How Apple’s ‘Blacklist’ Manipulates the Press

blacklist

Yes, Apple maintains a press “blacklist,” a list of people in the media who are shunned and ignored — “punished,” as it were, for “disloyalty.”

“Blacklisted” reporters, editorialists and media personalities are denied access to information, products and events.

Once you’re on the list, it’s almost impossible to get off. (I’ve been on it for more than a decade.)

Here’s what everyone needs to know about Apple’s press “blacklist.”

Blacklisting works. And it has a long history.

In the 1930s and 1940s, a wave of anticommunist Red Scare hysteria swept America. Congress “investigated” people we now call “content creators” (people in the movie, TV, journalism and book industries). In 1947, a group of 10 Hollywood writers and directors refused to testify as ordered by Congress’ investigative group, the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As a result, the 10 were placed on an official blacklist. They were not allowed to work and their careers were ruined.

Between the late ’40s and the late ’50s, the committee added first dozens, then hundreds, to the blacklist, eviscerating a generation of filmmakers and changing the nature of movies (and other content) through fear and intimidation, an ongoing witch hunt lead by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Someone needed only to be suspected or accused of having communist sympathies in order for their careers to be ended. As a result, some movie and TV people went to great lengths to create overtly patriotic content that strongly denounced leftists, intellectuals and communist countries, especially the Soviet Union.

Speaking of communists, the Chinese Communist Party today maintains the world’s most overt press blacklist.

The reason is that while other authoritarian governments simply jail or execute journalists who oppose the government or praise the opposition or the idea of democracy, the Chinese government tries to maintain the fiction that it’s somewhat democratic and open, while maintaining authoritarian control over the media.

So the government of China maintains a more nuanced policy: It jails some journalists and blacklists a whole lot more. Foreign journalists critical of the Chinese government (or who simply do normal reporting about it) find their visas denied.

The Chinese government heavily censors the news. And the government employs a “50-cent army” of paid astroturfers who defend the Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party against attack. These propagandists also post negative opinions about the government’s political opponents, international rivals (like the United States) and pro-democracy advocates.

China is actually very public about its blacklist. The country publicizes it and shames blacklisted journalists by accusing them of taking bribes to write false stories. In some cases, the accusations are probably true. In others, they’re almost certainly false and the journalists are blacklisted for political reasons.

The government’s “transparency” about its blacklist is really a tool of intimidation. The ultimate goal is not to silence people known to be critical of the government, but to control those assumed to be objective or neutral.

And that’s the ultimate goal of any blacklist — McCarthy’s, Chinas or Apple’s: to make honest people lie.

It needs to be said, of course, that comparisons between, say, McCarthyism and Apple’s PR strategy are absurd. I make them here only to illustrate the history and purpose of blacklisting.

Apple’s ability to control public opinion is almost zero compared with political examples. And the stakes in Apple’s case are trivial compared with the plight of other blacklist victims.

However, I think it’s important for savvy media consumers to understand the sausage-making aspects of journalism. This is a hot dog everyone should be aware of.

There’s also an ethical dimension — some stories about Apple involve human rights, environmental problems and other truly serious issues that people may want to know about. And, indeed, accusations against Apple in these areas are the surest ways to get on the “blacklist.”

For the most part, however, inclusion on the Apple “blacklist” for most journalists appears to result from some combination of criticism, cynicism or coverage about specific topics — or breaking the company’s “rules” for coverage (such as live-streaming at one of its events). For example, criticizing Steve Jobs, Apple’s history and culture, or super-harshly criticizing their products will gain most journalists lifelong inclusion on the “blacklist.” Being overly speculative, writing with too much certainty about Apple rumors, or speculating about Apple’s motivations in a negative way will usually get reporters and editorialists on the list.

It’s also important to understand that Apple’s PR strategy isn’t merely a “blacklist-whitelist” binary sort of thing. It’s very nuanced. In some cases, they’ll give journalists in prominent, non-technical publications more slack.

