Craig Federighi

Publicity comes free to Apple. Why is Tim Cook chasing it now?

September 19, 2013: 8:31 PM ET

Exclusives with Businessweek and USA Today have veteran reporters scratching their heads.

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FORTUNE -- The image Tim Cook, Craig Federighi and Jony Ive on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek yucking it up behind the big red headline "What, Us Worry?" stirred a lot of questions  -- and a few dozen follow-up stories -- among the chattering classes of the tech world.

Was the sly reference to Mad Magazine deliberate? Was Bloomberg laughing at Apple (AAPL) or with it? With all the free publicity the company gets, why did Apple PR go shopping for it? Why now? Why Businessweek? And, really, why USA Today?

Sam Grobart's Businessweek piece wasn't bad, if you ignore the rookie errors. (Android does NOT run on nearly 80% of the world's smartphones, as Grobart had IDC reporting. Peter Burrows, who has been covering Apple for the magazine since 1995, would not have made that mistake.)

Grobart's bigger problem is that he missed a chance to break some real news, or at the very least show readers what Apple at the crossroads looks like from the inside.

Instead he gave Cook et al. the space to spin their message of Apple exceptionalism without ever challenging the unspoken assumption that somehow the usual market dynamics -- slowing sales growth, shrinking market share, tightening margins -- don't apply.

"I don't get this idea of how caring about product and putting out the best thing trumps sales," says a  reporter who followed Apple closely for years. "It's a good message when the company's trajectory is going up, but when it's falling, it just comes across as inflexible and stubborn -- like the captain of a sinking ship who insists all the way down that it's okay because they've got a better ship than everyone else."

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