Uber Executive Is Uber Jerk, Suggests “Digging Up Dirt” On Female Reporter Who Criticized Company’s Sexist Practices
Lyft: The lesser asshole.
Hey, you know what’s a good way to make the public forget allegations that your company doesn’t care about women? Planning a smear campaign against female journalists, of course! Oh, actually, Uber…that might literally have been the worst thing you could have done.
For those of us not up to speed yet on Uber’s recent fall from semi-grace, an unnamed Buzzfeed editor attended a dinner Friday alongside Uber executive Emil Michael, Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick, Arianna Huffington, actor Ed Norton, and a former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron. According to Buzzfeed, during the meeting Michael mentioned some disconcerting ways in which Uber could retaliate against journalists who had dared to give the company unfavorable reviews:
[…] 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.
Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.”
In late October, Lacy wrote “The horrific trickle down of Asshole culture: Why I’ve just deleted Uber from my phone” for PandoDaily, where she described “struggling mightily with growing sexism in tech” and the hypocrisy of companies paying lip service to women’s rights while simultaneously benefiting from the sexist status-quo. To quote her article:
[Uber’s] sexism and misogyny is something different and scary […] I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety.
As an example of Uber’s history of misogyny, Lacy pointed to the GQ profile “Uber Cab Confessions,” in which founder Kalanick referred to the company as “Boober” to illustrate his surplus of “women on demand” since the company’s success. In October, Uber also published (and then promptly removed) a French promotion that proposed pairing riders with “hot chick” drivers, because “who said women don’t know how to drive?”
At the dinner, the Buzzfeed editor reports that Michael distracted from any potential problems within Uber by throwing the blame for sexism on Lacy herself (bolding my own):
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 […] Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.
Buzzfeed clarifies that “Michael at no point suggested that Uber has actually hired opposition researchers”—his statement was merely an example of the kind of reaction he felt criticism against the company merited. Yesterday Lacy published a piece condemning Uber for attacking women; Uber responded to the controversy by chastising Buzzfeed for publishing Michael’s statements, claiming that the dinner was intended to be off the record. Regardless, Michael doesn’t deny having made the troubling comments, and even published a statement Monday night through an Uber spokeswoman:
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.
The context with which Michael made these statements—in front of a journalist and some very high-profile people—is symptomatic of the scary privilege afforded men in tech and business. Michael thought he could say that Lacy was responsible for the sexual assaults of women who deleted Uber, and that not one of his dining companions would take exception.
The offenses that Lacy called out Uber for were all statements made or promoted by the company itself, in GQ and on their own website, respectably. Coupled with Michael’s comments and the company’s past offenses, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Uber is unwilling to empathize with the concerns of women. Worry over the safety of female drivers and passengers is, in their own words, “sensationalistic.” Michael’s statements are an indication of why seemingly small things like a scientist’s sexist shirt or a juvenile Uber/Boober “joke” matter: Uber has just proven Lacy’s point. The trickle down of asshole culture is real.
In related news, this seems like a good time to remind everyone about “SheTaxis-SheRides,” a new program that pairs New York City female taxi drivers with female passengers. Should you choose to move away from Uber entirely, the process for cancelling an account is (predictably) not the most user-friendly. Thankfully, there’s a Wiki-How for everything. And you definitely won’t be alone:
Apparently I am not the only one canceling their Uber account today pic.twitter.com/N5glvjPgMm
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) November 18, 2014