Apple is much harsher to the technology press because these media outlets are highly influential on the mainstream press anyway, and they’re easier and safer to play games with. If you can reward the pro-Apple press and punish the anti-Apple press, the mainstream coverage will be influenced in Apple’s favor.

Apple appears to punish some news organizations by rewarding their competitors. In one case, The New York Times ran a series to expose the working conditions in factories that make Apple products. So Apple responded by giving a huge access scoop (a rare interview with CEO Tim Cook) to the paper’s archrival, The Wall Street Journal. (Allegedly.)

Another subtle incentive: Consistently pro-Apple journalists are “whitelisted,” and rewarded with access to product loaners a few days earlier than the rest.

The worst thing about Apple’s press blacklist system is that it encourages self-censorship in lower-level bloggers, writers and editors. A young person trying to make a career in technology journalism will benefit from better access to Apple if they’re overtly pro-Apple in their coverage and avoid negative coverage.

Better access will give them better stories, and their careers will benefit.

Of course, this idea can only be taken so far.

The truth is that Apple is highly secretive anyway.

The difference between what a “whitelisted” and a “blacklisted” person learns is slight. Those of us on the “blacklist” can read what the “whitelisted” people write. Sure, we don’t get early review units or exclusive quotes from executives. We don’t get to boost our access cred with post-announcement product area selfies. But eventually everybody has the same information.

You should also know that most “whitelisted” journalists aren’t unethical or compromised. Most got there because they were genuinely pro-Apple in their coverage — or, at least, never had occasion to harshly criticize — not because of strategic lying or self-censorship.

One journalist last year claimed that Apple’s “blacklist” “includes any media outlet that posts anything even remotely negative or heaven help you, a rumor.” But this is simply not true. Many who criticize some Apple products but praise others are not placed on the list, as long as they avoid the hot-button topics (human rights, environment, company people or culture). I personally know very fair journalists who criticize Apple or who are publicly open-minded about the costs and benefits of Apple versus Android phones, for example, and who are still invited to Apple events.

Also: The existence of Apple’s “blacklist” should not add to your skepticism about media and reporting. It should merely give you a better understanding about Apple and about what you’re reading. The technology press is far more independent and ethical than people generally give it credit for.

Yes, Apple has a “blacklist.” And, yes, you should know about it so you can be a better-informed media “consumer” and consumer electronics customer.

Ultimately, it’s not that big of a deal. In fact, most companies maintain some elements of a blacklist. Companies exist on a spectrum in the degree to which they reward or punish coverage with the provision or withholding of access to people, products and events.

In technology, I would rank Apple the worst exploiter of a blacklist mentality and Google the best.

If you criticize Apple harshly, the company will never so much as return your e-mails for the rest of your career. But if you criticize Google harshly, and the next day request a Nexus 5 review unit, they’ll cheerfully overnight it to you like you never said anything.

In any event, I see Apple’s “blacklist” in the context of that company’s secretive, authoritarian, controlling culture — and it’s ironically these same cultural attributes that enable Apple to make such  great products. You don’t execute on design, manufacturing and distribution like Apple does without being monstrously controlling.

The severity of the “blacklist” and the high quality of, say, the iPad Air’s industrial design, are all part of the same authoritarian mindset.

If I wasn’t on Apple’s “blacklist” already, this post would surely get me on it. It’s totally worth it.

(Photo courtesy of AFP and Phys.org)

Related
  • TomInTheDesert

    Wow, you really must have pissed off Apple. What did you do?

    And, as a professional writer, you know that Apple is an “it” not a “them” or a “they,” yes?

  • Adrayven

    Wow, you really must have pissed off Apple. What did you do?

    And, as a professional writer, you know that Apple is an “it” not a “them” or a “they,” yes?

    We need to get him a tinfoil hat. Yes there was more than one shooter at the repository. And yes the were….. I can’t say otherwise the NSA and Apple will get me!

  • Stagueve

    My opinion is that bloggers and journalist who care about being or not on one of these lists better should switch to another job…

  • technochick

    Hmm a guy who claims that he’s in the blacklist wants us to trust he is telling the truth. Yeah that is going to go over well.

