Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, announced today in BusinessWeek that he is gay. The news surprised no one: Cook’s sexuality has been an open secret in the tech industry for years. But perhaps now he’s revealed himself, we’ll see a bit more rigorous reporting about one of the most powerful men in the world.
Relative to his influence, Tim Cook is perhaps the most under-reported on chief executive in American corporate history. The journalists who would normally be expected to investigate him tiptoe around the subject out of misplaced deference and a desire to be seen as sensitive and not let the cat out of the bag.
I’ve even overheard American journalists discussing whether to change words in their copy so as not to give any hint whatsoever as to the Apple executive’s sexual proclivities. I can’t imagine what word they were talking about… the usual dog whistles such as “flamboyant” and “colourful” really don’t apply to Cook, who has more of an elderly antiques dealer vibe.
Cook has had an easy ride from the tech press–to put it mildly. Partly because everyone knew he was gay, partly because he had the impossible task of filling Steve Jobs’s shoes and partly because the entire tech press corps is effectively a branch of Apple’s marketing department, barely any serious writing has been done on Cook at all.
Normally, we consider the life choices of powerful people to be pertinent to the roles they hold. Women in senior positions in the tech industry are under enormous scrutiny, in particular. Yet while it’s perfectly fine to discuss Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s office childcare arrangements, Cook has been given carte blanche because he likes boys. That’s a bad excuse for sloppy journalism.
I can’t think of a single chief executive or politician of Cook’s stature about whom so little is known. Now, you might say it’s a good thing that bloggers haven’t been pruriently digging through his past relationships and snapping him outside San Francisco gay bars, but too much respectfulness of a powerful individual’s private life stops us doing our jobs properly.
Is there any reason why we should demand to know details of how Mayer arranges her personal affairs, yet we’re terrified of even the suggestion that someone might be a homosexual? To me, a gay man, that sounds like the reporters were implicitly admitting there was something secret or shameful about Cook’s private life.
Is the tech press really so pathetic that they need to be given permission before reporting? Are they so worried about not being invited to one of Apple’s fancy previews that they refuse to report basic biographical facts about someone which they know to be true? How else to explain how pathetic the coverage of Cook has been?
Now Cook has come out as gay, can we look forward to a newly unfettered focus on the chief executive of one of America’s most successful corporations? Meh… don’t hold your breath. But at least now, indolent tech bloggers have no excuse when they’re asked: why don’t we know who Tim Cook is?