It's been a busy week in the tech world, but the newsroom highlight of the week had more to do with what was not said. Our own Elinor Mills was dispatched on short notice from San Francisco to Orlando, Fla., to interview Google CEO Eric Schmidt. He was in the land of Mickey Mouse East to tout Google Health initiatives, which hold promise for advancing the cause of improved health care.
Elinor came ready to discuss Google Health with Schmidt, as well as other topics, such as what's up with the paid click ad business, the economy, YouTube, and of course, the proposed Microsoft-Yahoo union.
A few minutes before the interview, she was told by a Google spokesman that Schmidt would only answer questions about Google Health.
He certainly has the right to refuse to take questions, but it's unclear what led him to stonewall. Schmidt doesn't seem like a CEO who is afraid to go toe to toe with the press. Perhaps he wanted to make sure the message got out on Google Health, but Elinor had already heard all the details at the Orlando presentation and press conference.
In any case, the context of the event shouldn't exclude Schmidt from responding to the basic questions on the minds of Google watchers, reporters, bloggers, investors, and employees. He is practiced enough in the art of interviewing to evade any question that he doesn't want to answer directly.
He even declined to respond to a question about how Microsoft's health care platform HealthVault differs from Google Health.
The notions of transparency, conversation, and openness are part of the Web culture. Google is the "Do No Evil" company. Speaking to the press without putting restrictions on what can be asked (outside of regulatory prohibitions) is "good." We aren't talking about disclosing state secrets, just responding to what are largely anticipated queries.
You have to wonder what drives such behavior. Is it arrogance or just a bit of control freakishness? Whatever, it comes off as Putinesque, which I doubt is what Google PR or Schmidt intended.Read Elinor's account of her brief and mostly unfruitful trip Orlando.
See also: News.com editor Jim Kerstetter has some questions for Google and Schmidt.