Would Apple Survive Without Steve Jobs?

It's important for investors to consider the worst-case scenario, using Disney as a frame of reference.
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If the underlying article successfully disproves the headline, you might wonder why the headline exists at all. If you want The Business Press Maven's immodest little opinion, I think it's because -- well, actually, even I don't have an immodest little opinion on this one, which should tell you something.

Here's what we know:

Fortune

wrote a story about what life might be like for

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

without Steve Jobs. Considering Jobs decided to skip Apple's annual keynote address, it's an important question for investors to consider.

This isn't to say that Jobs is headed for that big corner office in the sky, but an investor who does not at least try to conjure up a worst-case scenario is foolhardy. Do you have to, in the final estimation, believe the worst is in store for Jobs? Of course not. But the stock market tends to reward those who at least explore the worst.

And Jobs, who has pancreatic cancer, which Apple has not been forthright about in the past, is skipping his biggest public day of the year.

We saw a headline from

Fortune

that seemed to address the issue of Jobs' death without argument or misgiving: "

Analyst: Steve Jobs' 'spirit' has been institutionalized

."

Now, we always have to be a bit careful when the business media build a story around the words of a specific analyst, right? First, analysts say all sorts of wacky things. What makes any one noteworthy? Two, it's too easy an article to write. Take a single analyst's comment, add water, mix and presto, you have your article.

For a very brief moment here, though, it looked like the reporter actually read the work of more than one analyst. Look at the lead:

"Traders may be punishing Apple for Steve Jobs' decision to skip his annual Macworld keynote -- rekindling fears about his health in the wake of his 2004 surgery for pancreatic cancer -- but analysts who follow the stock closely generally agree that those fears have been overblown."

If a reporter is going to truly survey analyst comments, that's a little better. And in the lead, we see a reference to multiple analysts who "generally agree" that fears are overblown. So is that where the headline is misleading? No. It turns out that when it comes to properly counting the analysts reference in the article, the headline was right. The rest of the article relies on a single analyst's note.

Here is where the headline was harmfully misleading. The underlying article, while short, does an adequate job of disproving Kaufman analyst Shaw Wu's research note yesterday on Apple. The article gives the note a big slap by describing it as something that "could have been written by Cupertino's PR department." Then comes a complete takedown of Wu's theory about Jobs' spirit being institutionalized:

"As proof, Wu ticks off a list of hit products that Apple introduced when Jobs was no longer there to drive innovation: the Macintosh Quadra, QuickTime, PowerMac and PowerBook, and Apple IIgs.

"Okaaaay. But none of those products quite rises to the level of the iPod, iTunes, Mac OS X, the iPhone or the App Store."

Yet the now-disproved claim of the analyst got top billing in the headline. Too bad. Too bad, also, that an important consideration going forward is not treated in the article but in the string of reader comments that follow.

That is: How is Apple similar or dissimilar to

Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

, one of the only examples of a company whose leader's ghost did become institutionalized in many ways? That will be the subject of plenty of future thought and conjecture. Please let me know where you stand and why.

Most importantly, have a happy and healthy holiday.

At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven� column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;

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