The interviewer, technology writer Leo LaPorte, was sharply questioning Pogue's positive writing about Apple -- and, in particular, a much-criticized upbeat interview with Apple chairman Steven Jobs that was published as a news story -- when Pogue grew defensive.
"Since when have I ever billed myself as a journalist?" Pogue said angrily. "Since when have I ever billed myself as a journalist?....I am not a reporter. I’ve never been to journalism school. I don’t know what it means to bury the lede. Okay I do know what it means. I am not a reporter. I’ve been an opinion columnist my entire career…..I try to entertain and inform."
Recognizing perhaps that the distinction may be lost on his journalist colleagues at the NYT and elsewhere, Pogue added: "By the way I’m suddenly realizing this is all just making it all worse for myself. The haters are going to hate David Pogue even more now."
Evidently angry over a recent NYT Public Editor column by Clark Hoyt that put a spotlight on his conflicts, Pogue also used the forum to disclose that he had been pushing NYT editors for years for better disclosure of his outside work, only to encounter resistance from those editors.
LaPorte had been grilling Pogue on the points raised in Hoyt's column, that the popular columnist might be guilty of an apparent conflict of interest by writing books about new products while reviewing them for the NYT.
That's when Pogue seized the opportunity to point out that his counterparts at other top newspapers -- including one who had criticized Pogue for his conflicts -- were guilty of the same transgression:
In point of fact this is a problem with the industry. And not so much me alone….It’s about context. Dwight [Silverman] admitted to you that he writes for the Houston Chronicle. And he wrote a Windows book at the same time that he was writing about Windows for the paper. ….and Ed Baig, who writes for an even bigger newspaper than I do, he writes for USA Today, the equivalent column, he wrote Macs for Dummies, Palm Pre: The Missing Manual, he wrote an iPhone book at the same time as he was reviewing those. Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal makes, I think The New Yorker said, $1 million a year off of the D Conferences, where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates make exclusive appearances, the very guys whose products he reviews.
So it’s a growing problem. You’d probably have a hard time finding someone who doesn’t have a problem like this. I’m not going to say there’s no visible conflict of interest. Obviously there is one. The only thing I can say in my defense is – our defense – is, does that conflict of interest affect the writing? Does it affect the conclusions?
Pogue went on to discuss the specifics of his recent Steven Jobs interview in the NYT -- a piece that ran in the news pages, and that later became controversial for its failure to push the Apple chairman on seemingly misleading statements he made about the new generation of iPod Touch.
According to Pogue, Apple public-relations executives made Jobs available only to technology columnists, not business reporters. Before explaining his own experience interviewing Jobs, he noted sarcastically to his interviewer that his colleagues -- Mossberg and Baig -- didn't even bother publishing their own Jobs conversations.
POGUE: By the way, what did you think of Walt Mossberg’s interview with Jobs and Ed Baig’s interview with Jobs the same day?
LAPORTE: I didn’t actually – I didn’t actually read them, I read you instead, David.
POGUE: Yeah. Because they didn’t write them, they didn’t write them at all.
Pogue went on to explain that when Apple granted him the ten-minute interview with Jobs, his editors came to him with a request: "So my editors ask me, by the way we’d like to do a news story about this why you were there, can you ask these newsy-related questions and we’ll use quotes from it for a business story. And they gave me some questions that they hoped that I could pass along."
Afterwards, some bloggers criticized Pogue's failure to ask Jobs tough questions in the conversation:
"John Dvorak went on Twitter and said “David Pogue is a disgrace to journalism," Jason Calacanis said “No one in the tech business takes you seriously, it’s a joke that the New York Times employs you.” They were just unbelievably harsh. And one guy on the David Pogue blog said, “You should have nailed Jobs’ ass to the wall." And I’m kind of like, dude that is not how you get – I mean, yeah maybe I should have, but is that my job?
[NOTE: In a Twitter post last night, Pogue acknowledged that the "John Dvorak" he'd mentioned in the interview turned out not to be real: @realDvorak dissed me on Twitter; I scolded him on TWiT podcast; turns out it was an impostor! My apologies to the real @therealdvorak!!]
As for his NYT editors, Pogue revealed that he had suggested to them several times previously that he disclose the fact that he wrote the Missing Manuals, only to have them reject the idea.
"I’ve frequently said why don’t we disclose the book in the column and for nine years that’s been shot down because it’s like, “Dude, you can’t advertise yourself!” It’s like putting a plug in the column," Pogue said. "And you know what? I am sorry to tell you guys this, but now that the plug is going to appear in each column it’s going to raise the book sales."
Pogue also said he had "offered repeatedly" to the NYT that he recuse himself from reviewing the three products he covers in the manuals -- the iPhone, the Mac 0S 10 operating system, and Windows.
"I’ve said I could take those weeks off from the Times, you could get someone else to write it," Pogue said. "Their feeling is that at this point readers are sort of expecting my voice and they know me."
In the wake of Hoyt's column two weeks ago, the NYT has now instituted a disclosure policy that forces Pogue to mention the Manuals when reviewing a product, and added a disclosure statement from Pogue on the NYT website.
As for Pogue's protestation that he is not a journalist or reporter, the Hoyt column was clear on that point -- it referred frequently to Pogue as a journalist, and made clear that the NYT considers him one in its judgements of his ethical standards.
It is a distinction that, apparently, remains yet to be fully worked out between the NYT and one of its most successful contributors. Pogue -- a freelance contributor to the NYT since 2000 -- delivers a weekly column and video that is often among the most widely-read features in the NYT.
But Pogue argues that readers aren't troubled by the conflicts, and respect the independence of his opinions. "Apart from the snarky bloggers, most readers seem satisfied that I’m being evenhanded," Pogue said.
"Look, I have to keep doing the books," Pogue told LaPorte. "That’s how I put food on the table."