FORTUNE -- I met Joe Nocera once, and he seemed like a nice guy. Over his long career as a business journalist -- including more than a decade at Fortune -- he's done some first-rate work on Apple (AAPL). "The Second Coming of Steve Jobs," a profile for Esquire of the entrepreneur at age 31, may be the best close-up portrait of Jobs that anybody has written, before or since. And two days after Jobs resigned in 2011 he wrote a lovely farewell column that was especially gracious, given their past history.
But Nocera has also made it his business to be the fiercest critic of what he sees as shady business dealings at the company's highest levels -- first with backdated options that led to resignation of Apple's general counsel and the retirement of its former CFO (but not, to Nocera's evident dismay, an SEC complaint against Jobs himself), and now with the offshore tax strategies that brought Jobs' successor, Tim Cook, before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.
I happen to agree with one of the points Nocera makes in his New York Times op-ed column Thursday. There is something about sending tens of billions of dollars to a holding company that has tax residency in no country on earth that seems to violate the spirit of the law -- despite Cook's assertion to the contrary.
But what will be remembered about Nocera's latest Apple column is that he called Tim Cook a liar -- accusing him of telling, under oath, a "whopper" and a "flat-out lie."
Nocera implies, but doesn't actually say, that he makes those charges after watching Cook's testimony.
I watched Cook's testimony -- twice. I find it hard to believe that Nocera saw any of it. And having read the documents and news articles he cites, I believe that on the points with which he has factual disagreements with Cook, he's provably wrong.
As I say, Nocera has a long history with Apple -- a history, in his defense, that includes being told some flat-out lies. The biggest whopper was probably the one Steve Jobs told him in 2008 when, according to Nocera, Jobs assured him that he didn't have cancer.
It was Nocera's 2008 account of that phone call with Jobs that captured, in two sentences, the essence of their relationship:
"This is Steve Jobs," [Jobs] began. "You think I'm an arrogant [expletive] who thinks he's above the law, and I think you're a slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong."
No one laid a glove on Apple's CEO, not even the subcommittee's hostile chairman.
FORTUNE -- In February, the Huffington Post's Jason Gilbert reviewed the performance of Apple (AAPL) shares on days that Tim Cook spoke in public and concluded, as his headline put it,
The Last 6 Times Tim Cook Has Talked, Apple's Stock Has Dropped.
So it was with some trepidation that Apple investors tuned in to C-Span.org Tuesday morning to watch Cook's MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 21, 2013 3:05 PM ET
The junior senator from Kentucky has been tweeting up a storm in Apple's defense.
FORTUNE -- In subcommittee hearings Tuesday, Senators Carl Levin and John McCain were careful to balance praise for Apple's (AAPL) achievements with outrage over its "convoluted and pernicious" (McCain's words) tax avoidance strategies.
Sen. Rand Paul showed no such balance. He lit into his own committee's leadership for "dragging" one of America's great success stories into what he MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 21, 2013 11:10 AM ET
Next week we'll find out what a Senate probe of Apple's taxes has uncovered.
FORTUNE -- According to the New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning iEconomy series, Apple (AAPL) has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying its fair share of taxes -- well beyond the usual tax reduction strategies U.S. corporations have long considered fair game.
"Apple was a pioneer of an accounting technique known as the 'Double Irish With a Dutch MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 16, 2013 9:07 AM ET
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