“I’ve seen the needle and the damage done,
A little part of it in everyone.”
– Neil Young

Apple attacked by a worm named "Johntw"

Apple attacked by a worm named

Great.  This is exactly what we need right now.

Not only has the market (and our 401ks) being beaten to a bloody pulp by rampaging greed and rampant disregard for the most basic business ethics and fundamental rules of a civilized society, now our economic fortunes are under siege from stupid, mean-spirited twits who spread bogus rumors about companies like an eight-year-old spreads peanut butter on Wonder Bread.

On Friday, October 3, a “citizen journalist” (and boy howdy, do I use that term loosely . . .) posted a story on CNN’s iReport at 9 a.m. that Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER following a “severe heart attack.”  The post made its way onto Digg.com and Twitter.com within minutes.  By 9:25 a.m., an online magazine called Silicon Alley Insider had run the story.

Between 9:40 and 9:52 a.m., Apple’s stock dropped nine percent – that’s about $9 billion for anyone keeping score – before the company could deny the rumor.

Let’s run that back one more time.   Twelve minutes.  Nine billion dollars in value.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has said it will investigate the post by citizen blogger “Johntw,” and CNN is distancing itself from the incident saying the iReport post was neither vetted nor reported by CNN journalists.  (Of course, iReport.com still carries the CNN imprimatur and still invites bloggers to submit “Unedited.  Unfiltered.  News.”, but who’s keeping score?)

From BGO’s perspective, this situation is (or at least should be) unacceptable.

More to the point, such vigilante journalism that requires no accountability, responsibility or ethics is simply unhealthy.  For capitalism to work effectively over the long haul, investors, customers, regulators and the public at large must have accurate and objective information on which to make reasoned decisions. The unfettered free-for-all we have today at best breeds skepticism of everything and everyone; at worst, it breeds an economy based more on “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” than Keynes, Smith or Friedman.

Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater is just plain wrong whether at a Sunday matinee or on a “citizen journalist” Web site.  Reason and accountability must return to our media landscape if we hope to pull ourselves out of the financial death spiral we’re in right now.

Professionally trained journalists (and we counterparts on the public relations side) must play a key role in this effort.  Here’s hoping the Web-free-for-all pendulum swings back soon.

(OCT. 7 UPDATE:  Wired reports that “Johntw” likely could face criminal charges for last Friday’s morning gala.  Here’s hoping the what goes around comes around.)