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."
"There is a bounce to his step that betrays a certain youthful cockiness"
Joe Nocera's lovely op-ed essay in Saturday's New York Times does us all a favor by including a link to a piece Nocera wrote about Steve Jobs for Esquire in 1986.
Jobs had been kicked out of Apple (AAPL), and to help drum up publicity for his new project, NeXT, he invited Nocera -- who would later become Fortune's editorial director MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Aug 27, 2011 9:24 AM ET
Joe Nocera buried his lead.
The New York Times columnist -- and former Fortune editor -- waited until the end of Saturday's 1,700-word "Talking Business" column about the health of Apple's CEO and the secrecy that surrounds it to reveal that on Thursday afternoon, several hours after he'd gotten his final "Steve's health is a private matter" from Apple's public relations machine, he got a call from Steve Jobs himself.
"This is MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jul 26, 2008 7:21 AM ET
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