Fortune Sounds Out of Tune With a Facebook Piece

Reading Fortune these days, it’s all-too-often hard to tell we’ve been going through a crisis of capitalism for the last three years. I noted this a few weeks ago when writing about how it declined to print Chris Ware’s devastating cover for the Fortune 500 issue, and I looked at some of its recent cover stories, which include hard-hitting pieces like “Building Great Leaders” and “CEO of the Decade.”

Facebook has been in the news more than usual lately and not for good reasons. It’s been gutting users’ privacy in a bid to make more money off them now that they’re locked in to its network.

So, for the current issue Fortune has a excerpt of a tell-all book on the company. Great timing, huh?

Or not. The excerpt is all about the founding of the company—a wholly laudatory piece on how wunderkind CEO Mark Zuckerberg resisted the lure of wealth in order to keep pure control over his company.

Add one more to the long list of hero CEO profiles in the hallowed pages of Fortune: Zuckerberg as brilliant visionary; a principled, natural tycoon who can’t be bothered with filthy lucre. This is the actual kicker to the piece (emphasis mine):

Since then the company has reached another level of dominance, where the most passionate buyers are likely to be the public when the company eventually launches an IPO. Facebook expects to become profitable this year and bring in close to $2 billion in revenues. Zuckerberg owns about 24% of the stock, which puts his stake at almost $5 billion. But he seems in no rush for an IPO or the next big thing. After all, what would he do all day? “Unless I feel like I’m working on the most important problem I can help with, then I’m not going to feel good about how I’m spending my time,” he says. “And that’s what this company is.” The ultimate payday is not a priority. Changing the world is.

What a guy! Sounds like the type of enlightened chap I’d just love to entrust with my information.

There’s not a hint here of Facebook’s privacy predations, or of the allegations (ones that have been settled for tens of millions of dollars) that this brilliant, principled tycoon stole the very idea for his company from Harvard classmates. Oh, he also allegedly ganked the name of the company from a different Harvard classmate (who was last seen in the Times trying to publish a book with the classic coulda-been-a-porno title: Authoritas: One Student’s Harvard Admissions).

It’s often a good idea to zig when everybody else is zagging. But zigging doesn’t mean reverting to the slobbery coverage Facebook has gotten for most of its young life. Surely there was a more relevant, topical excerpt the magazine could have pulled.

And so Fortune continues to look out of touch.

(ADDING: And no, Allan Sloan’s piece on ways to fix the credit crisis doesn’t help, what with his calling his conventional-as-they-get reforms “unconventional, maybe heretical.”

Further Reading:

Who Invented Facebook? A review of Rolling Stone’s coverage of the dispute.

Pushing Back Against Facebook’s Privacy Practices. The press and others bring needed new scrutiny to the social network.

Chris Ware Shows Fortune the Mirror on the 500. Limits to what can be said in the friendly confines of the business press

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.