Uber getting heat for exec’s talk about targeting journalists’ private lives

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Buzzfeed released a scathing story on Monday evening detailing a conversation with Uber’s Senior Vice President Emil Michael in which he proposed that the company might hire opposition researchers to discredit journalists who opposed their business practices.

The journalist in question is Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily, who recently wrote about how she planned to stop using the ride service after being witness to a string of misogynistic practices and blatant sexism within the company (among their many, varied offenses, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has famously nicknamed the company “boober” thanks to the way it has allowed him to attract women).

But while Kalanick’s bad boy antics have often been passed off (right or wrong) as the behavior of  a frat bro who lucked into a fortune, Michael’s comments, made in a dinner conversation that he later said he believed was off-the-record, only bolster the company’s sexist reputation. As Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith, who got the scoop, reports:

Over dinner, [Michael] 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.

The rest of the story only gets worse.

Naturally, Sarah Lacy responded last night, saying that when she received a call from Smith for comment, she began to fear for her own family’s safety. But though she was the target of Michael’s barbs, she said this is a watershed moment for the company.

Uber’s dangerous escalation of behavior has just had its whistleblower moment, and tellingly, the whistleblower wasn’t a staffer with a conscience, it was an executive boasting about the proposed plan. It’s gone so far, that there are those in the company who don’t even realize this is something you try to cover up.

Michael has since reached out to Lacy and apologized over e-mail. But his actions will hopefully give the company an opportunity to pause and reconsider the way they not only want to be seen in the public eye, but, more importantly, treat women in general.

Janelle Nanos can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.
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