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Why Apple Fans Hate Tech Reporters

By , Farhad Manjoo - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 123 comments

We post stuff that the majority of our readers enjoy reading, and even so, Apple articles get bashed constantly -- mainly by just a select few. But what about the other way around? Are Apple-fans just as rabid? Apparently so.

Excerpted from "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society" by Farhad Manjoo (Wiley)

On hot-button issues -- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Mac-PC divide -- we're quick to see bias in even the most objective news.

In the fall of 2004, Walt Mossberg, the Wall Street Journal's influential tech columnist, reviewed Apple's latest desktop computer, the iMac G5. He absolutely loved the thing; you can tell from his first paragraph, which would not have been out of place at a beatification: "I am writing these words on the most elegant desktop computer I've ever used, a computer that is not only uncommonly beautiful but fast and powerful, virus-free and surprisingly affordable," he wrote.

Mossberg went on to say that the iMac "performed flawlessly and speedily," "was nearly silent," and that it "actually costs less than comparable Windows machines." He had only two tiny complaints. The computer lacked a built-in card reader to access pictures stored in digital cameras, and "Apple scrimped on memory," adding far fewer megabytes of the stuff than was common on Windows machines.

Mossberg's column ran for about 900 words; just 70 of them, or 8 percent, by my count, suggested anything even approaching negative criticism. Apple loved the review so much that it excerpted it in advertisements. Apple CEO Steve Jobs quoted it in his speeches. But Mossberg says that his mailbox told a different story. Several Apple fans felt slighted. What did he have against Apple? they wanted to know.

There are many tribes in the tech world: TiVo lovers, Blackberry addicts, Palm Treo fanatics, and people who exhibit unhealthy affection for their Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners. But there is no bigger tribe, and none more zealous, than fans of Apple, who are infamous for their sensitivity to slams, real or imagined, against the beloved company. "It's funny -- even if I write a generally positive piece about Apple, I still get more complaints from Apple partisans" than from opponents, Mossberg says. He has even coined a term for the effect. "I call it the Doctrine of Insufficient Adulation."

In my years as a tech reporter, I've dealt first-hand with Mossberg's doctrine -- as well as its opposite, the PC fans who see a pro-Apple press bias in my work (a few years ago, Salon's customer service department informed me that a reader called to cancel a subscription in response to my piece, "Hallelujah, the Mac Is Back.")

Last year, I praised the iPhone in something of the way Romeo once praised Juliet: The device, I said, is revolutionary -- "it marks a new way of life. One day we'll all have iPhones, or things that aim to do what this first one does, and your life will be better for it." But because I'd concluded that the phone was, at the time, too expensive to keep (this was before Apple cut the price), several readers alleged that I was an Apple hater. For instance: "Does Salon actually pay you or are you being paid under the table by rival companies?"

David Pogue, the New York Times' tech critic, gets much the same response. In 2005, he wrote a quite positive review of Apple's iPod Nano. His only problem with the music player was that, per gigabyte of music-storage space, the Nano was more expensive than the iPod Mini it replaced. Also, at the time, it wasn't available in multiple colors. These small slights prompted Apple fans to ask Pogue, among other things, whether he was happy "licking Bill Gates' balls."

Why are Mac fans so quick to see bias everywhere? To understand the phenomenon, consider a study (PDF) that Robert Vallone, Lee Ross and Mark Lepper, psychologists at Stanford University, conducted in the aftermath of another issue that provokes many accusations of press bias, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On the evening of Sept. 16, 1982, a militia associated with the Phalangists, a Lebanese Maronite Christian political party, entered the sprawling Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, in West Beirut, and set about killing hundreds of civilians. Proponents of the Palestinian cause quickly blamed Israel for what had happened; Israeli forces, which had been surrounding the camp, should have stopped the killings, they argued. Staunch supporters of Israel, meanwhile, absolved the country of any responsibility for what the Phalangists had done.

Shortly after the incident, Vallone, Ross and Lepper recruited 144 Stanford students from three different places on campus -- from the pro-Arab and pro-Israeli student associations, as well as from introductory psychology courses. The researchers showed the students six news segments covering the massacre; the clips were collected from national evening news programs, and were intended, in the way that network news is, to be mainstream, non-partisan depictions of the events in Lebanon. The participants were asked to rate the programs in several ways, all covering the same basic point: how fairly had the networks presented the case of Sabra and Shatila?

