Uber CEO Says Exec’s Threats To Journalists “Showed A Lack Of Humanity” But Doesn’t Fire Him

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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has responded to the controversy caused by Uber Exec Emil Michael suggesting the company should dig up dirt on journalists who criticize it, including PandoDaily’s editor Sarah Lacy.

In a tweetstorm, he said that “Emil’s comments at the recent dinner party were terrible and do not represent the company…His remarks showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals” He went on to say how Uber needs to instead tell the story of progress and regain consumers’ trust. “I will do everything in my power towards the goal of earning that trust.”

Kalanick stopped short of firing Michael publicly, though, which might have gone a lot farther than just words to repair the situation.

Michael, Uber’s EVP of Business, made the alarming comments at a dinner in New York designed to help Uber improve its relationship with the media. The opposite happened. He discussed how Uber was being unfairly criticized by the press, and described turning the tables by surfacing damaging personal information. As BuzzFeed 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.”

Disgust spread quickly amongst Silicon Valley journalists and Uber users alike. Uber’s PR eventually jumped in last night, tweeting:

Michael himself then tried to apologize to Lacy:

But those quick tweets weren’t enough to quell the fire. And in terms of public perception, Kalanick’s probably won’t be either. The crisis has cemented Uber as a corporation driven by greed, and willing to stop at nothing to grow.

Personally, as a journalist who has railed against Uber while being a frequent user, Michael’s threat hit home. I’ve bashed the company for denying liability for the death of a young girl killed by an Uber driver’s car between rides (weeks later it changed this insurance policy), turning gay marriage into a marketing stunt, and saying it’d be happy to fire its drivers and replace them with self-driving cars.

In retaliation, it surely could dredge up my Uber log and out me for my late-night escapades (if I didn’t frequently out myself on Twitter). All that’s stopping it is a seemingly non-existent code of ethics.

If Uber isn’t at least willing to fire Michael, it’s hard to believe it’s treating his comments as anything but a road bump, despite the company clearly needed a new moral engine.

Here’s the full-text of Kalanick’s tweet-storm:

“Emil’s comments at the recent dinner party were terrible and do not represent the company. His remarks showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals. His duties here at Uber do not involve communications strategy or plans and are not representative in any way of the company approach.

Instead, we should lead by inspiring our riders, our drivers and the public at large. We should tell the stories of progress and appeal to people’s hearts and minds. We must be open and vulnerable enough to show people the positive principles that are the core of Uber’s culture. We must tell the stories of progress Uber has brought to cities and show the our constituents that we are principled and mean well.

The burden is on us to show that, and until Emil’s comments we felt we were making positive steps along those lines. But I will personally commit to our riders, partners and the public that we are up to the challenge. We are up to the challenge to show that Uber is and will continue to be a positive member of the community. And furthermore, I will do everything in my power towards the goal of earning that trust.

And that also goes for Emil.  And last, I want to apologize to @sarahcuda.