Kara Swisher Is Silicon Valley’s Most Feared and Well-Liked Journalist. How Does That Work?

Kara Swisher, center, talks with Jane Metcalfe, co-founder of Wired magazine, at a Fourth of July party in San Francisco. Photo: Bill McCullough

The technology journalist Kara Swisher likes to call herself Sherlock Homo, but on a spring evening in Austin, where she’d come for the SXSW Interactive conference, she wasn’t following any particular trail of clues. Padding through the crowd on the second floor of Perry’s Steakhouse, where a venture-capital firm and a money-management firm were throwing a party, she’d chatted briefly with Steve Case, founder of AOL, who greeted her with the wary intimacy one might show a pit bull of uncertain loyalty. (Swisher’s two books about AOL chronicled first its pioneering success and then its disastrous merger with Time Warner.) It wasn’t until she ran into an investor named Tony Conrad that she scented blood.

Swisher layers charm and aggression to truth-serum effect. When Conrad tried to embrace her, Swisher squirmed out of his grasp, saying, “I just don’t like being touched by you”; proceeded to flatter him as “a scene-maker” and “very good venture capitalist”; then, for good measure, threw in: “He also dresses like a lesbian, but it’s okay.” (This is a go-to Swisher barb; she told Twitter CEO Dick Costolo he dresses “like Ellen.”) Conrad, who was wearing a quilted vest, appeared to take minimal umbrage. “It’s my biking gear, man,” he said. A few minutes later, unbidden, he was proudly spilling the lucrative specs of his investment in the 3-D-printing company MakerBot. “Oh my God,” Swisher said.

Conrad announced that he had a VIP party to attend elsewhere in the restaurant and left, but Swisher was undeterred. After a few minutes, she marched downstairs and approached a private dining room. Its curtains were drawn, but Swisher pushed open the door and strode blithely through.

Around a U-shaped table, more than a dozen tech notables enjoying a meal with expensive wine looked up in surprise. They included Kevin Rose, a founder of Digg, and Gary Vaynerchuk, the social-media entrepreneur. Swisher, who was wearing jeans, black sneakers, and a Marmot jacket printed with the name of her startup website, Re/code, gestured toward Conrad, who’d taken a seat near the door, and announced, “He told me the fancy people were here.” Conrad reddened and denied it, but Swisher talked over him and made her way around the table, hugging Rose and insulting blogger turned venture capitalist MG Siegler to his girlfriend: “I don’t like him,” she said. By the time she left 15 minutes later, the guests seemed to have forgotten she wasn’t one of them.

The creators of Silicon Valley, Mike Judge’s show on HBO, salted its first season with cameos by real-life tech-world figures to enhance its verisimilitude, and in the June finale, which called for a journalist to grill an executive character, Swisher played herself: a short, defiantly unstylish reporter who wears aviator sunglasses indoors and asks blunt questions. “Quite honestly, our very first choice was: We’ve got to get Kara Swisher,” says Jonathan Dotan, the Valley insider the show’s producers hired to help get the details right. “She’s iconic.”

One of the reasons for Swisher’s unusual status in the Valley is her longevity. Now 51, she began covering tech in the early ’90s and was already a senior industry statesperson when the Web 2.0 generation was coming of age. People who are powerful today sought her advice when they were just starting out. She met Jeff Bezos when Amazon was in short pants, Marc Andreessen as Netscape was going public. She was at the pitch meeting for TiVo. “It felt like you were meeting Tesla, all these people,” she says.

A second factor is her role as one of two impresarios of a leading Silicon Valley tech conference that she co-­founded and runs with her longtime business partner, the preeminent gadget reviewer Walt Mossberg; it’s an event where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates came together onstage for a historic conversation, where Mark Zuckerberg broke out in such a sweat as he was pressed on privacy issues that he removed his ever-present hoodie, and where products like Flip and Slingbox and Jawbone and Sonos and Siri (before Apple bought it) made their debuts. For years, Swisher and Mossberg did this and blogged, under the rubric ­AllThingsD, which was the property of Dow Jones. In January, they went out on their own with their website and conference: Re/code.

