Uber Really F*cked Up This Time

You’ve probably heard by now that Uber is in extreme crisis mode. More so than usual, even!

Why? To sum it up, the company’s SVP of business attended a private event packed with prominent journalists…and suggested that his company would spend a million dollars on “opposition research” to smear those who publish negative stories about Uber. For some reason, Emil Michael thought that every single word spoken at said event would be “off the record.”

It gets much, much worse.

The dinner in question was hosted by “a former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron and consultant to the company,” and BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith was there with one of his reporters.

Michael aimed his ire at Sarah Lacy of Pando Daily, a site that does NOT count itself among Uber’s growing fanbase. Here’s what he said, via Smith’s report:

“…he outlined the notion of spending ‘a million dollars’ to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists” who would then “look into ‘your personal lives, your families,’ and give the media a taste of its own medicine.”

He also made an even more outrageous assertion in responding to Lacy’s claim that Uber does not sufficiently protect female riders from potentially abusive drivers…who, again, are NOT Uber employees and do not in any way represent the company. Or so they claim.

“Lacy should be held ‘personally responsible’ for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.”

You got that? Lacy responded with a post of her own, writing:

“…step one of an illegal smear campaign against a woman is: Don’t brag about it to a journalist at a party.”

Michel tried to apologize to her by phone on the condition that his statements not be reported and she refused, so he took to Twitter:

Odd that he chose NOT to say these generic things “on the record,” isn’t it? A subsequent post on Re\code asked whether Michael should be fired. The answer to that question, if the company wants to retain anything approaching a shred of dignity, is YES. One of the company’s primary investors called the suggestions “unacceptable” and seemed to express disbelief that CEO Travis Kalanick — who Smith amusingly described as “boyish with tousled graying hair and a sweater” — would allow one of his top advisors to say such a thing.

Smith clarified this morning that Kalanick was seated at “the other end of a long table” and didn’t hear what was going on.

Journalist Michael Wolff, who accompanied Smith, later said that he should have let fellow attendees know that the entire evening was “off the record.” For clarification, NOTHING is off the record — especially not a formal event attended by prominent personalities like Arianna Huffington that was scheduled in order to facilitate better media relations!

It keeps going: Jay Yarow of Business Insider tweeted that the part of the report that should REALLY upset people is this detail:

“The general manager of Uber NYC accessed the profile of a BuzzFeed News reporter, Johana Bhuiyan, to make points in the course of a discussion of Uber policies. At no point in the email exchanges did she give him permission to do so.”

And this came AFTER the very same executive said that Uber “has clear policies against executives looking at journalists’ travel logs.”

Unfortunately, this terrible story will almost certainly not do any significant damage to Uber’s wildly successful, rapidly growing business.

But have you ever heard of a company called Lyft?

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.