Aol. blogger Jeff Bercovici was totally unable to digest his dinner last night because he was SCANDALIZED and OUTRAGED about Gizmodo's "checkbook journalism" regarding the new iPhone. Sure, Gawker Media had already long-ago returned Steve Jobs' missing iPhone, but that would not settle his OUTRAGE. He writes: "Gawker Media brazenly, publicly flouted the law. It subsidized a crime: the selling of stolen merchandise. Then it published a misleading, whitewashed account of the seller's actions meant to make it look as though he was not acting with criminal intent. It published this account in order to disguise its own culpability in the matter." Oh mercy!
Slate actually handled this pretty well, however. And first, it's been well-explained why Gizmodo pointedly stated that they weren't ever quite sure this was a real next iPhone until Apple confirmed it with their request for a return: without being "sure" who the rightful owner is, well then, to whom are they supposed to return the property?
And Slate wrote, about Apple's options in light of trade secret law:
When it comes to the disclosure of trade secrets, it doesn't matter that Gizmodo bought the phone from a secondary source. Purchasing lost property isn't that different from purchasing stolen property in that what matters is whether the buyer knew (or should have known) that the item was obtained unlawfully. Gizmodo wouldn't have paid $5,000 for the device unless they suspected it was a valuable prototype…. At best, the company could try to recover some monetary damages from Gizmodo. They could recover the advertising revenues that the blog earned as a result of its scoop-that's more than 1 million hits in one hour on Monday-but that would be peanuts to the computing giant. They could raise the stakes by saying that their competitors are now racing to copy the new features, and the disclosure will result in a significant loss of sales. If a court bought that argument, the damages might be so large that Gawker Media (which owns Gizmodo) wouldn't be able to afford to pay.
And then Slate goes crazy in the last sentence:
If a court bought that argument, the damages might be so large that Gawker Media (which owns Gizmodo) wouldn't be able to afford to pay. Apple sold more than $4 billion worth of iPhones last year. Gawker Media is worth $170 million in total.
That is so weird that they just totally invented a valuation of a private company!
Bercovici also goes crazy at the end.
In those rare cases where a journalist commits a crime and receives the benefit of prosecutorial discretion, it's usually because he can demonstrate there was a compelling public interest at stake. There is no such interest here. The only parties who benefited from Gizmodo's story are Gawker Media and Apple's competitors.
I don't think anyone will be asking for "prosecutorial discretion" here but that seems to me to be true for any piece of journalism, no matter how down and dirty, that offends institutions. Replace "Apple" with "Halliburton" and "Gawker Media" with the "Washington Post," for a hypothetical story of the same circumstances that might be viewed in a different light. Is unveiling a prototype of a silly new gadget life-changing reporting? Not really, at all! But it sure does have news value.