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January 5, 2009 8:22 PM

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Just asking: What the letter from Apple's Steve Jobs doesn't say

When a pop star, soon to be turning 50, issues a statement saying, "I have no plans to get divorced at this time," it generally means, "my plans to divorce will be announced soon." When the publicist for a vehicularly...

When a pop star, soon to be turning 50, issues a statement saying, "I have no plans to get divorced at this time," it generally means, "my plans to divorce will be announced soon." When the publicist for a vehicularly challenged starlet says, "I have not heard that," it generally means, "it's true, but I'm half denying it." Then there's the all-purpose, "We have no comment," which is designed to introduce doubt to a rumor, but usually means the same thing: "Yup." Still, you have to hand it to Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs, who on Monday explained away his recent weight loss and decision not to appear at the MacWorld Expo, attributing it to a "hormone imbalance." The message, delivered via a letter on Apple's Web site, traveled at full speed via Google News and the worldwide Web, with breathless headlines that said, "Steve Jobs has 'hormone imbalance,' will remain Apple CEO."

"Dear Apple Community," Jobs wrote. "For the first time in a decade, I'm getting to spend the holiday season with my family, rather than intensely preparing for a MacWorld keynote. Unfortunately, my decision to have Phil deliver the MacWorld keynote set off another flurry of rumors about my health, with some even publishing stories of me on my deathbed. I've decided to share something very personal with the Apple community so that we can all relax and enjoy the show tomorrow."

Apple's shares, which had been hit by the rumblings about Jobs' health and the bad economy, jumped 4 percent Monday to close at $94.80.

But here's what the letter didn't say: It didn't say what caused the hormone imbalance. It didn't say Jobs' cancer -- which he was treated for in 2004 -- hasn't returned. Just that he's recuperating from the hormone imbalance and expects to "recover" by late spring.

So far, the most skeptical report came from U.S. News & World Report, which said, "His statement is anything but simple and straightforward." They called a number of doctors not treating Jobs. All of the doctors suggested the hormone imbalance might be "related to Jobs' bout with pancreatic cancer" or the emergence of a new tumor.

Has Jobs' cancer recurred? WWD e-mailed a publicist to ask, but no response was forthcoming from Apple.

This isn't exactly out of the ordinary -- the enigmatic computer maker puts the Bush administration to shame freezing out journalists it doesn't want to deal with -- but it isn't reassuring either. If Jobs doesn't have cancer, why not just say it?
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