Above all, Swisher’s power derives from her reporting—driven, in turn, by her deep sourcing—and from the sense, unnerving to executives, that she has a red phone with a direct connection to the perma-class of venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road who fund their companies and fill their boards and decide their fates. She has regularly broken news about big deals (Google trying to buy Groupon, Yahoo buying Tumblr) and major personnel moves (Facebook’s hiring of Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft’s recent CEO search), and she dominates coverage of Yahoo (she broke the news of CEO Scott Thompson’s résumé lies and his subsequent resignation and won a Loeb Award for live-blogging one of the company’s earning calls). “I love all my scoop children,” Swisher told me. “But consistency and persistence is really my aim. I try to get one really good one a week.” The work she’s most proud of is less ephemeral and more crusading: her ongoing scrutiny of Yahoo, the spotlight she’s shone on the underrepresentation of women at the big tech companies, and, perhaps most personally, her reporting on the ethical laxity of TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington’s journalism.

Over the past decade, Arrington and Swisher have ostensibly been the two major power brokers of tech reporting, though each would recoil at being lumped together. Arrington, who was a Silicon Valley lawyer before he became a blogger, has always been reflexively pro-entrepreneur and took to heart the cynical maxim of venture capitalist John Doerr: “No conflict, no interest.” Online, as the traditional ethical standard of recusal gave way to a standard of disclosure, Arrington was an absolutist who believed you could do just about anything, so long as you were transparent. This included taking stakes in small companies even as he was writing about them. His staff joked about what a poor investor he was—among his stinkers was DanceJam, MC Hammer’s company—but even they couldn’t stomach it when he started an investment fund confusingly branded as CrunchFund.

During Arrington’s tenure at TechCrunch—through its acquisition by AOL and his eventual dismissal by Arianna Huffington in 2011 following the CrunchFund fiasco—Swisher was outspoken about Arrington’s “hopelessly corrupt” ways as well as his so-called process journalism—applying the iterative, throw-it-against-the-wall approach of software designers to reporting—which she deems “a fancy word for being willfully inaccurate.” Arrington and Swisher publicly traded insults, with Arrington dubbing Swisher “the chief whiner,” and Swisher responding, “Oooh, burn!” She called Arrington “Yertle the Turtle” and said that “being lectured in journalism ethics by Michael Arrington is like getting parenting tips from Britney Spears.”

Arrington was also, until getting booted from TechCrunch, Swisher’s chief rival for big scoops, and “she and Mike Arrington hated each other more than anyone could,” says Paul Carr, an ex–TechCrunch writer who now edits tech site PandoDaily. “I think one of the reasons is they’re actually very similar: people who consider themselves people you don’t fuck with, who’ll storm into rooms and demand answers, and when you hold them accountable they say, ‘We don’t answer to anyone.’ 

The questions of propriety that clouded Arrington’s work—and those of other sites funded, unlike Re/code, with VC or tech money—aren’t wholly irrelevant to Swisher’s. However much she may strive to stand apart from what she has called an “insidious, logrolling, back-scratching ecosystem,” she still runs a conference that depends on participation and high-priced attendance by the same people she writes about. Many of her subjects are centimillionaires and billionaires who seem typically to operate beyond the reach of press scrutiny, yet Swisher has become a power broker among them, in part by perfecting the art of reporting as hazing. A mutual source told another reporter about a phone call with Swisher: “She said, ‘I’m getting mad … I’m getting madder … I’m getting really mad.’ They weren’t giving her what she wanted. She was like: ‘Just tell me.’ ” “I’ll just search my email for ‘Kara’ and ‘stupid’ and probably come up with three or four things,” says Twitter’s Costolo.

All kinds of powers have been darkly imputed to Swisher. She’s heard of current Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer holding a meeting in which she graphed the impact on Yahoo’s stock price of various Swisher posts. In the past six months, Swisher has broken news of the ouster of two tech CEOs whose boardroom problems she’d assiduously covered: Mozilla’s Brendan Eich, whose donation to anti-same-sex-marriage Proposition 8 she’d also first reported, and RadiumOne’s Gurbaksh Chahal, who’d been arrested and charged with 45 felony counts related to beating his girlfriend. Chahal pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of battery; later, in a tweet, he blamed Swisher for whipping up a frenzy on Twitter and forcing his dismissal (of which he’d learned from a Swisher post). “It is a constant joke in the Valley when people write memos for them to say, ‘I hope Kara never sees this,’ ” says Facebook’s Sandberg.