    Given your history of nonsense writing about Apple, I’m not going to trust you claiming there is a blacklist at all.

  • lwdesign1

    How is this news? I seem to recall Mike Elgan as being constantly and harshly critical of Apple for years, until he somehow did a flipflop and became a Mac and iPad user a few years ago. It seemed to be a miraculous change for a journalist who had so many bad things to say, even vitriolic if I remember correctly, about Apple. Why the dramatic change of viewpoint Mike? I know many authors are often paid by publications or advertisers to forward a specific viewpoint, promote a specific line of products and naysay competing products or companies. Was this the case in your earlier career before you “went Apple”?

  • plaztiksoundz

    “In technology, I would rank Apple the worst exploiter of a blacklist mentality and Google the best.”

    This should be the first sentence on this “article”. Would prevent a lot of people (me included) of reading so many words of butthurt populist crybaby commentary. Yet again, the Google evangelist writing about how “the other company” sucks. An Elgan classic. Maybe you’re on the blacklist for just being an idiot who has a medium to write whatever crap you want, being factual or fairytale like many of your “articles” ? Or maybe join Leo Laporte and form a choir outside Apple events, then you can both sing and bitch about not being invited.

  • rmbourbon

    OMG what a cry baby! You can’t seriously call yourself a real journalist after this story ehhhh! pathetic!

  • Gavin Blur

    load! O! CRAP

  • Gavin Blur

    so glad you’re on the list!!!

  • HerbalEd

    Judging from the comments, you’re getting no sympathy, Mike. Can’t believe you went on and on and on about Communist China and the McCarthy era. What a bore.

    I think you highly exaggerate Apple’s information-suppression powers. I have no problem regularly reading reports that are critical of Apple on many levels. In fact, I just read on … and you wrote it.

  • BongBong

    Sometimes you just go too far, Mike. This is one of those times.

  • Tallest_Skil

    First off, this is blatantly a whiny pile of nonsense from someone pouting that he’s left out of the loop. Shut up and get over it.

    Second, the comparisons to the Red Scare and modern day communist China are pathetic.

    Third, if you’re on it and are in any sense of the word yourself a journalist, you’d tell us what got you there. Or what you think got you there.

    Absolutely inexcusable. You’re like a toddler.

  • TeddyCranmore

    Mike, you are saying Apple’s blacklist works? Seriously? I can’t think of any company that gets more completely off the wall stupid articles written about them. When comparing them to other companies I’d say the press loves to write negative apple articles. Samsung has done some terrible things and there are a couple of articles that hardly garner any coverage. Apple does something that isn’t even necessarily true, but even the speculation it might be true gets screaming headlines that lasts days or weeks. I then watch the articles following Samsung astroturfing, manipulating benchmarks, spending a promotion and marketing budget (e.g. paying carriers ‘bonuses’ when they sell their product, a “spiff”) that makes Apple’s budget looking tiny and yet you see either no articles or the issues fade very quickly. If Apple was caught paying bloggers and commenters the firestorm would be unbelievable and not be forgotten for months or years.

    I’d also say that having a blacklisted writer probably provides further incentive for that writer to keep his negative outlook and write negative articles whenever he happens to feel ‘shafted’ by the situation. Every writer likely thinks they are totally objective, but when a person or company slights you, you will find negative aspects to comment on when possible. It’s human nature.

    I’d say Google is playing the game of PR better by sending review units to everyone they can. Every little bit helps when it comes to creating a positive image. This again, is playing on human nature.

    The fact that Apple doesn’t send very limited supply invitations to keynotes to negative reporters is something I presume any company would do in the same situation of limited supply. Google may be the best, but I bet if they really believed someone wasn’t being fare in their criticism, and did this repeatedly, I don’t doubt they not get an eval unit next time. I do agree that ‘what’s fare criticism’, will be in the eye of the beholder.

