Less than 48 hours after Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith revealed that a senior executive at Uber suggested smearing journalists critical of the company while at a private dinner, the man who brought Smith along to the event has decided to share what he says is the real story.
USA Today’s Michael Wolff, who brought Smith as his “date” to Uber’s swanky, media-star-studded event Friday in New York City, could barely contain his contempt for his guest’s reporting in a post published Wednesday. He slammed Smith’s “clickbait” treatment of Uber executive Emil Michael’s remarks and went as far as to imply that Smith wrote the piece for the benefit of Uber’s competitor Lyft, which shares investors with Buzzfeed.
First off, Wolff admitted that he failed to explicitly tell Smith that the event was considered off the record. But he then suggested that Smith had some vaguely nefarious, ulterior motive because the top Buzzfeed editor did not assume remarks made at the Uber event were intended to be private.
To that end, Wolff argued that Smith mischaracterized a private conversation he had with Michael as remarks made to the dinner attendees as a whole.
“Smith, peculiarly, is the author of the BuzzFeed article that describes these remarks, but refers just to an unnamed BuzzFeed editor as attending the event—depersonalizing the encounter. Not one-on-one, but somehow more serious and official,” Wolff wrote. “Hence, more newslike, I suppose. Scarier.”
Wolff believes that beyond mischaracterizing Michael’s floated idea to smear adversarial journalists, Smith failed to put the Uber executive’s remarks in their proper context:
Instead of labeling Michael’s remarks in such OMG, shock-shocked, clickbait fashion, Smith, or a more skillful writer, might have located them with greater precision on the broader spectrum of meaning and emotion. After all, how likely is it that a company planning to investigate reporters is going to divulge this to a reporter, even in an off-the-record conversation? If you believe that, there are many worthless tech companies I could sell you. So if he did not literally mean we’re going to spy on the press, then what was Michael trying to say?
Readers would surely appreciate Wolff’s answer to that question, but alas, he does not venture a guess. Instead, he takes a stab at what he thinks Smith may have been trying to say with his bombshell report:
BuzzFeed itself — a financial play as much as Uber is — has key investors who are investors in Uber’s main competitor, Lyft. Those investors are, too, investors in PandoDaily. Does this have any bearing at all on the cost of tea in China? I don’t know. But I know that little in this world is what it seems.
Notably, sharing investors with Lyft is a choice criticism leveled at Sarah Lacy, the PandoDaily editor who has criticized Uber’s culture of “sexism and misogyny” and whom Emil Michael specifically suggested the company hire opposition researchers to smear.
Thanks to Twitter, we know exactly what Smith is thinking about Wolff’s hot “behind the scenes” take:
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) November 19, 2014