The combination of access and toughness has made Swisher a preeminent arbiter of status in a Silicon Valley where constant turmoil is taken as a sign of innovation and vitality. She isn’t exactly Bob Woodward, soberly transcribing the as-he-thought-it aphorisms of Washington potentates, nor is she Hollywood’s Nikki Finke, holed up in her secret lair and firing off incendiary, career-vaporizing emails. Instead, she might be the Valley’s Walter Lippmann, who occupied a nexus of journalist, counselor, and kingmaker in a mid-century D.C. being remade by the arrival of a new imperial Establishment.

People like talking to Swisher. She’s both direct and playful, and I heard several stories of her personal generosity. She gives good text. “I am a big proponent of being in touch with everyone even when I do not have a story to ask about,” Swisher told me. “Most reporters are so transactional, rather than strategic.” Swisher emceed Sandberg’s fund-raiser for (now-disgraced) Cambodian activist Somaly Mam. She has served as the Valley’s update provider, via video interviews, on Brett Bullington, an investor who suffered a traumatic brain injury. As much as the Valley sees her as a reporter and a conference host, they know her as a connector (and, with the launch of Re/code, as a fellow entrepreneur). In Vanity Fair’s 2012 “New Establishment” portfolio, in a photograph illustrating “The Rise of Women in Silicon Valley,” Swisher was one of six, sitting beside YouTube chief Susan Wojcicki. “People are afraid of her, and they trust her,” Barry Diller says. “That’s not an everyday combination.”

It’s a balancing act that Swisher doesn’t always pull off. She and Andreessen, Netscape creator turned prominent venture capitalist, didn’t speak for several years, because, she says, “some company he was involved with, he thought I was too mean to it.” After the disastrous onstage interview with Zuckerberg, Swisher says, she and Ron Conway, a prominent early-stage investor who’d backed Facebook, “had a big falling out … He thought we were unfair to him, ’cause we made him sweat.” Swisher continues: “Smart people know it’s a longer game, and I’m still going to be here. At least I know the history and context. I’m not going to give them a break, but I’m going to be fair, even if it’s not nice.”

Kara Swisher at home in San Francisco with her dogs, Phineas and Leroy. Photo: Bill McCullough

At the hillside home in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood that Swisher shared, until recently, with her wife, the Google executive Megan Smith, and their two sons (they’ve since separated after 15 years of marriage), a sign on the garage reads: IF YOU BLOCK THE DRIVEWAYS EVEN SLIGHTLY, VISUALIZE YOUR CAR BEING TOWED.

Swisher has always treated the world as a thing to be confronted without apology. Even when she was a toddler, her mother had named her Tempesta. When she was 5, her 34-year-old father, an anaesthesiologist, died of a cerebral hemorrhage, and until Swisher reached that age, she was convinced that she was going to die young. “There’s a theory, and a great book,” Swisher says, “about how kids whose parents die can be very high-functioning people, because the worst thing happened to them and they got over it.” Swisher’s brothers are a doctor and lawyer. “We work like dogs,” Swisher says.

Swisher arrived at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service thinking she might become a spy (her ringtone is the James Bond theme), but she was “terrible at languages,” she says, and “being gay was an issue.” Journalism seemed like an attractive alternative. While at Georgetown, she’d called up the Washington Post’s metro editor to harangue him about the “major errors” in a story about a campus event (“It was like an eight-inch story,” recalls the editor, Larry Kramer), and ended up stringing for the paper. There was a stint working for conservative pundit John McLaughlin, including ghostwriting his column for the National Review, an improbable job for a very liberal young woman (“He put in the right-wing invective”). Later, after McLaughlin was sued for sexual harassment, Swisher testified against him, and when the Post’s Eric Alterman wrote about his office loutishness, he included Swisher’s accusations (the case was eventually settled out of court). “I essentially called him a pig, with my name attached,” Swisher says. “You have to stand up and not be embarrassed or victimized.” When she subsequently saw McLaughlin at a party, she says, he told her, “ ‘Most people in this town stab you in the back, but you stabbed me in the front, and I appreciate that’. I said, ‘Anytime, you son of a bitch.’ It was such a moment of fantasticness … For an evil person, I got along with him rather well.”

Swisher wound up at the Washington Post’s business section, then a backwater, where she was assigned to the retail beat before David Ignatius, then the Post’s business editor, asked Swisher, an early adopter of email (to communicate with her girlfriend in Russia), to cover a small company called AOL, which had its office behind a car dealership in Vienna, Virginia. Because the internet had grown atop Defense Department infrastructure, many of the early companies seeking to commercialize it were based around D.C., and Swisher found herself present at the revolution, with few other mainstream reporters on her beat.

