I'm a fan of the Sunday Times zeitgeist observer Bryan Appleyard but yesterday's article on Steve Jobs was not one of his best pieces and saw him inadvertently building a solid case for the Apple CEO maintaining a distant, mistrustful relationship with the media.
Lacking access to the man himself, Appleyard goes all around the block to find an angle for his profile piece, even drawing on the battered old Rosebud symbol from Citizen Kane and depicting Jobs as an ego-crazed control freak. Pop pyschology is summoned to suggest Jobs is a "productive narcissist" who is variously driven by his being adopted, lack of formal education and so on. There is even a risible "insight" into Jobs' relationships with women:
"Jobs seems to go for the blonde, athletic Californian look of the girl in the Mac ad. It may be one more aspect of his pursuit of belonging in the pampered groves of the Valley. In 1991, at a Zen Buddhist ceremony, he married a woman - Laurene Powell - with precisely that look. They are still together and have three children."
Gee Bryan, just maybe she is an intelligent, pleasant, attractive person when she's not being a metaphor for acceptance.
Then there's the unpleasant detailing of Jobs' recent operation and reference to the "wilderness years" of NeXT where Jobs made "beautiful looking computers for education" that were "impossible to sell".
Well, NeXT had some success in the financial sector, was influential in spreading the word for object-oriented programming and the company was successful enough for Apple to pay about $400m and use its software as the core for operating system development, but never mind.
Pixar is a "strange commune of brilliant men" although we never get to hear anything particularly strange about them.
Appleyard also wonders whether Apple is "worth anything without Jobs". To which the answer is surely 'Yup'. It has great products, great people and a great brand so that'll be worth something. There is scant mention of other icons of Apple -- either past (Steve Wozniak maybe?) or present (Jonathan Ive).
Appleyard also makes great play of Apple's PR seeking to stymie his "profile" and spends a lot of words on Apple's tough attitude to protecting its secrets. I for one don't blame them. They build up demand to get maximum shock value for their investment in IP - it seems to be working pretty well.
As for Jobs himself, at the end of the piece you're left with a better understanding of his attitude to media. Like his hero Bob Dylan, he knows that there is no need to explode every myth and that with or without the support of journalists and other pundits second-guessing him, he has the rapt attention of a world wanting to know what he is going to do next.