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article imageUber executive reportedly advocates smearing woman journalist

By Megan Hamilton     Nov 19, 2014 in Internet
Manhattan - Uber, the internet's high-tech ride-sharing company is in damage control mode right now due to statements allegedly made by Emil Michael, the company's senior vice president for business, while in New York at a private dinner last week.
It's reported that Michael suggested that Uber should spend a million dollars to hire a team of opposition researchers to "dig up dirt" on journalists who have criticized the company, according to CBC News. Michaels later said that he thought the conversation was off the record.
Michael's remark came at a particularly bad time for the company, which is seeking to improve its relationship with the media and to polish the image of its management team, who have earned the reputation of being aggressive and insensitive, BuzzFeed reports.
Michael, who has been with Uber for more than a year, trotted the idea out at the dinner held Friday at Manhattan's Waverly Inn and attended by an influential crowd that included actor Ed Norton and publisher Arianna Huffington. Ian Osborne, a former advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron currently works with the company as a consultant and hosted the dinner.
Someone at the dinner suggested that this plan could become a problem for Uber.
"Nobody would know it was us," Michael said.
The information did indeed come to light because a BuzzFeed editor was invited to the dinner by a fellow journalist who said later that he didn't communicate that the gathering was supposed to be off the record. No one associated with Uber, including CEO and Founder Travis Kalanick, told BuzzFeed about this.
The basics of Michael's alleged plan:
He outlined the idea of spending one million dollars to hire four top opposition researchers along with four journalists. This team could help Uber fight the bad press, he said, per BuzzFeed. They could excavate the personal lives of journalists and their families, thereby giving the media a taste of its own medicine.
He honed in on Sarah Lacy, who is the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily. Lacy apparently ran afoul of Michael when she accused Uber of "sexism and misogyny." She wrote about deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed reported that the company was working with a French escort service.
"I don't know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn't respect us or prioritize our safety," she wrote.
Over dinner, Michael expressed anger at Lacy's column, saying that women are more likely to be assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He then said Lacy should be held "personally responsible" for any woman who followed Lacy's example in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted, BuzzFeed reports.
Then he went back to discussing the plan, which seemed more like an attempt to commit character assassination on Sarah Lacy. Perhaps the dirt-diggers could expose Lacy, provide a pointed and very specific claim about her personal life, he suggested.
He never at any point suggested that Uber had hired opposition researchers, or that it plans to, BuzzFeed reports. He appeared to suggest it as something that would make sense and that perhaps the company would be justified in doing.
Once the word got out, Michael said, through a company spokeswoman, that he regretted what he said, per BuzzFeed.
"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."
Spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian said that doesn't do "oppo research" of any sort on journalists, and has never considered doing it. She added that Uber doesn't think that Lacy's personal life is fair game. She also said that the company doesn't believe that Lacy is responsible for women being sexually assaulted.
It looks as if this company may have a ways to go, if it truly wants to clean up its image.
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