Uber exec suggests digging up dirt on journalists

Posted at 6:59 PM, Nov 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-18 19:04:00-05

NEW YORK — Uber executive Emil Michael suggested that it would be fair game to dig up dirt on journalists who were critical of his company and spreading details of their personal lives.

Michael made the comments during a dinner that included BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith. He believed the dinner to be off the record, but Smith said no one from Uber suggested that to him and reported the comments on his site.

At the dinner — also attended by Arianna Huffington, actor Ed Norton, and others — Michael outlined an idea of spending “a million dollars” to hire opposition researchers to help the on-demand taxi company take on the press.

“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 wrote about exchange.

At the dinner, Michael was also reportedly outraged at Sarah Lacy, editor in chief of PandoDaily, a tech news site. Lacy has been critical of the company and Michael named her as someone who could be a candidate of his proposed dirt-digging campaign.

Smith reported that Michael never suggested that Uber had actually done this campaign or had plans to, but rather was an idea that he felt Uber was “justified in doing.”

Michael responded via an Uber spokeswoman by saying his remarks were “borne out of frustration during an informal debate” and were “wrong no matter the circumstance.”

While what Michael said was theoretical, one of the most disconcerting aspects of Smith’s report was at the bottom of the piece.

Smith reported that the general manager of Uber NYC accessed the travel logs of BuzzFeed reporter, Johana Bhuiyan, to “make points in the course of a discussion of Uber policies.”

Smith writes that at no point did Bhuiyan give Uber permission to do this.

This happened even though an Uber spokeswoman confirmed with Buzzfeed that Uber has clear policies against executives looking at journalists’ travel logs.

Later, on Tuesday, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick took to twitter to address comments made by Michael about the theoretical smear campaign.

In the tweet storm, Kalanick pumped out tweet after tweet along with a corresponding number to keep track of the CEO’s stream of consciousness. There were fourteen in total.

To kick off his twitter rant Kalanick tweeted, “1/ Emil’s comments at the recent dinner party were terrible and do not represent the company.”

As the tweets accumulated, many on Twitter patiently waited, thinking that Kalanick was going to announce that Michael was fired.

“Here it comes,” tweeted New York Times’ tech writer Mike Isaac.

Others wondered about his choice of forum for this type of mea culpa.

“If your message is 10 tweets or longer, Twitter might not be the best venue for said message,” tweeted Wall Street Journal reporter Jack Marshall.

Kalanick also apologized to PandoDaily Editor-in-Chief Sarah Lacy, who Michael personally called out in his comments on Monday.

Some on twitter were upset that Kalanick’s rant didn’t end with the Uber CEO firing Michael.

“12/ I believe that folks who make mistakes can learn from them — myself included,” Kalanick said. “13/ and that also goes from Emil.”