    Another factor in the tech world, even beyond reporters, there is a large contingent that just hates anything Apple no matter what they say or build. I meet these folks everyday — you can’t even have a decent discussion with them on any Apple related point.

    I also think when an Apple issue is discussed, comparisons to other companies with similar issues just don’t occur. NYT says Apple’s builds devices to slow down and die after two years. Really? And others have magical batteries that don’t lose life over time? That don’t feel slower compared to new silicon? These outright ridiculous articles are commonplace.

    Basically every tech company uses similar Asian assembly companies, yet they don’t have Apple’s audit and transparent reporting of problems, and only Apple gets negative press attention.

    On financial issues it’s more of the same, Apple is “doomed” by margins that fall off of unprecented peaks, but other companies with margins that are about half aren’t doomed even though they are already where Apple would only be if the current trend kept up for the next 20 quarters. Apple is no longer a good investment because they no longer innovate, but what counts for exciting innovation at other companies are seen as ‘boring evolution’ at Apple by these same pundits. Apple has changed the entire game more than once, but other companies that have never introduced a single new category changer do not have to be tested by that same measure.

    Apple uses real tax loopholes in the system and gets called out, yet Google does this even to a worse extent, and nary a negative article is written (and certainly not the attention grabbing headline for those that do mention it).

    So, Apple’s blacklist is working? I call this the biggest chunk of BS in the pasture. To boot, this article is a great example of this very fact — blacklists do not work.

  • OneHungLow

    They usually blacklist rumor sites as that’s probably not how they want to have future products of theirs leaked to the public. Most companies don’t like their prototypes released to the public for a very good reason. To avoid others copying their products and people not buying what they are currently selling. Osborne computers is one company that discussed a future product too early and as a result, sales of their current model came to a grinding halt and they actually went out of business as a result. I guess you have to be in THEIR position to understand THEIR position.

    I guess those that are blacklisted might want to look in the mirror and ask themselves WHY they are blacklisted and to get off of that blacklist, they might have to remove themselves from their current position and move to another position and see if they get off that blacklist, if not, then maybe you created them to want to blacklist you in the first place.

    Please don’t live in denial, Apple hasn’t been a fan of rumor sites for a valid reason and if they don’t want a future product discussed, it’s to hide the product until it’s ready for them to release it.

    Have you ever ran your own company? Do you think that a company’s R&D prototypes are open season to the public?

    I think this article is a poor attempt in getting sympathy.

    Website’s like this also blacklist certain people from posting comments. Isn’t that the same thing? Uh OH. I might get Blacklisted….. Maybe I shouldn’t say that.

  • OneHungLow

    First off, this is blatantly a whiny pile of nonsense from someone pouting that he’s left out of the loop. Shut up and get over it.

    Second, the comparisons to the Red Scare and modern day communist China are pathetic.

    Third, if you’re on it and are in any sense of the word yourself a journalist, you’d tell us what got you there. Or what you think got you there.

    Absolutely inexcusable. You’re like a toddler.

    Rumor sites are usually blacklisted because they promote prototypes of future products released and they don’t dig that, at all. That’s the primary reason why they blacklist journalists from rumor sites and it’s understandable.

  • Paul Burt

    there is a large contingent that just hates anything Apple no matter what they say or build.

    A lot of them follow this site for some strange reason.

  • Steven Quan

    Elgan you haven’t made your point. How does the black list manipulate the press? Journalists like yourself manage to get the low down on Apple news and rumors anyways so it’s not like your blacklisting has stopped you from doing your thing. If anything blacklisting is dangerous for Apple because now you can say whatever you want about Apple because you’ve been blacklisted so you have nothing to lose by saying bad things about them.

  • aberoyce

    “Ultimately, it’s not that big of a deal.”

    Then why write the ENTIRE column?

  • ahope1

    “Ultimately, it’s not that big of a deal.”

    Then why write the ENTIRE column?

    This.

  • Atienne

    He never told us who he pissed off to get ON the list.

