Buzzfeed released a cringe-worthy story yesterday describing the great lengths that an Uber executive would go to silence his media critics.
In remarks made to a group of NYC elites (including to a BuzzFeed editor in the room), the company’s SVP of Business, Emil Michael, floated the idea of spending a million dollars to hire four journalists and four opposition researchers that would dig into the lives and family of people in the media, to “give the media a taste of its own medicine.”
(Photo of Emil Michael)
Michael believes that the media has portrayed him as “ideologue and as insensitive to driver and rider complaints.” He was also upset at multiple remarks from female tech journalist, Sarah Lacy. (More on that in a moment). And of course, he doesn’t like any of these assertions.
So, great! We have another egocentric, maniacal tech executive who’s arrogance proceeds him. What’s makes this situation different? Well, a few (disturbing) things actually:
- Michael singled out female tech journalist, Sarah Lacy, for her criticism of a blog post that Uber Lyon ran. The post touted a new promotion in which a female “babe” would be your driver. Lacy found the idea misogynistic and called for a boycott of Uber.
- Michael was upset that Lacy claimed that female customers were less likely to be assaulted by a taxi driver than an Uber driver. He suggested that Lacy be held personally responsible every time a female passenger was assaulted after deleting the Uber app.
- Michael described how he would specifically target Lacy in retaliation by proving specific claims regarding her personal life.
- Michael revisited this same stalking idea later in his remarks, saying it would make sense for Uber to do something like this and that they would be justified in doing so.
Heavy right? There’s so many things that were wrong with what Michael said. Let me break it down, explain the dynamic at play, and tell you why this should be the beginning of the end for Uber.
On a personal level, umm…hello? Doesn’t this sound like the plot to a Hollywood psycho-stalker thriller? That’s how absurd this sounds. To threaten the career and safety of a journalist because she criticized your (clearly) sexist promotion or questioned the safety of your service is definitely not how an upstanding corporate citizen behaves. It’s the sign of a vengeful, immature individual who has no moral ethics.
I’d take this one step further and call this tantamount to “vengeance stalking.” If the threat were valid and followed through on, Michael would be looking to terrorize Lacy to force her to shut up or hide.
And even though Michael had called and e-mailed Lacy to apologize, this is still scary stuff. Frankly, if I were Lacy, I’d hire some security right now.
(Photo of Sarah Lacy)
On a professional level and coming from a PR/media standpoint, you don’t shoot the messenger. You control the message. There’s nothing that would garner negative public perception faster than attacking a woman for calling out their sexist behavior. It reeks of tone deaf leadership, conjuring up images of a David vs. Goliath battle.
And it leads me to my final point. No matter how much work a company puts into discrediting a journalist, the truth will eventually come out. Michael doesn’t need to answer to Sarah Lacy, he needs to answer to the behavior that landed him in this predicament. He needs to address the “frat house” culture that his company embodies. It’s not just disrespectful to Lacy, it’s disrespectful to the customers that they’re supposed to hold in high regard.
As you’ve seen me mention many times, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I like to imagine that, if left to their own device, they would be on their best behavior. Regardless of if this is in a business transaction or in everyday life. I’m sad to say, I was wrong to even begin to think this way when I first heard about this story.
With his comments, Michael clearly violated professional ethics and ignored basic business fundamentals. He willfully mixed his business interests with his personal vendetta, in a way that should be very alarming to the any American. Yet, in all of the stories that I have read about the bad behavior of Silicon Valley power players, I’m not surprised that this happened.
There’s certain truths that remain. Business is cyclical. Companies come and go. VC’s love assholes. A man like Michael can’t take his money to the afterlife. When the dust settles, what will he be remembered by? That’s thought is what I hope will haunt him.
As for us consumers, when will we wake up to the fact that we cannot support individuals, companies, and organizations that embody man’s worst behaviors? These sharing economy ‘app'holes aren’t out to better society, improve lives, or move the American economy forward. They’re in the business of taking advantage of individuals (or an industry) and skirting laws in a way that maximizes their own profit potential. Everything (or everyone) else, be damned.
Is this the type of business and behavior you want to support? If not, I hope you join me in heeding Sarah Lacy’s call to boycott Uber.
(Additional reading: NYT’s take on the situation. It’s link rich for context and backstory.)