People who were neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- presumably those from the psych classes -- came down somewhere in the middle. They didn't think the news clips supported either party in the conflict. But proponents of each side saw it differently.

Pro-Palestinian viewers said the news clips excused "Israel when they would have blamed some other country"; that the news accounts didn't focus enough on Israel's role in the massacre; that the segments would prompt neutral observers to take Israel's side; and that the journalists who'd put together the stories were probably advocates of Israel. Israel's supporters, meanwhile, said the exact opposite.

On issues we're passionate about, we all tend to think our own views are essentially reasonable, Ross explains. Thus when a reporter, editor, news network, or pundit mentions the other side's arguments, it stings.

"If I see the world as all black and you see the world as all white and some person comes along and says it's partially black and partially white, we both are going to be unhappy," Ross says. "You think there are more facts and better facts on your side than on the other side. The very act of giving them equal weight seems like bias. Like inappropriate evenhandedness."

Over the years, many experiments -- a few more on how people watch news about the Middle East, and others involving abortion, genetically modified food, and the wisdom of medical research on animals -- have confirmed Vallone, Ross and Lepper's findings. Psychologists call this the "hostile media phenomenon," and it goes far in explaining how both Apple and PC folks can see the opposite bias in the same news story.

Tech columnists Mossberg and Pogue don't claim to be objective. They're critics, and they trade in that slipperiest of all media productions: personal opinion. At the same time, each is unfailingly ethical and intellectually honest. Their articles brim with justification. Neither will tell you that he simply hates the newest Sony digital camera -- he'll tell you that its battery drains faster than Niagara Falls, or that its manual reads like a translation from Japanese to French to English, or that every picture comes out sepia.

If you're non-partisan, this is all you could want from a tech reviewer, and Mossberg and Pogue's style likely accounts for their enormous popularity. But many fans of Apple often seem to want more. They care little for honest opinion. They want to pick up the paper and see in it a reflection of their own nearly religious zeal for the thing they love. They don't want a review. They want a hagiography.

Many Americans aren't really very different. In polls (PDF), people claim not to be interested in getting "news from sources that share your point of view," and prefer instead "sources that don't have a particular point of view."

But for people who feel strongly about an issue -- for Apple fanatics, for abortion partisans, for folks who think they know the truth about global warming or what's going on in the Middle East -- personal views feel distinct and luminous. Journalistic "objectivity" inevitably produces a muddier picture.

When they come upon that difference -- the gulf between what's in their heads and what's on the page -- the audience tends to assume the worst: The reporter must be licking someone's balls.

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  • 39 Hide
    megamanx00 , April 16, 2010 8:03 PM
    Zealots of anything don't take kind to reality or fair criticism. Mac zealots are just a little less tolerable than most of the others :D .
  • 30 Hide
    mauller07 , April 16, 2010 8:03 PM
    the mac osx operating system itself is a nice operating system its just the whole culture of overpriced hardware to go with it thats the problem.

    there is a whole deep rooted psychological effect around people buying things for price and expecting higher quality when at the end of the day with certain things, price doesn't always reflect upon quality which with buying a mac is the case. in regards to security, its only a case of mac's having a small market share, if the market was even all operating systems would have just as much of a bombardment with security alerts
  • 30 Hide
    SlickyFats , April 16, 2010 8:08 PM
    Great article. I know it won't but maybe it will put things into prospective for some people. But its nice to vent anyway.

    "The reporter must be licking someone's balls."
    I Lol'd

    But seriously why are you bashing the PlayStation 3 in this article?
Other Comments
  • 39 Hide
    megamanx00 , April 16, 2010 8:03 PM
    Zealots of anything don't take kind to reality or fair criticism. Mac zealots are just a little less tolerable than most of the others :D .
  • 30 Hide
    mauller07 , April 16, 2010 8:03 PM
    the mac osx operating system itself is a nice operating system its just the whole culture of overpriced hardware to go with it thats the problem.

