Why the Times is beating this options thing to death

I’m sure you saw Joe Nocera’s column in the Times this morning. Now look. Maybe you’re wondering why these guys in the media just can’t let go of this non-story about the options. Let me explain. The fact is, there’s no quote-unquote “scandal.” Problem is, “no scandal” doesn’t sell papers. But Joe and his brethren are in the business of selling papers. Or “driving traffic” if they’re in the online press. They have a financial incentive to keep this alive. And the Times has extra incentives, first being that a) they’re lefties who basically hate business; and b) the Journal has been kicking the daylights out of them on this story and now they want to catch up.

Guess what they’ll all do when the whole thing blows over? Don’t hold your breath waiting for any of these reporters to say they were wrong. They’ll either skulk away in silence, or they’ll bury the story on a back page, or the really brassy ones will write articles saying, in effect, “Jobs got away with it.”

But look. What did I get away with? If you read Joe’s entire article, you’ll see that Joe eventually gets around to admitting that there’s no harm and no foul here. He reports that in 2003 I gave back all the options I’d been granted in 2000 and 2001. I never exercised them. And when I turned them in, they were worthless — “underwater” as the financial guys say. Then the board gave me 5 million restricted shares, which, as Joe reports, are now worth $900 million. Okay.

Erase the earlier options from your mind, and just imagine that in 2003, the board simply decided to give me shares that are now worth $900 million. (They were worth about 1/10th as much when I got them, by the way.) Would anyone have a problem with that?

So what’s the big fuss? Joe and others of his ilk (cough Ben Stein cough) are all upset because of a couple of clerical errors regarding some options that I never exercised and turned back in to the company while they were underwater. It’s an academic exercise.

Yes, we neglected to cross our t’s and dot our i’s as they say in Swedish. But who cares? You really think the greatest CEO in the world should be tossed out over something like this? Who’d benefit from that? Shareholders? Nope. Customers? Nope. Microsoft? Um, in fact, yes. Not saying Mr. Bill is behind this. But if you really want a world where Vista is your OS, and Zune is your music player, and your Windows-based smart phone isn’t smart enough to make phone calls without crashing, well, sure, send old Jobso to the scrap heap.

Otherwise, let’s all grow up, put this behind us, and move on.