  • gorskon

    One notes that Mr. Elgan’s article is long on accusations, but mighty short on evidence and, in particular, specific examples of this nefarious blacklisting on the part of Apple (apparently other than himself, of course). In particular, I love the introduction comparing Apple to Joe McCarthy’s Communist blacklist and the Chinese government’s blacklist followed by the most disingenuous disclaimer about why he’s comparing Apple policies with Red scare blacklists and Chinese Communist blacklists in which he declares that “comparisons between, say, McCarthyism and Apple’s PR strategy are absurd.”

    If the comparisons are so patently absurd that even Mr. Elgan must acknowledge their absurdity, then presumably he could have shaved about a third of his word count from this article by not making them in the first place. This would have spared his readers the second, even more egregious, insult to their intelligence, namely his even more disingenuous disclaimer that he made those comparisons between Apple and Communist China and Joe McCarthy “only to illustrate the history and purpose of blacklisting.”

    It would be hilarious were it not so transparently nonsensical.

  • aardman

    As a company that gets an inordinate amount of attention for the same items that would just be allowed to slide with other companies, Apple has no choice but to judiciously, meticulously, and even sometimes, ruthlessly, manage its public relations, including its journalistic coverage. They have no choice, otherwise they would be enmeshed in one over-sensationalized news story after another as all sorts of bloggers, reporters, hacks, playwrights, etc. capitalize on the instant fame and revenue stream that they get by producing work that has the word “Apple” in it. Stockholders would be very upset if they just lay down and took every dropping of sh*t that gets thrown at the company.

  • Dan kamp

    Typical Elgan BS article.

  • technochick

    Elgan you haven’t made your point. How does the black list manipulate the press? Journalists like yourself manage to get the low down on Apple news and rumors anyways so it’s not like your blacklisting has stopped you from doing your thing. If anything blacklisting is dangerous for Apple because now you can say whatever you want about Apple because you’ve been blacklisted so you have nothing to lose by saying bad things about them.

    He hasn’t proven the list really exists, beyond gizmodo for the iPhone 4 stunt. Certainly hasn’t proven he is on it. Or why.

    His ‘proof’ of the list is a history lesson for the idea of a blacklist. Remove all that stuff and it’s his typical BS. Which certainly proves why he would deserve to be in such a list if it was real. But not whether it is

  • vashisht0429

    Take your sour grapes elsewhere.

  • lwdesign1

    I often wonder why you continue to write for Cult of Mac, Mike. Your articles are routinely disliked by most commenters. I still would like an explanation of why about 3 years ago you turned from a dedicated Apple basher into a Mac-using quasi supporter. In days of old, you used to be a Windows user without even a shred of love for Apple. Now you tend to tread the line as an avowed Macbook Air/iPad user but still write articles that leave me wondering why. Is it profitable to do what you are doing? I don’t get it.

  • ghostalmedia

    Marketing guy here. FYI, the press is ALWAYS being manipulated at a press event. ANY press event.

    When you’re a small company, you pick the people you reach out to, and you try to get them to spread your message. When you’re big, you don’t have to reach out – people come to you, but you still pick the people who will spread your message.

    Apple is not communist China, they’re a company trying to market a thing… just like every other damn company trying to market a thing.

  • WatsonHelmholtz

    Half of the article compares a common media practice to communist china and McCarthyism. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Hitler.

    I take it that you were blacklisted for being completely inept as a journalist, then?

  • Marinperez

    “Ultimately, it’s not that big of a deal.”

    Well, thanks for writing thousands of words about it. You bring up McCarthyism and China but then say it’s not for comparison, so why talk about it for so long?

  • BruceFancher

    It’s interesting that you incorrectly imply that the Hollywood blacklist had anything to do with Joe McCarthy, when it was imposed by the industry itself, not by the government. You also fail to mention the relevant fact that all of the Hollywood Ten were in fact communists who were taking direction from a “political party” that was controlled by Joseph Stalin, one of the greatest mass murders in history. It’s true that some of the people who were blacklisted were not communists, and some of them were simply knuckleheads who joined front groups because they were naive and didn’t know any better (it’s said that Lenin referred to these types of people as “useful idiots”). However, what’s not usually mentioned in recounting this history is that there really was an organized conspiracy on the part of the CPUSA to influence Hollywood in order to sneak propaganda into films.

