Uber fail as exec suggests targeting critical journalists

18 Nov 2014

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Uber, a ride-sharing service based in San Francisco, California, has come under fire after an executive in the company called for negative media campaigns against critical journalists.

Emil Michael, senior vice-president for business at the company, was talking at an event without realising that he was speaking on the record, with a BuzzFeed editor present. 

Michael has since claimed that his words didn’t reflect the company’s views and that he regretted them.

Over dinner, Michael “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,” according to Ben Smith’s article.

Michael called out one journalist in particular, Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily, a critic of the Uber business model. Lacy recently accused Uber of sexism and misogyny, which riled Michael. 

“At the dinner,” BuzzFeed reports, “Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held ‘personally responsible’ for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted. Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.”

Personal apology

Lacy herself wrote at length about Uber since Buzzfeed published its article, claiming that Michael has since personally sent her an apology via email.

A spokesperson for Uber told The Independent that the company “has not, does not and will not investigate journalists”.

“Those remarks have no basis in the reality of our approach,” he said.  

A statement from Michael, issued via Uber, 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.”

Uber is going through some significant growth, with an announcement only yesterday that it has struck a deal with music-streaming service Spotify to allow customers to play their music through the car’s stereo.

This is not the first time Uber has partnered with a third-party company. In recent months, Uber agreed to a deal with Google, allowing users to book an Uber cab through the Google Maps app and to also calculate an estimated fare between two points on a map.

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com