Gizmodo e-mail to Jobs: 'We have nothing to lose'

Gizmodo editors balked at returning the prototype iPhone, even after Apple CEO Steve Jobs personally asked them to, court documents released Friday show.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
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Declan McCullagh
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3 min read

In what seems to be the clearest evidence yet that Gawker Media editors didn't talk to an attorney before buying a lost or stolen prototype iPhone, new court documents reveal the gadget blog balking after Apple CEO Steve Jobs personally requested its return.

The affidavit, prepared by detective Matthew Broad in the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, says Jobs contacted Gizmodo editor Brian Lam on April 19, the same day the gadget blog published a story about the 4G iPhone.

Jobs requested via phone that the blog's editors return the device--but Lam refused to do so, unless a company would confirm that it was Apple's.

From: brian lam
Date: April 19, 2010 4:08:07 PM PT
To: Steve Jobs
Subject: Let's see if this goes through.

Hey Steve, this email chain is off record on my side.

I understand the position you're in, and I want to help, but it conflicts with my own responsibilities to give the phone back without any confirmation that it's real, from apple, officially.

Something like that--from you or apple legal--is a big story, that would make up for giving the phone back right away. If the phone disappears without a story to explain why it went away, and the proof it went to apple, it hurts our business. And our reputation. People will say this is a coordinated leak, etc.

I get that it would hurt sales to say this is the next iphone. I have no interest in hurting sales. That does nothing to help Gizmodo or me.

Maybe Apple can say it's a lost phone, but not one that you've confirmed for production--that it is merely a test unit of sorts. Otherwise, it just falls to apple legal, which serves the same purpose of confirmation. I don't want that, either.

Gizmodo lives and dies like many small companies do. We don't have access, or when we do, we get it taken away. When we get a chance to break a story, we have to go with it, or we perish. I know you like walt [Mossberg, of The Wall Street Journal] and [The New York Times' David] pogue, and like working with them, but I think Gizmodo has more in common with old Apple than those guys do. So I hope you understand where I'm coming from.

Right now, we have nothing to lose. The thing is, Apple PR has been cold to us lately. It affected my ability to do my job right at iPad launch. So we had to go outside and find our stories like this one, very aggressively.

I want to get this phone back to you ASAP. And I want to not hurt your sales when the products themselves deserve love. But I have to get this story of the missing prototype out, and how it was returned to apple, with some acknowledgement [sic] it is Apple's.

And I want to work closer with Apple, too. I'm not asking for more access--we can do our jobs with or without it--but again, this is the only way we can survive while being cut out of things. That's my position on things.


Gizmodo has claimed to have bought the phone for "$5,000 in cash." But that's not the whole story.

The detective's affidavit says a roommate of Brian Hogan, the fellow who found the iPhone in a Redwood City bar, showed off a "camera box that contained $5,000 in $100" bills and said he received $2,500 from another source (possibly another gadget blog). Hogan also allegedly said he would "receive a cash bonus from Gizmodo.com in July, if and when Apple makes an official product announcement regarding the new iPhone."

As a result, prosecutors are considering criminal charges against Gawker Media bloggers. Deputy District Attorney Chris Feasel told reporters on Friday that police are "still investigating," and that media organizations that commit crimes should not expect to be immune from charges. (Judge Clifford Cretan unsealed the documents on Friday in response to a request from CNET and other media organizations.)

Do you agree with the argument Gizmodo editor Lam made to Steve Jobs? Or should the site's editors have returned the phone right away? Is it ethical for a media organization to pay performance bonuses for what might be stolen property? What should happen next? Please post your thoughts in the comment section below.