    there is a whole deep rooted psychological effect around people buying things for price and expecting higher quality when at the end of the day with certain things, price doesn't always reflect upon quality which with buying a mac is the case. in regards to security, its only a case of mac's having a small market share, if the market was even all operating systems would have just as much of a bombardment with security alerts
  • 25 Hide
    counselmancl , April 16, 2010 8:04 PM
    It's their medulla oblongata
  • 27 Hide
    Scotteq , April 16, 2010 8:04 PM
    < smile > Obvious news is Obvious.
  • 25 Hide
    Anonymous , April 16, 2010 8:06 PM
    I think Mossberg is a tool for Apple. Their I have said it. Having said that I think much of the media is a tool for Apple. Apple fans seem to come to Apple's defense very quickly. Or maybe they come to their own defense for owning a Apple product? After all even today some Apple products like the Macintosh computers are not the most popular line of computers. Of course reading some of the reviews you would think they might be. No Apple is popular because of the iPhone and the iPods. Their iTunes store is also a hit but mostly I think because the iPods pretty much give you no choice. The iPad is very much another piece of hardware that will lock the user into Apple. I am not negative of this fact I am just stating how Apple works as a company. If you like Apple then being locked into their Ecosystem will be of no issue. But this is why their are some who think Apple is evil and its why some of Apple's biggest supporters feel threatened when someone says it.
  • 21 Hide
    accolite , April 16, 2010 8:07 PM
    Damn, you hit the nail on the head.
  • 30 Hide
    SlickyFats , April 16, 2010 8:08 PM
    Great article. I know it won't but maybe it will put things into prospective for some people. But its nice to vent anyway.

    "The reporter must be licking someone's balls."
    I Lol'd

    But seriously why are you bashing the PlayStation 3 in this article?
  • 23 Hide
    Lessqqmorepewpew , April 16, 2010 8:08 PM
    macs are slowly becoming more or less a PC. so does that mean mac fanboys are are going to start hating wat they love most without realizing it?
  • 22 Hide
    cscott_it , April 16, 2010 8:16 PM
    It's hard being objective and being a person.

    You want what you own or what you like to be the best on some level or another. How far you are willing to take it, whether you yield to reason, or whether you troll forums proclaiming to be the godsend messenger of [company]; you still want to be right.

    It's like OS arguments. You want it to be right because it validates you (by your deciscion making skills). I think that people just need to agree to disagree more often. That would be a good first step in the right direction.

    /endrant
  • 22 Hide
    zyrumtumtugger , April 16, 2010 8:20 PM
    Very good article, although I didn't know Toms has started running editorials.
  • 7 Hide
    sstym , April 16, 2010 8:26 PM
    Excellent article, guys! It always baffles me when some people only seek positive reinforcement in News, Tech or Movie reviews, or just anything that for some obscure reason they feel an emotional attachment to.
  • 23 Hide
    Computer_Lots , April 16, 2010 8:30 PM
    Suggesting that Tuan is somehow an Apple hater is beyond funny. There have been countless posts on this forum stating that Tuan has turned to the dark side and is in bed with Apple. I personally don't really care. I neither hate, nor love Apple products. I don't own any just because I have no need of them either for personal or business reasons. I can see the appeal for others, they're just not for me.

    I agree with the premise of this article. The perception of bias is probably seen mostly in politics. Those on the left think the media is in bed with big business and too right leaning. Those on the right think the media is too liberal and controlled by George Soros or Hollywood.
  • 21 Hide
    ChaobSiroc , April 16, 2010 8:31 PM
    If it weren't for Mac users I'd have noone to laugh at. Three cheers for Macs!
  • 24 Hide
    theroguex , April 16, 2010 8:33 PM
    accoliteDamn, you hit the nail on the head.


    Man, why are you bashing screwdrivers? You must be licking the hammer company's balls.

    :p 
  • 3 Hide
    donovands , April 16, 2010 8:38 PM
    If I spent the equivalent of a small village's monthly income on a gadget, it had better damn well be the best gadget in every way that there is. I don't want to hear that neighbor Bob has a gadget just as good that cost him half as much.
  • 21 Hide
    mdillenbeck , April 16, 2010 8:40 PM
    Quote:
    We post stuff that the majority of our readers enjoy reading, and even so, Apple articles get bashed constantly -- mainly by just a select few.


    Nice article except for this opening. When saying "a select few", are you counting all the other users that rated the comments thumbs up or all the users that decide not to comment with "+1" or "me too"?

