to start, because, well, we all know just how panicked everyone at Apple is feeling these days about the company’s prospects. (You’d be surprised at how many of the senior VPs at last week’s event reeked of booze, and it was only 10am. Nerves are frayed.) Lyons was kind to phrase it as a question.

So what should Apple be panicked about? Lyons’s thesis is that Steve Jobs has lost touch with reality, and the world is waking up to this. In this case, there’s something terribly wrong with the iPhone 4 antenna and Steve Jobs won’t admit it:

Some expected Apple might announce a recall of the phone. Others speculated it might announce some kind of software update that would improve reception problems. Instead, Apple CEO Steve Jobs came up with a two-part solution. Part 1: There is no problem. Part 2: Even though there is no problem, we’re going to give everyone a free case, which should insulate the antenna and prevent the interference that we just told you isn’t actually occurring.

I went back through my notes on the press conference, looking for the part where Jobs said there was no problem. I think it was right around the 13:00 mark in the video stream, where Jobs said, “And so the iPhone antenna went through all of this. We tested it. We knew that if you gripped it in a certain way, the bars are going to go down a little bit, just like every smartphone. We didn’t think it’d be a big problem, because every smartphone has this issue.” Or maybe it was a little later, toward the end, when Jobs said “A lot of people have told us, the bumper solves the signal strength problem,” where he claimed there was “no problem”.

So, Lyons concludes:

This is classic Apple behavior. No matter what the whole world can see with its own eyes, just keep saying that it isn’t true, and maybe, eventually, everyone will believe you. By refusing to acknowledge the problem, Jobs just reinforced the image of Apple as a company that is in deep denial and unable to admit a mistake — a company that has for so long been able to bend reality to suit its needs that it now has lost touch with reality itself.

I read that paragraph aloud to my payola rep, and told her that it was exactly why I’d be reluctant to criticize Lyons’s coverage. Apple really should have acknowledged reality. Sure, they’re giving out free cases because — in Jobs’s words — “A lot of people have told us, the bumper solves the signal strength problem”. Sure, Jobs said Apple “knew that if you gripped it in a certain way, the bars are going to go down a little bit”. Sure, the overwhelming majority of iPhone 4 owners seems delighted with it. But where’s the acknowledgement that the iPhone 4 antenna is this year’s Ishtar? Where’s the product recall? Where’s the “KICK ME” sign on Steve Jobs’s black shirt? Why does Bob Mansfield still have a job?

Jobs also said all other mobile phones suffer the same problems when you hold them in certain ways, and that “it’s a challenge to the entire industry.”

That’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. But that’s nothing new. Apple has a history of making ridiculous claims and having them accepted by an adoring fan base and worshipful press.

That’s the uncomfortable truth. The last honest man is Dan Lyons. Those videos from Apple showing other phones dropping bars? Fake. The similar videos on YouTube from owners of competing phones? Fake. Next thing Apple’s going to tell us, the Droid X has a flaky display.

With the launch of iPhone 4, for example, Apple pretended it had invented video chat — something that has been around elsewhere for years.

Lyons doesn’t name all those phones on which people are video chatting every day, because he doesn’t need to. Just look around and see them for yourself.

The real issue here is how the product is perceived. If you need to put a rubber case on a phone to make it work correctly, there must be something wrong with it, don’t you think?

Exactly. I mean, if the truth were that, in practice, the iPhone 4 works just fine without a case for most people — that it gets faster downloads and uploads and voice call quality is improved over the 3GS — well, that’d be a different story entirely.

Jobs clearly doesn’t. He seems scornful of customers who have complained.

It doesn’t show up on the video, but there was spittle coming out of Jobs’s mouth when he talked about the 0.55 percent of iPhone 4 owners who’d called Apple to complain about its reception. He seemed very upset about their gall.

Toward the end of the news conference, he blamed the media for blowing the problem out of proportion.

Apple’s rivals will have a field day with this.

Yes, one week out, this is looking like very good news indeed for Apple’s rivals. Apple’s goose is cooked and Lyons knows the score. People are going to look back at this piece a year from now and say, “By god, Dan Lyons saw it all along.” (Seriously: bookmark it.) It’s bad enough that I don’t have the courage to call Apple out on this blatant chicanery; the last thing I’m going to do is put my name on the line and argue that he’s a big dummy with a chip on his shoulder and that his work exemplifies the state Newsweek is in.

“You’re sure you won’t do it? We really think you could knock it out of the park,” my payola rep pleads.

“Sorry. Won’t touch it.”