The Business Press Maven has a general rule that has proven as reliable as death, taxes and Tom Cruise making a gruesome spectacle out of himself: Whenever a public relations problem has to do with a product defect and contains the word "flammable," well, the story ain't fated for no one-day ride.

Welcome to the

Ford

Pinto -- I mean, the

Sony

(SNE) - Get Report

battery.

The initial focus of the story wrongly centered on

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

because its computers were the first to go up in smoke (the photo of the guy whose pick-up truck's ammo stash may have exploded thanks to what was inside his Dell was worth a thousand headaches for the company) and the resulting troubles dovetailed neatly with the company's other challenges and recent missteps. (There is a perception that Dell's consumer service has imploded, giving the whole thing some rounding, poetically.)

But the real problem was that Sony battery. Other computers use it as well, so we woke up this morning to the second leg of the exploding-battery saga:

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

is now recalling about 2 million of those lithium-ion incendiary little jobs.

Of course, at least this morning, the media still seem stuck with the initial misperception. Way up high, many of the articles ask the timeless question:

How will this affect the Dells?

The

Financial Times

quotes

an analyst who says that Dell will still be more damaged because the recall compounded existing problems. Apple, the analyst says, has fewer.

Forbes

sees

Dell as "vindicated," and others are less sanguine than the

FT

about Apple, linking the exploding battery to the company's stock backdating troubles. (Editor's note: To access some of these stories, registration or a subscription may be required. Please check the individual links for the site's policy.)

But Dell gets it

the worst

from the issue of

Business Week

that hits the stands today. It refers to the exploding battery in the lead of a story that essentially says the company is out of ideas and its make-it-cheap-and-deliver-it-with-a-minimum-of-fuss business model may be over, as in done, stick a fork in it.

Meanwhile,

Business Week

also reports that Michael Dell has now purchased 2.9 million shares on the open market this year. That's $70 million worth. For all Dell's billions, that's not tons, but at least it's not chicken feed.

It has also earned The Business Press Maven's seldom given "Benefit of the Doubt" award. I would not be a buyer of Dell here, though I believe at this point, the media is just playing a game of pile-on with this battery story that may be suppressing the stock price slightly. The focus should turn to Sony.

And given Dell's great history and its namesake's confidence -- well, I'm watching what good and strategic change might come of this mess. Michael, don't get nervous but you are officially under the overly judgmental gaze of The Business Press Maven.

And in a bit of good news for Apple that will be underplayed from the smoke of the Sony batteries, go to

Electronic News

to read about the long-awaited settlement of the company's legal troubles with

Creative

(CREAF)

over MP3-player technology.

If there was a recent story overplayed as badly as Dell and the exploding battery, it was the whole metrosexual thing. I don't know where I read it, but some writer criticizing the amount of ink and bandwidth devoted to this supposed trend pointed out that the oft-mentioned Kiehl's beauty products used by all these oh-so-modern moisturized sophisticates was just the new Brylcreem. Was Ronald Reagan, not to mention all our grandfathers, a metrosexual?

Anyhow, as is usually the case when these stories about a particular trend have ridiculously long legs for almost no good reason at all, marketers and consumer product companies follow, to their own detriment. When they realize they are wrong, they then follow a so-called countertrend (in this case, the retro-sexual), to their own detriment.

Business Week

might give it to Dell hard in the issue hitting the stands today, but it offers hope and

a good primer

to the new consumer world we might be looking at: the vast majority of men, those who live life between back-waxing and the sophomoric fantasies of a beer commercial (not that there is anything wrong with them).

On the subject of marketing, The Motley Fool runs a

good item

on

Ford's

(F) - Get Report

apparent desperation. As if things couldn't get worse (no, they are not bringing back the Pinto, equipped with a Sony battery), Ford is no offering 0% six-year financing to anyone, no matter how lame their credit history. Holy repossession.

Toyota

(TM) - Get Report

, meanwhile, seems to be developing a slight case of Ford-itis. It's not offering free financing to every mongrel who writes checks in disappearing ink, but facing recent recalls and quality problems, Toyota has delayed some new models.

Read the latest

on this curious turn on the front page of today's

Wall Street Journal

.

Most of all, have a good weekend. And remember: As the witches told Macbeth, beware the battery.

A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children.