CNET reporter Elinor Mills, who irked Schmidt and his tech monolith a few years back by Googling information about him and reporting on it – was promised a one-on-one with the CEO if she flew across the country to the unveiling of Google Health last week. Prepared to bombard Schmidt with a bevy of questions about the company, Mills was informed in the green room at the event by a Google PR staffer that only inquiries about Google Health would be allowed.
Mills tried to work in her questions – which were timely and relevant, considering Google’s prominence and relatively rocky last few weeks – but Schmidt deftly deflected them or refused outright to give a response. The result was Mills reporting about the PR handling and giving little ink to Google’s new healthcare endeavor.
What’s the point in muzzling a CEO or limiting the questions of an interested reporter? Google's under no obligation to answer her questions, but what could be lost from a constructive and open dialog?
Given that the previously bulletproof company had gone through a two-week period where it was hit by a ComScore report that paid-click search was flattening out, its stock sagged, Microsoft drew its sword with a Yahoo! bid, and forecasts for a slumping economy were seen as a precursor to lower ad spending, maybe Schmidt could have taken a PR minute to address those issues circling Google.
A few months ago, Apple PR staffers cut off a British journalist for straying “off-topic” by asking a question about Apple’s iTunes monopoly at a launch event for the iPhone. Footage of the altercation went around the world and made Apple's PR team look bad when they didn't have to.
Two years ago, Fortune filed a dispatch from Google’s “media day,” when the company pledged to be more media friendly and transparent with the press. Controlling their pens doesn’t seem like a step in that direction.