    As to the meat of the article, it is not surprising that we want news that conforms to our beliefs and that we attach meanings that do not exist to objective reports. It is unfortunate, but it is human nature.

    Can we learn anything from the "Tom's Great iPad Flamewar"? I mean, of all the news I have encountered here, this is one of the few where the comments grew heated and eventually spilled into author's posting entire articles to continue the debate. This tells me there are enough people on both sides that feel there is a significant issue here.

    So, I guess what I am getting at is a QOTD to Tom's - what kind of web site do you envision having? This is not a question aimed at the commentors and users of Tom's, but the authors and maintainers of the site. Do you want to be a serious news site dedicated to technology, do you want to be an opinion blog, do you want community involvement and if so what kind? Do the employees of Tom's have a unified vision?

    Perhaps the key issue is not the content you provide, but a difference in what Tom's thinks their site is about and what the community of users think this site is about. I hope to see an article soon in reply to my QOTD.
  • 6 Hide
    crom , April 16, 2010 8:48 PM
    The Apple following is a bit of an oddity. Sure they did transform the industry from changing the aesthetic of the computer, developed a GUI for a consumer audience, and came up with the first laptop. That being said, Apple has also had its flops like the Newton and Apple TV. The thing that's strange that even when Apple release a subpar product, something over priced, or just plain boring its greeted as though Jesus himself created the thing. That, if you don't have this you suck, sort of feeling. I think every other company out there wants a following like that. The only thing I can think of even approaching Apple are fans for movie franchises, like Star Wars.
  • 11 Hide
    cscott_it , April 16, 2010 8:50 PM
    MDillenbeckNice article except for this opening. When saying "a select few", are you counting all the other users that rated the comments thumbs up or all the users that decide not to comment with "+1" or "me too"?As to the meat of the article, it is not surprising that we want news that conforms to our beliefs and that we attach meanings that do not exist to objective reports. It is unfortunate, but it is human nature.Can we learn anything from the "Tom's Great iPad Flamewar"? I mean, of all the news I have encountered here, this is one of the few where the comments grew heated and eventually spilled into author's posting entire articles to continue the debate. This tells me there are enough people on both sides that feel there is a significant issue here.So, I guess what I am getting at is a QOTD to Tom's - what kind of web site do you envision having? This is not a question aimed at the commentors and users of Tom's, but the authors and maintainers of the site. Do you want to be a serious news site dedicated to technology, do you want to be an opinion blog, do you want community involvement and if so what kind? Do the employees of Tom's have a unified vision?Perhaps the key issue is not the content you provide, but a difference in what Tom's thinks their site is about and what the community of users think this site is about. I hope to see an article soon in reply to my QOTD.


    +1 sir
  • -6 Hide
    Ragnar-Kon , April 16, 2010 8:51 PM
    mauller07the mac osx operating system itself is a nice operating system its just the whole culture of overpriced hardware to go with it thats the problem.

    And that is why Apple is such a successful company. They have developed their own "culture" that I'm sure many other companies strive for. Dell, for example, is a HUGE company, but they don't have their own culture.
    Another company that I can think of that has their own culture is Blizzard. Their games are hugely popular, and they have extremely loyal fans. When I think of Warcraft, I instantly think of Blizzard.
    Lessqqmorepewpewmacs are slowly becoming more or less a PC. so does that mean mac fanboys are are going to start hating wat they love most without realizing it?

    You could argue this both ways--"PCs are slowly becoming more or less a Mac." But either way you look at it, its true. It seems like Microsoft takes what is good about the Mac OS and puts it in their systems. Next thing you'll know Mac will have the ability to maximize a window when you drag it to the top of the screen. Personally, I like the Mac OS MUCH more than the Windows OS. But yet I keep around a Windows machine for DirectX.
  • 5 Hide
    perpetual98 , April 16, 2010 9:03 PM
    I think that most people want to feel the need to justify their own purchases. Their is probably just a larger outlet for tech stuff due to the nature of the beast. If there was a huge forum for vacuum cleaners, there would probably be a large Dyson v. Oreck section, etc. Ford v. Checy, etc in the car forums.

    That being said, there's a special brand of crazy that most Apple people have. lol And I own Apple products, but I'm one of the minority of Apple product owners that can't stand the "my poop reeketh of roses" attitude that most iFolk have. I don't lose sleep over it.
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