Steve Jobs to Gawker Blogger: “What Have You Done That’s So Great?”


There’s nothing surprising about a late-night email fight, especially when alcohol is involved. We’ve all been there. But when the recipient of your angry missive is Apple’s Steve Jobs — and he takes the time to respond, four times, in the middle of the night — it becomes news.

Gawker Media’s Ryan Tate, editor of the site’s technology section, Valleywag, was spending a Friday night with his wife out of town watching 30 Rock on the ol’ DVR, drink admittedly in hand, when he happened upon an iPad commercial billing the product as “a revolution.” Tate, to put it simply, disagrees and wanted to sound off about it. Jobs, apparently equally bored and sexless, fired back, defending his company and taking his most direct shots at porn and bloggers. Naturally.

As we covered Friday, Jobs is known to use a public email address to interact with the outside world. “I dashed off a short, pointed question to Jobs’ well-known email address,” Tate writes. “A few hours later — after midnight, out here in California — he got back to me. And I got back to him. And so on.”

The content of the messages is mostly nerdy as hell — all API, Obj C, and whatever else tech-heads turn to for warmth late on a lonely Friday night — but the fact that it happened at all is mind-blowing.

Jobs defends his company as fighting for good: “freedom from programs that steal your private data,” he writes. (Sounds familiar.) “Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn.” (Emphasis ours.) “Yep, freedom.”

Tate argues that Jobs and his company are “imposing” their morality, “about porn, about ‘trade secrets,’ about technical purity in the most bizarre sense.” But overall, both men’s palpable passion was almost even cute. Can we go ahead and call it a bromance?

Tate calls the exchange “feisty,” but notes:

Rare is the CEO who will spar one-on-one with customers and bloggers like this. Jobs deserves big credit for breaking the mold of the typical American executive, and not just because his company makes such hugely superior products: Jobs not only built and then rebuilt his company around some very strong opinions about digital life, but he’s willing to defend them in public. Vigorously. Bluntly. At two in the morning on a weekend.

And he’s right. Jobs knows full well that his company is locked in a legal battle with Tate’s employer and yet he dove right in, casually, like a human being, not an untouchable CEO.

On one hand, maybe Jobs has no self-control and couldn’t stomach the pointed criticism without shooting back. But more likely, knowing the beast that is Apple strategy and PR, Jobs knew full well how this would play out: emails, once thought to be private, are increasingly made public, especially when newsworthy, and Jobs knows how Gawker operates.

Jobs is also aware that the novelty of this exchange will far outweigh the merits of either side’s technical argument to any casual reader of the story. (Though, as Tate notes, “freedom from porn” is pretty creepy and authoritarian.) Still, anyone who cares enough about the specifics of this debate will have likely already made up their minds. And Jobs comes away looking like an engaged everyman.

But, of course, he couldn’t resist ending the exchange on a blogger dis. “By the way,” he asks Tate, “what have you done that’s so great? Do you create anything, or just criticize others work and belittle their motivations?” We’ve all heard that one before.