Uber Exec Blasted For Remarks Made Regarding Journalists

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A senior executive at ride-sharing service Uber has taken a wrong turn down a somewhat precarious road after suggesting that the company should consider hiring “opposition researchers” to investigate media personnel who were critical of the company, various media outlets reported on Monday,
According to Chris Taylor of Mashable, the comments were made by Senior Vice President Emil Michael at what was described as “a private off-the-record dinner” held Friday in New York. Michael reportedly said that Uber could spend up to $1 million to investigate the personal lives and families of journalists, and that “nobody would know” the firm was behind it.
“During the dinner, Michael specifically attacked PandoDaily editor Sarah Lacy for writing an editorial accusing Uber of ‘sexism and misogyny’ for running a promotion featuring ‘hot chick’ drivers,” added Ars Technica reporter Casey Johnston. Michael went on to state that Lacy should be held “personally responsible” if a woman deleted Uber and was then sexually assaulted, and that there was “a particular and very specific claim” about her life that could be exposed.
Michael’s comments were overheard by an unnamed editor at BuzzFeed, reporter Ben Smith wrote on Monday. That editor was invited to the dinner by journalist Michael Wolff, who later said that he had failed to properly convey that the gathering was intended to be off-the-record. Smith said that nobody, including Uber CEO Travis Kalanick or the company’s communication director, gave any indication that the event was not to be reported on.
“Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending ‘a million dollars’ to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press – they’d look into ‘your personal lives, your families,’ and give the media a taste of its own medicine,” Smith said, adding that the VP gave no indication that Uber had hired opposition researchers, or had any plans to, just that they would be justified in doing so.
In a statement issued through an Uber spokeswoman and reprinted by BuzzFeed, Michael said, “The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner – borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for – do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”
Kalanick also condemned the remarks, calling them “terrible” and noting that they do not represent the company, according to USA Today. He added that Michael’s remarks “showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals,” but did not mention whether or not he still worked at Uber or had been in any way disciplined.
“It’s not the first time the company has been under fire for overly aggressive tactics,” Taylor said. “This summer the company reportedly assembled a ‘street team’ tasked with signing up for accounts with its rival service, Lyft, then ordering rides and canceling them. Lyft said it had lost 5,000 rides over a 10-month period to such tactics; another startup called Gett said it had fallen victim to the same tactics from Uber, for which Uber later apologized.”
On Wednesday morning, the non-profit Consumer Federation of California called on Uber to fire Michael.
“Uber’s arrogance knows no bounds. Uber’s contempt for privacy and a free press begins in its executive suite. The company endangers passengers by evading well-established transportation industry insurance, safety and fare regulations. It runs ads that are an invitation to sexual abuse of female drivers, and it contemplates dirty trick campaigns against those who dare to point out the company’s many flaws,” stated Richard Holober, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California. “Uber should fire Emil Michael. It’s time for Uber to learn the rules of fair play that Americans expect.”
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