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Nick Denton vs. Steve Jobs – The 11th Hour

As the rumored release date of the Apple Tablet nears (January 27th, according to numerous sources), so too, it would seem, does the end of Nick Denton’s mad quest to make Steve Jobs get serious about their relationship and sue him already.  It promises to be interesting.

Back on January 13th, Valleywag, the Silicon Valley subsidiary of Gawker Media, cut the ribbon on a “scavenger hunt” for information about the Apple Tablet.  A spectrum of gifts and payments were guaranteed Apple employees able to describe or produce pics of the fabled gadget.  Gabriel Snyder reserved the Grand Prize of one hundred thousand dollars for the first person to deliver a Tablet to him and let him fondle it for an hour.  (Just a little gross, right?)  Buzz about the Tablet, whose existence has yet to be officially confirmed by Apple, had titillated tech-gossip circles for months.  Valleywag was evidently determined to get the scoop.

Of course, what Gawker modestly considers a “scavenger hunt” more ordinary earthlings might be tempted to call illegal.  That, in any event, was Jobs’s opinion, whose mania for secrecy is hardly a secret. Threatening further legal action, Apple’s attorneys responded by sending Gawker’s Editor-in-Chief a cease-and-desist letter, claiming Gawker and any employees they inveigled into dishing about the Tablet would be prosecutable under relevant Californian law for, among other offenses, “inducing breach of contract.”  Not missing a beat, Gawker posted excerpts of the letter online.  Touting it as a long-awaited confirmation of the Tablet’s reality, they awarded the letter’s author, with all possible pomp and impertinence, a DVD, a set of steak knives, and a gift card.

A diverting tit for tat, to be sure.  But does it matter?  Slate’s Ben Sheffner, the only reporter so far to really scroll through the implications of the spat, thinks it might: “While Gawker’s approach [to obtaining information] is unconventional, it’s not so clear that it’s different in kind from what business reporters at mainstream publications do every day: convince employees to leak information their employers want to remain secret.”  And its worth noting that, alas, as far as we can tell the only thing that has come from this “game” has been the letter from Apple. Either way, whatever the next few days bring, look for both sides to continue shouting about how they outsmarted one another.

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