Uber is having problems with countries banning its service and it blames journalists writing nasty stories about them.
Now a senior executive at Uber suggested to Buzzfeed the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media.
Emil Michael is specifically keen to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticised the company.
Michael said he made the comments in a conversation he believed was off the record. In a statement through Uber Monday evening, he said he regretted them and that they didn’t reflect his or the company’s views.
Uber’s relationship with the media and the image of its management team, is not the best. They have been cast as insensitive and hyper-aggressive.
Michael, who has been at Uber for more than a year as its senior vice president of business, told of his plans at a dinner party attended by an influential New York crowd including actor Ed Norton and publisher Arianna Huffington. The dinner was hosted by Ian Osborne, a former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron and consultant to the company.
At the dinner, Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick made the case that he has been miscast as an ideologue and as insensitive to driver and rider complaints, while in fact he has been building a transformative company.
Michael said talked about spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists to help Uber fight back against the press. Apparently they would look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.
Michael was particularly focused on Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, who recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be 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.
Michael was furious 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.
Michael at no point suggested that Uber has actually hired opposition researchers, or that it plans to. He cast it as something that would make sense, that the company would be justified in doing.