  • f4780y

    Careful Mike. That massive chip on your shoulder could really do some damage if you aren’t careful…

  • kevin13769

    I don’t get how you still have a job here, it really does sound like you don’t like Apple, Apple if indeed have you on a blacklist don’t like you, you spout crap, and no one here is interested in anything you write other than to bash the arse out of it… Maybe you should look for somewhere else to work…??? Just an idea…

  • thegraphicmac

    Who in the blue hell told Elgan that he had any cred to lose to begin with?

  • FilthyMacNasty

    Hey Mike, maybe next time you’re on Leo LaPorte’s Macbreak Weekly podcast, the two of you could commiserate, AGAIN, how unfair Apple is to you and the rest of the small circle of well – connected “tech insiders” who, as far as anyone can tell, do nothing more than rehash and comment on stories we can find on any tech oriented website. How do you and your gang of swells get sponsored, anyway? SOMEBODY is financing your careers, so SOMEBODY must have you and your pals on THEIR whitelist.
    Maybe for your next article, you can give us all an in – depth explanation of how you all schmoozed the right people to gain corporate sponsorship, and get to act as if you really are honchos in the tech media, and Silicon Valley insiders.

  • NinoArt

    This kind of articles belong on Google+ not here. Seriously, Cult of Mac, blacklist Mike Elgan already, this site is becoming a joke.

  • AlainFleitas

    did i happen to land on colt of android… i understand the need of an unbiased mindset but you’re posting on CULT of MAC not CULT of ANDROID… go take this crap somewhere else cause this site is really close to ending up on my blacklist. I come here to read the good things to look forward to not a hate article from some one who ended up on apples blacklist and seems to be crying about it now. Go write for Cult Of Android

  • daov2a

    This article is perfect for CoM. Right on, Mike! The reality is that every company does this but it is also true that Apple maintains a persona of blacklisting is good because those on it are evil or “bad” somehow. It completely creates the cult of Apple mindset and insulates the company from what they feel is bad press. Mike is absolutely correct and as much as the commenters want to deride the author, he is correct. As his post is pretty popular and has been getting tons of hits, he seems to have more than a few who agree with him. I don’t hate Apple; I love them but the way they handle things like this is childish. But they are not alone and every company does it.

  • josephrobison

    Good job brave one! Keep fighting the good fight!

  • brandon

    “If wasn’t on Apple’s “blacklist” already, this post would surely get me on it. It’s totally worth it.” That, and your lack of proofreading.

  • stefn

    Congratulations! Macaloped: “At long last, have you no decency, Cult of Mac’s Mike Elgan? (Spoiler alert: No.)”

  • stefn

    Actually I prefer this Elgan to the one who pretended he liked Apple, only to unload on it with faint and false praise. You know, the Elgan that snagged a job at a Mac advocacy site and a seat on MacBreak Weekly, while trolling it all along, with LaPorte’s connivance. I guess that wasn’t working out.

  • FilthyMacNasty

    Well, what a coincidence: Leo LaPorte’s latest episode of, “MacBreak Weekly,” is titled, “The Apple Blacklist.”
    Good ol’ Mike Elgan isn’t a guest on the show, of course, but his pal Leo reports on the story as if it’s breaking news, and agrees with him.

  • MikeintoshCZ

    Thats ’some shitty writing right there. Found it through The Macalope, which says it all… Boo hoo, Mike.

  • zatoitchy

    “For the most part, however, inclusion on the Apple “blacklist” for most journalists appears to result from some combination of criticism, cynicism, or coverage about specific topics — or breaking their “rules” for coverage (such as live-streaming at one of their events)…”

    Let me simplify it for you Mike: If you prove yourself to be a professional anti-Apple propagandist, you will be black-listed.

About the author

Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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