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iMac gets un-plugged

If there's anything worse than writing the Rumor Mill, it's being in the Rumor Mill.

If there's anything worse than writing the Rumor Mill, it's being in the Rumor Mill. Feel my pain, dear readers. Whispers are circulating that I, for the sixth year running, am not on tech journalism's A-list: Marketing Computers' roster of the top 100 most powerful toner-stained wretches. Once again I console myself with the thought that I was No. 101.

Topping the list for the fifth straight year (just shoot me, OK?) is the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, the geek incarnation of George Jean Nathan. It's not the kind of name to be bandied about lightly, as PR giant Edelman found out this week. The flak firm found itself in piping-hot water with Mossberg after sending out the following email to a small number of his fellow, albeit less potent, journalists:

"Subject: Mossberg endorses iMac

"Thinking about iMac? You're in good company. According to maverick Wall Street Journal technology editor Walter Mossberg, "The iMac is a terrific computer for a college dorm. It's compact, powerful enough to do whatever a student is likely to need, and is the easiest and quickest computer to set up and connect to the Internet." (Mossberg's Mailbox, Wall Street Journal, April 22nd 1999) To learn more about the iMac, log onto www.apple.com/pr."

"What a lame PR technique," a miffed Mossberg observed in a conversation with the Rumor Mill. "I don't mind people quoting from my columns, but I think the word 'endorsement' implies much more than a favorable review and suggests to a lot of people that there's a contractual or financial arrangement. Also, I think this is an incredibly stupid PR tactic. It amounts to emailing one journalist to say that a competitor has liked a product so now it's safe to do the same. I wouldn't react well to that."

No shrinking violet, Mossberg complained and obtained an apology from Edelman. Recipients of the original email received the following:

"Subject: Apple

"Yesterday, you received an email that was inappropriately titled 'Mossberg endorses iMac.' The text of the email refers to and quotes a recent comment by Mr. Mossberg. We never intended to suggest that Mr. Mossberg has 'endorsed' iMac. A grave mistake was made by Edelman in using this language. We have apologized to Mr. Mossberg for this misuse of his name."

Edelman, which represents Apple, Microsoft, PeopleSoft, and Ericsson, among other high-tech stalwarts, elaborated on this contrition.

"This showed extremely poor judgment in the person who architected this," said Edelman VP and GM Harry Phorzheiner. "They know the severity and graveness of doing something like this...But I can't discuss whether they're still part of the organization."

Meanwhile, Mossberg's first-place finish in Marketing Computers is accompanied by an auxiliary honor in the same publication, which is printing its first "Raspberry" list. Based on feedback from the PR community, a list of the most difficult journalists to work with turned up no consensus in terms of individual reporters, but it did give a clear lead to the Wall Street Journal and Rumor Mill favorite Upside, as already reported by digital media maven Dan Fost this week in the SF Chron. What Fost didn't report is that Mossberg is singled out, along with Upside's Richard Brandt, Kathleen Doler, and David Coursey, as being particularly high-maintenance. Flaks describe Mossberg as "tough, demanding, and cranky," which beats the Upside trio's rap of "rude, impatient, and condescending."

Speaking of Apple, we hear that IBM was prepping to do a demo of a 600-MHz desktop computer (400 is tops now for Apple's G3 Macs) at the Apple WWDC on the 11th.

Somebody in The Upper Ranks pulled rank and nixed the demo in favor of Apple's strategy of choice for improving performance: chips with Altivec technology, now slated to be made only by Motorola. These chips don't run as fast in terms of clock speed but increase performance by manipulating data in 128-bit chunks once the data is inside the chip. They also need software programmers, the target group at the WWDC, to rewrite programs to take advantage of the chip's abilities, a la Intel's MMX technology.

Bottom line: Because people are used to equating performance with clock speed, the IBM demo could have upstaged Motorola's Altivec demo. The irony is that Motorola is running a couple of months behind on its production schedule and won't have them available until around September, Skinformants say.

So how long is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's memory? Two years ago, when Amazon.com was on the road show for its IPO, Barnes & Noble sued the online bookseller on charges of false advertising. This week, as Barnesandnoble.com was on its own road show, Amazon announced that it would cut the prices of New York Times best-sellers by 50 percent.

Amazon flaks deny any connection, but nonetheless the price cuts come at an inconvenient time for Barnesandnoble.com.

"The timing is amazing," said Ben Boyd, chief flak for Barnesandnoble.com. He also noted his company's speedy response to Amazon's discounts. "For everybody who says B&N is a lumbering brick-and-mortar company, we're not."

The San Jose Business Journal event for the "100 fastest-growing companies in Silicon Valley was held same night that Phantom Menace debuted. No-shows Yahoo and Excite were rumored to be at the movies.

Bill Gates was decidedly not at Episode One. Before giving an address to more than 100 chief executives at his annual technology summit this week, the world's head geek joked that the gathering could have been scheduled at a better time, given the release of "Phantom Force." What, was he joking? I keep managing to force out this column every week, but I can't do it without your rumors.