The bad press for Uber has just gone a bit meta.
According to a report from BuzzFeed, an Uber VP recently proposed an idea to combat the negative press the company's been receiving as of late. According to Emil Michael, Uber could, in theory, dig up dirt on critical journalists and use that to fight back. Now, instead of stories of hammer attacks carrying Uber's bad press, the bad press is that the company might want to attack the press over bad press.
BuzzFeed noted Michael's remarks at a company dinner – to which BuzzFeed was invited. Apparently, Michael thought the whole thing was off the record – a point that was not communicated to BuzzFeed. From their report:
A BuzzFeed editor was invited to the dinner by the journalist Michael Wolff, who later said that he had failed to communicate that the gathering would be off the record; neither Kalanick, his communications director, nor any other Uber official suggested to BuzzFeed News that the event was off the record.
Michael, who Kalanick described as “one of the top deal guys in the Valley” when he joined the company, is a charismatic and well-regarded figure who came to Uber from Klout. He also sits on a board that advises the Department of Defense.
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.
Though Michael implied that this sort of targeted attack could be used against any critical press, he focused his attention on one tech writer in particular, PandoDaily editor Sarah Lacy. Apparently, it was this October 22 article that had incensed Michael to the point of pondering retribution. In Lacy's article, titled The horrific trickle down of Asshole culture: Why I’ve just deleted Uber from my phone, she accuses the company of deep-seated sexism and misogyny.
More from BuzzFeed:
Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.
Michael at no point suggested that Uber has actually hired opposition researchers, or that it plans to. He cast it as something that would make sense, that the company would be justified in doing.
Uber was quick to respond, saying that it has not and will not investigate journalists.
"We have not, do not and will not investigate journalists. Those remarks have no basis in the reality of our approach," said Uber spokesperson Nairi Hourdaijan in a statement.
As for Michael himself, he's also issued a statement saying his remarks do not accurately reflect his true views.
"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," he said.
And according to Lacy, he sent her a more personal apology via email.
There are a lot of losers here and not a lot of winners, but you'd have to imagine that Lyft is among the latter.
Image via Uber, Facebook