Here’s an interesting experiment. Imagine what the reaction would be if a different CEO, one who isn’t worshipped as a man-god by a small but vocal portion of the world’s population, did what Steve Jobs just did to Joe Nocera. Imagine, for example, that instead of Steve Jobs we were talking about Steve Ballmer.

Imagine Ballmer appeared in public having lost an incredible amount of weight, looking seventy years old and about one hundred and twenty pounds. Imagine that Ballmer’s flacks at first said he’d had a “common bug,” but when nobody bought that line (since it was absolutely totally ridiculous) they came back and said he’d been on the South Beach diet, or the vegan version of the Zone, and then when that didn’t fly they said that it wasn’t anyone’s business why Ballmer looked like shit, and when that didn’t work they lined up some “sources” to leak word that ooooh, yeaaaaah, you know come to think of it we just remembered that Ballmer underwent some pretty hairy surgery a while back and then developed a pretty hairy infection, and then, when the hacks still wouldn’t back off, Ballmer called a business columnist out of the blue, opened by insulting him, and then said he wanted to answer the columnist’s questions — but only off the record.

Imagine, seriously, the response if Microsoft pulled shit like this. Or any company. Imagine Jeffrey Immelt at GE doing this. Or Alan Mulally at Ford. Or Rupert Murdoch. Can you imagine any of those guys, or any of those companies, behaving in this way? Of course not.

Here’s the thing. If you want to appear in public looking like shit, and you insist on offering no explanation for the way you look, because you believe your privacy is more important than your company’s stock price, then fine. That’s a reasonable position. So do that. Stick to your principles, shut the fuck up, and let the stock do what it’s going to do. But don’t try to have it both ways. Don’t pull this crap with leaks and off-the-record conversations. Either answer the question, out loud, in public, or don’t. And don’t act like it’s people’s fault for wanting to know what’s going on with a guy who looks so awful, especially given his history.

I admire Apple. I love its products. But this is bullshit.