OFF THE GRID

I’ll Say the Unsayable About Apple

Aug 11, 10 | 7:40 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Ahem…

Yes. Well. But how to exactly say it?

Difficult. Even though I’m not the only one saying it. In fact, the news value here is that this is the thing that many people at esteemed levels of the media and technology business are saying to each other.

It’s the smart-money scuttlebutt.

It hadn’t even occurred to me until one particular blunt-speaking son-of-a-bitch in an exalted position said it to me. But as soon as he said it, I thought, what have I been thinking? I am, apparently, as susceptible to the illusion of the emperor’s new clothes as anyone else.

It’s one of the biggest X-factors in American business—the shadow behind technology, media, and popular culture.

I’m starting to sound coy—and I don’t mean to. It’s serious. It’s sad. And, as well, the elephant in the room.

Here it is: Many, many, many people who pride themselves on a hard and shrewd level of realism believe that Steve Jobs is a goner. They believe that after treatments and transplants and the ministrations of spin doctors, he’s a goner still.

Key the Tsunami of Opprobrium: How irresponsible, how insensitive, how terribly unclassy.

To make it clear: Obviously, I don’t know what will happen to Jobs, or when. But I can Google: Everything that the Internet tells us about his condition is bleak. The fact that he managed to get himself a new liver temporizes but does not solve the problem. But that is not my point: my point is that this is an open, if secret, subject that is shaping how the media world is thinking about its all-important deals with Apple.

Business, after all, is about trying to game the business conditions of the future.

True, this could say as much about the fears of a certain sort of men as about Steve’s health. These men may not respect much, but they certainly respect cancer. And it could be as much about the nature of Jobs himself—he encourages people to see him in terms of being or nothingness. He’s made himself into the one thing you’re not suppose to be in business: irreplaceable. There’s one genius, many people have come to believe, in American business life and that’s Steve. So make your bets accordingly.

And these sons-of-bitches are attentive to nothing so much as the possible weaknesses of other sons-of-bitches. If Steve is giving up the ghost, that’ll leave an awesome power vacuum.

And, too, it explains so much about what Steve has been up to: all this odd behavior—bizarre exertions of will, tantrums, really, and obvious need to explain himself (an official biography!)—that might not make much sense in business and public relations terms but makes a lot more sense if time is perilously short.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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