A senior executive at Uber suggested recently that his company fight back against the press by hiring a team tasked with digging up dirt on critical journalists and spreading information about their personal lives, according to a Buzzfeed report published Monday.
Uber executive Emil Michael made the remarks Friday at a private dinner in New York City, which a Buzzfeed editor attended. From the Buzzfeed report penned by editor-in-chief Ben Smith:
Over dinner, 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 specifically suggested investigating journalist Sarah Lacy, the editor of tech website PandoDaily who has written several critical articles about the company, according to the report. He referenced one column Lacy wrote explaining why she decided to delete the Uber app from her phone:
At the dinner, 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.
Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.
Asked for comment, Michael told Buzzfeed that he regretted the comments and characterized them as a kind of venting.
“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,” Michael told the news outlet through a spokesman. “They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”
For her part, Lacy wrote that she felt “numb” when Smith asked her for comment and expressed concern over the “attack at my family.” She wrote that Michael called her asking to speak off the record, then hung up when she refused.
Later, Michael tweeted an apology directly at Lacy.
@sarahcuda I would like to apologize to you directly. My comments were wrong and I deeply regret them.
— Emil Michael (@emilmichael) November 18, 2014
Asked for comment on Michael’s remarks, a company spokesperson sent TPM the following statement on Tuesday: “We have not, do not and will not investigate journalists. Those remarks have no basis in the reality of our approach.”
Uber did not respond to a request for comment on Michael’s status with the company as of Tuesday, however.
This post has been updated.