A tabloid tempest in a teapot may be brewing, following an item in Page Six of The New York Post, which is shocked (shocked!) to discover New York Times tech columnist David Pogue praising Apple's iPhone within the pages of the Old Gray Lady while writing a book on the side about how to use the device.The Page Six squib, sarcastically headlined "All The iPhone Plugs That Fit," implies an unseemly connection between Pogue's positive review of the iPhone in the Times (here, login required), "The iPhone Matches Most of Its Hype," and the publication of his book iPhone: The Missing Manual.
Page Six approvingly quotes Jack Shafer, media critic of Slate: "The success of [Pogue]'s book directly relates to the success of the iPhone. I believe in disclosure, and I don't think it's possible to write a fair, ethical review of a product if you stand to benefit from the result."
On defense for the Times is a spokesperson, who says: "The editors knew he was working on a book about the iPhone, and we do not see a conflict of interest that would have required disclosure of this in the articles he wrote for us about the iPhone."
I was prepared to think that there might actually be a germ of a conflict here, especially given that response from the Times. However, when you actually look at what Pogue wrote in his iPhone review, you see that he bent over backward to be, as the flagship cable station of the Post's parent company might put it, fair and balanced.
Far from being a, er, phone job, Pogue gets to the iPhone's negatives in the third paragraph of his Times review:
"As it turns out, much of the hype and some of the criticisms are justified. The iPhone is revolutionary; it's flawed. It's substance; it's style. It does things no phone has ever done before; it lacks features found even on the most basic phones."
Much more damning is Page Six's calling out of Pogue for a vanity video venture-ette in which he took part. Wrote Page Six: "Eyebrows were raised earlier this month when Pogue ... videotaped a musical homage in which he sings, 'I want an iPhone,' to the tune of 'My Way.' The Times ran the embarrassing video on its Web site."
That's not entirely accurate (though close enough for the Post). Strictly speaking, the Times didn't "run" the video. Pogue blogged about it on his Times blog, and included a YouTube link.
Good sport though Pogue obviously is, it's a video only a mother -- his -- could love. Still, I have to give him props for not shying away from criticism, even in this content form in which he's so clearly a newbie. I'm thinking of the verse that goes: "Concerns, I have a few; It's got some flaws, we may just face it; No keys, no memory card; The battery's sealed -- you can't replace it."
But don't take my word for it. Watch all three minutes and 17 seconds yourself:
Your turn, Mr. Mossberg.