Whether Nick was paid isn’t the point

A number of people, including Nick Ciarelli’s lawyer and my friend Rob Hyndman, are looking at the closure of ThinkSecret a little differently than I did yesterday (in a post that got me a smackdown from no less than Fake Steve Jobs himself — thanks for crashing my blog, FS). In effect, they seem to be saying: Why all the fuss? So maybe Nick gets some cash, maybe Apple pays his legal costs, then he moves on to his Harvard studies and everyone goes home happy. Where’s the harm?

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying free speech died along with Think Secret, and I’m glad that Nick didn’t have to reveal any of his sources. That’s a win. And I think it’s great if he got some money and could move on with his life. But that doesn’t mean Apple should get a free pass for hounding him and his website for the last three years, and for being instrumental in getting him to shut Think Secret down. Maybe he was going to close it anyway, as he has suggested in interviews, but that still isn’t the point.

The point (or at least one of them) is that if Microsoft or any other large company did what Apple has done, and badgered some 18-year-old kid to the point where he decided to just take the money and run, there would be howls of protest up and down the blogosphere. But because it’s Apple, I think there’s a tendency to take the company’s side. And would Nick have decided to close his site and move on if the company hadn’t pursued him so tenaciously? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s possible that he decided fighting a $180-billion company just wasn’t worth it.

Would it be okay if Apple paid Walt Mossberg to stop writing about it? What if some other journalist was the subject of a bunch of lawsuits, and he agreed to stop writing about the company in return for cash, or in return for his legal costs being paid? Would we be celebrating that, and congratulating him for cutting a good deal? I doubt it. Maybe the only thing that differentiates bloggers and journalists is a better legal department and a corporate entity backing them up that is willing and able to fight a lawsuit.

Update:

A commenter here points to a blog post from a writer in Washington who argues that it’s a good thing that Apple hounded Think Secret into shutting down because journalists need to be kept on a short leash, and bloggers in particular “need to be chilled” — because journalism’s “moral compass needs to be un-stuck” by the occasional lawsuit. Boy, it sure is a good thing that Apple sued then, isn’t it? I guess I should be thanking Steve Jobs for keeping us “moral” then. What a load of crap.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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