Brian Lam recounts his interactions with Steve Jobs following the stolen iPhone 4 scandal

Fri, Nov 11, 2011

Apple History, Featured, News

Gizmodo temporarily became a household name during the Spring of 2010 when they published photos of, what was then, an unreleased iPhone 4. In the days that would follow, the saga would become increasingly bizarre and seemingly lifted out of a $.10 novel.

Caught in the middle of the brouhaha was Brian Lam, a Gizmodo editor who published the photos. If you check our archives, you’ll note we have a few posts where we really lambast him, going so far as to title one “Brian Lam” is an asshole.

You see, Brian Lam, for no reason other than to attract page views, not only published the name of the Apple employee who misplaced the iPhone 4, but also held the iPhone 4 hostage from Apple, demanding the company claim proper ownership of the device before they’d give it back.

Following the passing of Steve Jobs, Lam posted an interesting piece detailing some heretofore unknown facts and details about the events that transpired after Gizmodo published the iPhone 4, how the police became involved, and how Briam Lam went from being an admitted asshole to a contrite individual.

First, Lam describes a few previous meetings with Jobs and notes that Jobs was an avid reader at some point, even going so far as to say it was his favorite gadget blog.

Indeed, Lam even emailed Jobs with questions regarding Gawker’s now infamously horrible redesign.

From: Steve Jobs <>
Subject: Re: Gizmodo on iPad

Date: March 31, 2010 6:00:56 PM PDT

To: brian lam <>

Parts of it I like, and other parts I don’t understand. I’m not sure the “information density” is high enough for you and your brand. Seems a bit too tame to me. I’ll look for it this weekend and be able to give you some more useful feedback after that.

I like what you guys do most of the time, and am a daily reader.


Sent from my iPad

On Mar 31, 2010, at 1:06 PM, brian lam <> wrote:
Here you go, a rough sketch. Should be launched, as the standard face of Gizmodo, by the 3g’s launch. What it’s meant to do is be friendlier to scan for the 97% of our readers who don’t come every day…”

Just two months later, Lam and Jobs congenial relationship would take a turn for the worse.

One hour after Gizmodo posted photos of the iPhone 4 on its website, Steve Jobs called up Lam.

“Hi, this is Steve. I really want my phone back.”

He wasn’t demanding. He was asking. And he was charming and he was funny. I was half-naked, just getting back from surfing, but I managed to keep my shit together.

“I appreciate you had your fun with our phone and I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the sales guy who lost it. But we need the phone back because we can’t let it fall into the wrong hands.”

I thought, maybe its already in the wrong hands?

He continued, “There are two ways we can do this. I can send someone to pick up the phone–”

Me: “I don’t have it”

“–But you know someone who does…or we can send someone with legal papers, and I don’t want to do that.”

He was giving us an easy way out.

I told him I had to talk to my dudes. Before he hung up, he asked me, “What do you think of it?”

I said, “It’s beautiful.”

When the two spoke next, Gizmodo said they’d give the phone back to Apple if they legally claimed it as theirs. They wanted it in writing, presumably to put it up on their website and discard any speculation that the photos were fraudulent.

Jobs naturally balked and explained to Lam that acknowledging it as the future iPhone would hurt sales of the then current iPhone 3GS.

“Youre asking me to shoot my toes off!” Jobs reportedly exclaimed.

But Lam remained intransigent, and even admits that he was power tripping off the fact that he was in a position where he could tell Steve Jobs what to do.

When he called me back, the first thing he said was, “Hey Brian, it’s YOUR NEW BEST FAVORITE PERSON IN THE WORLD.”

I laughed and so did he. Then, he sharply pivoted and said, “So what’s it gonna be?”

I gave it to him straight: “If you don’t want to give us the letter claiming it, I guess it’s going to be papers. It doesn’t matter because one way or another we’ll get our confirmation that it is yours.”

He did not like that. Steve said, “This is some serious shit. If I have to serve you papers, and go through the trouble of it, I’m coming for something and its going to mean someone in your organization will go to jail.”

I told him we didn’t know anything about the phone being stolen, and we intended to give it back, but we needed Apple to claim it. Then I said I’d go to jail for this story. And then he realized I wasn’t going to budge.

What happened next involved police raids, lawyers, and confiscated property.

As for Lam, his emotions got the best of him, and he struggled internally with his role as Gizmodo editor and its affect on his morals.

Looking back, Lam has no regrets about publishing the story, but if he could go back, he would give the phone back to Apple without demanding ransom in the form of a letter.

Steve said we’d had our fun and we had the first story but we were being greedy. And he was right. We were. It was sore winning. And we were also being short sighted. And, sometimes, I wish we never found that phone at all. That is basically the only way this could have been painless. But that’s life. Sometimes there’s no easy way out.

Over the next year and a half, Lam writes that he thought about the events that transpired every single day, and that it caused him much anguish that he essentially stopped writing.

But three weeks ago, Lam manned up and sent out an apology email to Jobs.

From: brian lam <>
Subject: Hey Steve

Date: September 14, 2011 12:31:04 PM PDT

To: Steve Jobs <>
Steve, a few months have passed since all that iphone 4 stuff went down, and I just wanted to say that I wish things happened differently. I probably should have quit right after the first story was published for several different reasons. I didn’t know how to say that without throwing my team under the bus, so I didn’t. Now I’ve learned it’s better to lose a job I don’t believe in any more than to do it well and keep it just for that sake.

I’m sorry for the problems I caused you.


Jobs never responded, and given his condition over the past few weeks, it’s unclear if he even received the message.

Lam concludes with an anecdote about how someone close to Steve Jobs had heard that from Jobs perspective, the iPhone 4 fiasco was now “all water under the bridge.”

“I never expected to get a response and I never did,” Lam writes. “But after sending that I forgave myself. And my writer’s block lifted.

I just feel lucky I had the chance to tell a kind man that I was sorry for being an asshole before it was too late.”

Good for Lam.

Not surprisingly, Grad A asshole Nick Denton – the douche who runs Gawker – was curiously quick to take issue with Lam’s public apology, writing on Twitter:

“A better concept for [Lam’s] new website: The Apologist. Find moral dilemma; insert self as painfully and narcissistically as possible.”

via The Atlantic


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