These people were very accessible,” Swisher recalls of a younger Bezos and his cohort, “and you met them before they were who they are now. When people get rich, people lick them up and down all day, so some of them morph into thinking that being licked up and down all day is their reality and that everything that comes out of their mouths are golden nuggets. Everyone starts to rewrite history, but if you knew them, and have some historical knowledge …”

Swisher took a leave of absence to write a book about AOL, whose executives all seemed to be on her AIM Buddy List. “She would sit on instant messenger all day and harass the shit out of people,” Andreessen says. “She had the most extreme form of the thing where you play one source off the other. She’d say, ‘Well, X says this,’ and she’d word it in such a way that you’d get a sinking feeling, ‘I’m fucked,’ and rise to the occasion and tell her everything.” By early 1999, the Industry Standard was calling Swisher “the writer who has most influenced public opinion about the internet economy.”

It was through a shared interest in AOL that she met Mossberg, who’d written a prescient column for The Wall Street Journal touting it as the future. He soon recommended her for a job covering the web out of the paper’s San Francisco bureau, but a few years later, after Swisher became involved with Smith and Smith joined Google, Swisher saw that it was going to be a problem for her to cover tech when Google was clearly going to be a very important company in that sector. “There’s no disclosure long enough that I could do it in the newspaper,” she says. (At AllThingsD, and now at Re/code, she has offered a long “ethics statement,” now 1,207 words, much of which focuses on her relationship with Smith, her recusal from personally covering Google, and the meticulous separation of their finances, including Swisher’s legal renunciation of “future rights” to Smith’s wealth in the event of her death—“I’m the worst gold digger,” Swisher says.)

For a time, Swisher stopped covering the internet, and it was during this period that Swisher and Mossberg became partners. Mossberg has always been based in Washington, the better to represent consumers and not get too friendly with the industry whose gadgets he reviews, but he and Swisher would cross paths at soul-crushing tech conferences, and they became convinced that they could do better. No more dull slideshows and panels, no more speaker slots reserved for sponsors, no more vice-presidents from Cisco giving prepared speeches. Dow Jones already had a conference division, but Mossberg and Swisher were firm in their insistence that their conference be produced by the news division. It would be a different kind of news machine as much as a different kind of conference operation; they were going to do live journalism, interrogating the most compelling tech figures of the moment in front of an audience, breaking news and providing context. The first conference, in 2003, sold out and was profitable. It has only grown; every year since there has been a waiting list.

Soon after the conference debuted, Mossberg convinced Dow Jones to let him and Swisher start a spinoff blog, AllThingsD, which could accommodate more innovative reporting (and longer disclosures) than the staid newsroom would brook. Like him, Swisher was a voice-y, opinionated writer, not an easy fit at the Journal. “If there was ever someone born to be a blogger,” Mossberg says, “I think it would be Kara Swisher.” Mossberg has played a significant role in Swisher’s personal life as well, pressing her mother for years over her disapproval of Swisher’s sexuality. When Swisher married Smith in Marin Country in 1999, her mother initially said she wasn’t going to attend, and Swisher asked Mossberg to walk her down the aisle. (In the end, Swisher’s mother showed up and helped her daughter get dressed; Mossberg encouraged her to take over his bridal-escort duties, but she demurred, watched the ceremony from off to one side, and later gave a “great and moving speech,” Swisher says, about how proud her father would have been of her.)

Swisher and Mossberg’s separation from Dow Jones was a long time coming. Over the years there was near-constant friction about the company’s support for ­AllThingsD, much of it the inevitable chafing of entrepreneurs against the structures of a big corporation. “Every time we wanted to add a reporter, it was six months of negotiations,” Mossberg says. “It was ridiculous.” There were disputes over conference profit-­sharing, over issues of links and credit and resources. “The staff of the Journal resented them because they were complaining all the time and going over people’s heads, so the situation soured,” a former colleague says. When Swisher and Mossberg suggested in 2012 that they might leave, the company didn’t oppose them. AllThingsD was a roughly $12.5 million business, of which Dow Jones owned a third; even if the business grew to $30 million, a source says, “you’re talking peanuts in the end. The math just didn’t get anyone very excited.”

