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Sunday, July 27, 2008, 08:40 am PT (11:40 am ET)

Apple chief Jobs settles health worries

In a rare discussion of his personal health, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has privately revealed to a journalist exactly what conditions led to his overly thin appearance at the Worldwide Developer Conference this year.

After receiving multiple statements from Apple's press relations that simply echoed the company's official position that Jobs' health "is a private matter," the New York Times' Joe Nocera received a personal phone call from Steve Jobs that appears to have settled some of the doubts about his physical condition.

The company luminary insists that the precise details be kept off the record, but according to Nocera has virtually confirmed earlier reporting by the Times' John Markoff that claims Jobs had new surgery earlier this year to address a nutritional problem causing weight loss.

The particular issue is a "good deal more" substantial than the "common bug" Apple spokespeople have used as their most detailed explanation, but is described as far less disastrous than perceived by some shareholders, who triggered a stock sell-off this past week.

The circumstances "weren’t life-threatening and [Jobs] doesn’t have a recurrence of cancer," Nocera says.

Nonetheless, the journalist also questions why it requires a direct yet unspecific intervention from Jobs to settle concerns rather than more official channels. Reiterating the claims both of Markoff and of analysts, Nocera maintains that companies have a responsibility to disclose key executives' illnesses when they will clearly influence the day-to-day operations of the company, even if they believe health is normally something to be kept from the public.

This is seen as especially crucial for an electronics maker like Apple. As much of the company's success in recent years has been attributed to Jobs' direct management of many facets of the business, a sudden resignation or worse would be immediately damaging to share value, even if the company reveals a succession plan.

For Nocera, the notion that Jobs would rather settle a score with a journalist (one who was initially labeled a "slime bucket" making factual errors) than make an official statement to defend his company is baffling. If anything, the writer believes, one would expect Jobs to do what it took to have shareholders hold on to their investments in the company.

"You would think he’d want them to know before me," Nocera says. "But apparently not."