Not OK: Uber exec’s proposed smear campaign against female journalist

BuzzFeed recently released a worrisome report in which Uber senior vice president Emil Michael talked about building a team to dig up dirt on reporters who were critical of his rideshare company. Michael, who believed he was making his remarks off the record, pitched investing a million dollars into exposing the personal lives of members of the press who had given Uber negative coverage.

In his remarks, Michael zeroed in on particular journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily. Lacy had recently taken Uber to task for “sexism and misogyny,” and wrote about deleting her Uber account after the company released advertisements that painted their female drivers as, well, basically sex workers. In her piece, Lacy states that, as a woman, she feels unsafe employing a rideshare company that traffics in the cult of misogyny:

“I’ve finally deleted Uber from my phone. For one thing, I increasingly don’t feel safe as a woman taking it, frequently late at night and alone. I’ve got a good solid alternative in Lyft, and life is too precious for me to put mine at risk.”

Michael’s response to this piece should have been an immediate and serious commitment to making sure both female employees and female customers of Uber felt safe and respected in the rideshare process. Instead, his alleged response was to plan a million dollar smear campaign against a critic with valid points by proposing to expose her personal details, hurting her both in the public eye and in her private life.

Now that this dinner conversation has gone public, Lacy has been forced to redo her home security. She has concerns that Uber has employed methods to spy on her, including bugging her phone. It is sickening that a female journalist who has worked tirelessly to take down misogyny in the tech industry is now forced to fear for her safety as a result of raising real concerns about the safety of female employees and customers of Uber.

Michael did send a personal apology to Lacey, and he also issued a public statement:

“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.”

It’s hard to accept this apology, especially when, as Buzzfeed reports, “…it was suggested that a plan like the one Michael floated could become a problem for Uber. Michael responded: ‘Nobody would know it was us.’ ”

Meanwhile, the CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, was also at the dinner, but has yet to make any comments about Michael’s offense.

Here’s what it comes down to: a journalist whose only crime was exercising her First Amendment right, reporting the facts and voicing her informed opinion, has been targeted and made to feel unsafe. The United States of America is a country in which journalists are supposed to be able to write without their personal safety being compromised. Uber is a Silicon Valley company valued at $20 billion, and it is terrifying that they would attempt to use their power to silence a woman whose supposed “crime” was criticizing their company.

As Lacy puts it:

“I’ve never heard a very high-ranking executive at a $20 billion company talking about a million-dollar budget to destroy my life. I’ve never heard of a case where someone was bragging about it at a dinner, where it was considered totally socially acceptable.”

She later added, according to the site recode:

“Honestly, every woman using Uber should be scared. Every journalist should be scared.”

(Image via PandoDaily)

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