Steve Jobs was our story of the year for 2009

Are the rich and famous more deserving of long life than the rest of us? What is the obligation of a public company CEO when facing death, and when is their right of privacy trumped by the shareholders' need to know?

It was not hard for me to identify the top story at ZDNet Healthcare for 2009, based on site traffic.

It was this piece on Steve Jobs' liver transplant.

I was in one of my self-righteous moods when I wrote this in June, and my headline was perhaps overly provocative. "Steve Jobs nearly died and lied about it." (Ouch.)

It's easy to make changes to a blog post's copy here at ZDNet. Headlines, not so much.

The story was read over 130,000 times, 10 times more than any other story, and drew 440 talkbacks, which is also a record for this blog by a country mile.

Most were angry, especially in the first two days. I even got one death threat via e-mail. After a while I became sort of proud of that, but at the time it scared me.

The Jobs story pressed a whole lot of ethical buttons. What is the obligation of a company to disclose material threats to the life of its CEO? And what of a rich man cutting the queue and getting a liver just in time to save his life?

This may be why the response was so intense. Steve Jobs is currently at the height of his wealth and fame. He contributes enormously to the U.S. economy, and to our daily lives. I have an iPhone and an iPod myself. I have no argument with Jobs being termed "CEO of the Decade" by Fortune.

I'm a fan.

But when he took a leave of absence he said he had a nutritional problem. Apparently he didn't. Liver damage is a common occurrence after a bout with pancreatic cancer, which Jobs acknowledged in 2004. There is no moral censure to be made here about his getting sick, or losing liver function.

But as I wrote in response to several angry talkbacks, what if you knew about Jobs' true condition at the time? You could have traded on that information. Had he not been saved, had he died on the table or before he could get there, you would have made a killing. On non-public information. That's the very definition of insider trading.

Jobs dodged the fellow in the brite nightgown, by the proverbial skin of his teeth. I'm happy for him, and for his family, and for his company. Again, I'm a Steve Jobs fan.

But I was a fan of Mickey Mantle (above), too.

Are the rich and famous more deserving of long life than the rest of us? What is the obligation of a public company CEO when facing death, and when is their right of privacy trumped by the shareholders' need to know?

Those questions are as difficult to answer today as they were then. I completely understand your feeling passionate about them.

But I'm still going to ask them. You can depend on that for 2010.

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