All journalism about power runs on trade-offs. Don’t use my name, and I’ll tell you what you want to know. Wait to run the story, and I’ll speak only to you. If you’re fair, I’ll keep taking your calls. Silicon Valley is no different from Washington or Hollywood in this regard, but it’s still much more of a clusterfuck: In the land of the 23-year-old multibillionaire, unlike in D.C., some of the most powerful, newsworthy people are peers of the young reporters covering them, and thus more likely to form social relationships; and unlike in Hollywood, journalists aren’t automatically assigned lower social status than their subjects. Here, too, the investors backing tech media are often from the same industry they’re supposed to be covering, a uniquely sunny industry that encourages puffery. Most tech-media outlets, being start-ups themselves, are sympathetic to entrepreneurs, and upstart tech media don’t necessarily have the ethical proscriptions—such as gift policies—that traditional print institutions do.

Which makes it all the more unusual that a writer sometimes characterized as snarky or bullying has thrived in a subculture that venerates rosy, self-­regarding idealism and that, in an industry that is constantly touting its transcendence of pedestrian mass media, a shoe-leather reporter should attain such stature. What’s most curious about Swisher’s role in the Valley is not whether her connections and conferences ­compromise her—beyond grumbling about her Google conflict, not even her rivals can name a big story she’s pulled up short on, and she’s broken more big stories in the industry than anyone else—but how she’s managed to elevate herself into Silicon Valley royalty by writing about Silicon Valley royalty, often acerbically.

Swisher turned 50 last year, and hundreds of people gathered in the Tonga Room at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel for a birthday roast. Among those who got up to tweak Swisher were Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg (who serenaded her), Twitter’s Costolo, Pinterest executive Joanne Bradford (who sits on Re/code’s board), and ex-Yahoo chief Terry Semel. The event’s inversion of power—with tech muckety-mucks paying tribute to their putative watchdog—raised a few eyebrows: “Mike Arrington is in a refractory period,” says one guest, “but a couple of years ago he would have made a big stink and said, ‘How could she do this?’ ” There were jokes about conflicts of interest and about Swisher’s interview style, and “lots of lampooning Kara’s status and her drive, which borders on self-parody,” according to the guest. But “Yahoo was certainly the main theme,” says Dave Goldberg, CEO of ­SurveyMonkey, who did a skit about Swisher and the company. There were jokes about her having bugged its bathrooms, about its email running slow because she was filtering it.

Because of the fear she instills, or because she’s just not going away, or because of what her admirers would say is her fairness, Swisher has managed to keep professional relationships and even friendships with people she’s annihilated in print. During the unsuccessful CEO-ship of Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, her coverage could be sadistic—posts had titles like “Raise the Yangtanic, Again!”—but Yang visited her in the hospital after she suffered a transient ischemic attack, a sort of stroke, last year (as did Al Gore), and it was Yang who suggested she and Mossberg approach Semel to invest in Re/code. Semel himself was hardly an obvious choice, given that when he ran Yahoo, Swisher called him “box-office poison,” among other things. This didn’t stop him from becoming one of Re/code’s two backers (the other is NBCUniversal News Group), “which a lot of people thought was hilarious,” Andreessen says, “given how thoroughly she savaged the shit out of him. It’s like PTSD or Stockholm syndrome.”

One of Swisher’s secrets may be her selective discretion. “She knows way more than she ever writes,” Goldberg says, “because she doesn’t have it really carefully confirmed, or because she doesn’t want to write something that’s going to be personally painful to someone but isn’t relevant from a business standpoint.” It was Swisher who was chosen to break the news last year of Sergey Brin’s separation from his wife, Anne Wojcicki, but it was “not something I wanted to do. They called, and at first we said no, but then they made a good point that there was a lot of stock involved.” (Swisher assigned it to another reporter.) Even Yahoo’s Mayer, who doesn’t speak to Swisher, has been a beneficiary of her restraint. When Mayer was two hours late to a dinner with advertisers because she’d overslept a few weeks ago, Swisher says she declined to write about it “unless it was in the context of a larger and well-reported piece on her struggles with advertisers,” because it would be “carrying water for her enemies.”

Not that such magnanimity has led to any sort of détente. When Scott Thompson was CEO, the company produced multiple versions of documents to try to isolate who Swisher’s sources were. Mayer has clamped down on leaks even more than her predecessors. “Marissa hates Kara,” says another reporter.

