Larry Mantle

Should the private life of Apple's new CEO stay private?

Tuesday morning on AirTalk, we talked with Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon about his contention that new Apple CEO Tim Cook’s supposed sexuality should be referenced by journalists.  Even before taking over Apple last week, Cook had been listed at the top of Out magazine’s annual Power-50 list.

However, Cook has never publicly commented on his sexuality, nor any other aspect of his personal life.  Salmon assumes that Cook’s lack of complaint about being described as gay confirms the reports’ accuracy.

Our second guest, BNET’s Erik Sherman, thought it would be wrong to even characterize Cook’s sexuality, let alone make a point of it, when the Apple CEO hasn’t been public at all about his personal life.

For me, I was torn about doing this segment.   The topic itself was terrific and elicited superb listener feedback in calls and online comments.  Both of the guests were well spoken and strongly argued their positions.  Had I been a listener, I certainly would’ve stayed tuned in.

However, I still felt uncomfortable talking about the supposed sexuality of a person about whom I know nothing beyond his name and previous places of employment.  His sexuality would seem to have no relevance to his actual work as Apple’s CEO.

Furthermore, though he’s a public figure by virtue of his job, news accounts indicate he’s never courted attention to his life away from work.  The conversation on AirTalk, though of public interest, might have made Cook very uncomfortable.  Not knowing him, I have no idea. 

I know that a number of listeners writing on the AirTalk page were disappointed we talked about Salmon’s column and debated the topic, seeing it as highly unfair to Cook.  I hear that response loud and clear, and get it.  Nonetheless, I felt like our listeners had very important points to make on the topic and I know I learned a lot, despite my discomfort.

We’re finally left with the question Salmon raises – if Cook is gay, is he obliged to talk about it with the world in furtherance of breaking down anti-gay stereotypes?  If Cook is hetero, then do those making wrong assumptions about him need to apologize?  

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