McGraw-Hill should blame itself, not media, for its iPad "confirmation"

The PR team at McGraw-Hill is trying to spin the fallout from reports that its CEO "confirmed" the Apple iPad before its release.

The day before Steve Jobs walked onto a San Francisco stage to surprise everyone with something that really wasn't much of a surprise, the CEO of McGraw-Hill appeared on CNBC to talk about the company's earnings. At the tail end of the interview, he was asked about the rumored Apple Tablet, to which he replied:

Yeah, Very exciting. Yes, they’ll make their announcement tomorrow on this one. We have worked with Apple for quite a while. And the Tablet is going to be based on the iPhone operating system and so it will be transferable. So what you are going to be able to do now — we have a consortium of e-books. And we have 95% of all our materials that are in e-book format on that one. So now with the tablet you’re going to open up the higher education market, the professional market. The tablet is going to be just really terrific.

Today, McGraw-Hill is saying that it did not confirm the what we now know to be the iPad - and was not dropped from Apple's presentation at the last minute as a result of it, as some has suggested this morning. Here's what a spokesman said, as posted on All Things D's Digital Daily blog:

As a company deeply involved in the digitization of education and business information, we were as interested as anyone in the launch of the new device, although we were never part of the launch event and never in a position to confirm details about the device ahead of time... [McGraw's} speculative comments about Apple’s pending launch, which he shared earlier in the day in a call with investors, were simply intended to suggest that if the new device were to use iPhone applications, many of our education products would be compatible with the technology and could be made easily available on it. Unfortunately, it seems that many mistakenly interpreted his comments as being more specific to yesterday’s announcement...

OK. Maybe McGraw wasn't booted from the Apple's big screen presentation as an a publishing partner. I'll buy that. But to the argument that McGraw's CEO didn't confirm the iPad and that we media types "mistakenly interpreted" his comments, I say Hogwash! (Actually, I'd probably say something else, but...)

Here's why:

First, Terry McGraw says they "have worked with Apple for quite a while." What does that tell you? They have a relationship. They talk. They work together. OK, maybe that reads too much into it - but there were already rumors about textbook partnerships and he says his company has been working with Apple for quite a while.

Second, McGraw says - definitively, as if he knows - that "the Tablet is going to be based on the iPhone operating system." Sure, that tidbit of information had been all over the blogsphere but I don't recall ever hearing a CEO of a publishing company that has a known relationship with Apple and absolutely could be a partner confirm it on CNBC. I had no reason to think he was repeating blog gossip he'd heard, the way maybe a pundit might. I had reason to believe - as both an everyday viewer and a blogger - that he absolutely knew.

Third, the PR team has come back with a carefully-worded response that tries to shift blame to the media for misunderstanding what was said. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive but the blame is not with the media. Why didn't the PR team prep Mr, McGraw for his appearance on CNBC?

Given the rumors about the Tablet and partnerships with textbook publishers that were circulating, someone on that PR team should have had the foresight to see warn Mr. McGraw that he may be asked about the Tablet. They could have suggested that he not ramble and repeat blog gossip but instead say something like, "Surely, we've read the rumors, too. Like all of you, we're excited to see what news Apple has for us tomorrow."

And then move on.

Somewhere at McGraw-Hill, things broke down on this one. It happens. We'll get over it. But here's a suggestion: instead of placing blame where it doesn't belong, try being a grown up, admitting your mistakes, learning from them and then putting the issue behind you.

Otherwise, you get blog posts like this one.