For weeks, Apple kept balking at even admitting there was a genuine signal-interference problem with the iPhone 4 - the so-called "grip of death." Then Consumer Reports, the nonprofit magazine owned by Consumers Union, weighed in with laboratory findings, and Steve Jobs folded.
The Times' David Carr sees this as a victory for an "old-media tester of everything from flooring to steam mops." His very good "Post Mortem: No Hair Shirt for Steve Jobs" recounts how Apple ultimately bowed to the evidence.
But Carr misses an important point: Especially in recent years, Consumer Reports and its parent organization have gone far beyond their familiar role of testing products and services. They've become important participants in public-policy debates on issues such as telecommunications, auto safety, and financial products, with a consistent stance in favor of consumer protection via intelligent regulation and pro-competitive policies.
And in every area, their stances on policy are informed by their evaluations of products, services and pricing. So a data-driven critique of the iPhone was hardly unusual. It was evidence-driven advocacy, which is what Consumers Union has learned to do as well as anybody else.