Swisher dates Mayer’s antipathy to her to an incident six years ago when she teased then–Valleywag editor Owen Thomas about not receiving an invitation to a Mayer-hosted Sex and the City movie-premiere party. “She somehow figured out that I forwarded the invitation to him,” Swisher says. “So for some reason she’s got it in her head that I leak to Valleywag all the time. I mean, honestly, the stuff I know about people, if I was their source, it would be a much better blog.”

Swisher insists, in any case, that the animosity isn’t mutual. “She’s one of these CEOs who likes to be lauded,” Swisher says. “Personally, I think she’s remarkable. She’s really accomplished and smart, but she’s not perfect, and she wants to look perfect.”

Just how hostile should the technology press be? This question, which Swisher has circled for most of her career, came into sharp focus at SXSW, where she was on a panel addressing the responsibilities of tech media in the surveillance era and titled “Why Didn’t a Tech Journalist Break PRISM?” A co-panelist from the Guardian and the moderator both wore tiny plastic life-logging cameras around their necks that snap 120 images per hour. So, the moderator asked, why didn’t you? “We’re terrible,” Swisher said, to laughter, though “we did tell you about the Lyft funding today.”

Self-flagellation was a recurring theme, even though it would be silly to expect the national-security story of the decade to break in a California business publication. Swisher and fellow panelist Alexia Tsotsis, the co-editor of TechCrunch, spoke of the non-investigative nature of the bulk of their coverage—fundings, job changes, new product features. Tsotsis was especially abject, suggesting that even if she’d received the Edward Snowden documents, she probably “would have succumbed to the pressure of the Obama administration now”; TechCrunch “is just a cheerleader,” she said, and “a lot of tech media is sort of in the pockets of the people we cover … We’re inviting them to our parties. We might be dating some of them. We are right in the middle, in the thick, of the tech industry.” (Tsotsis dates a partner at General Catalyst, a venture-capital firm.) She noted that TechCrunch was entrepreneur-friendly from its inception and said she stays up nights worrying about sources getting fired: “There’s a part of me that’s like: No, don’t leak this to us!

I never say that,” Swisher said.

That’s why you’re better than us,” Tsotsis said sweetly.

Spencer Ackerman, a writer with the Guardian, stood up and said: “It sounds like you’ve just gotten used to not having an oppositional journalistic culture.”

I don’t think we’re completely non-oppositional,” Swisher said. “I don’t think you can look at my history and say they love me to death in Silicon Valley.”

A smart young person in the Valley thinks being a reporter is basically being a PR person,” says one tech journalist. “Like, We have news to share, we’d like to come and tell you about it.” Reporters who write favorably about companies receive invitations to things; critics don’t. “They’re very thin-skinned,” says another reporter. “On Wall Street, if you call them a douchebag, they’ve already heard 17 worse things in the last hour. Here, if you criticize a company, you’re criticizing the spirit of innovation.”

Swisher has branded herself largely around her efforts to avoid these traps. When she and Mossberg were seeking backers for Re/code, they were determined not to take venture-capital money, instead going after media partners. First at ­AllThingsD, and now at Re/code, their site has had the most robust disclosures in the industry.

Being outspoken about the ethics of her peers has not endeared Swisher to them all. “I don’t buy into the meme of Kara Swisher the ass-kicker who says what she wants,” says PandoDaily’s Carr, “like she’s this honey badger who doesn’t give a shit.” There must, such thinking goes, be a price for all that access. How can Re/code cover Pinterest when one of its executives sits on its board? Even her friends take it as a given that Re/code’s ability to cover Google aggressively is impeded by Swisher’s relationship with Smith. “Even if she writes disclaimers, she can’t go after Google in the way she does other companies,” Goldberg says. “I think people understand why she can’t do it … It would be interesting to see, if Megan ever leaves Google, would it change?” This question has been preempted by Swisher’s separation from Smith; Swisher says it won’t change her approach to Google.

At the SXSW panel on tech media’s failings, Swisher seemed just as hard on herself: “More and more, as I’ve thought about our new endeavor, at some point, we’re going to have to start pissing people off more. And I think about that a lot. Sometimes I see people and I think: Soon, I’m going to screw you. I do, I think that a lot more … Things are going to have to start to get a little tougher.”

*This article appears in the July 14, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.

Kara Swisher: Tech’s Most Powerful Snoop