There’s a story that’s been blowing up in techie circles this week about ridesharing app Uber and its problematic executives targeting journalists who disagree with them. It goes like this: Sarah Lacy, editor in chief of PandoDaily, a Silicon Valley news site she founded, wrote an article about why she ditched Uber. She deemed it “asshole culture” and called out the misogyny evinced by the company from the top down.
Then, at a dinner in New York over the weekend, Emil Michael, an Uber executive, said they should hire a “million-dollar team” to look into Lacy and discredit her. A writer from BuzzFeed happened to be at that dinner, heard the remarks, and, allegedly not knowing the whole night was off the record, published them come Monday morning. (Sure, “off the record”. That means he totally said that stuff, he just didn’t think he’d ever be held accountable for it.)
Yesterday, international village idiot Ashton Kutcher, an investor in Uber, took to Twitter to suggest that smear campaigns are totally fine, you guys, because “we’re all public figures” and “shady” journalists deserve what they get. You can read all his tweets here. It continues to baffle all of us that Kutcher is considered some kind of tech genius just because he can buy the internet, but this is the world we live in. We’re all public figures, and for some reason this Simple Jack gets to be a digital guru. Here’s everything wrong with Kutcher’s point of view.
First, he’s an investor in Uber. There is no separating his opinion from his vested interest in the company. Uber’s success is more money in Kutcher’s pocket. Frankly I’d be amazed if he sided with Lacy and called on Uber to shape up, and I am not surprised that he doesn’t. Status quo is making money hand over fist, so why rock the boat, right?
Second, Uber’s corporate culture has been under fire for a while, and they are actively trying to improve their spiky media relations. Lacy’s article—which is really an op-ed—is not a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. She’s writing to a larger issue which is of real import as the company transitions to industry leader and standard-bearer. She’s critical, but she’s not making this stuff up out of thin air. The company has an image problem, and the corporate culture may be putting riders at risk.
Third, Sarah Lacy is not a “shady journalist”. She’s a veteran tech writer who happens to dislike Uber as a company. There’s nothing questionable about her article; she’s not making outrageous or specious claims. She’s just saying - I do not like the attitude of the people providing the service, so I am cancelling the service. I recently said the same thing about the NFL—should my head be on the chopping block because of that?
Journalists should not be above reproach, on that the simpleton and I can agree. But that’s why editors and fact-checkers, retractions, and review boards exist. Libel and defamation are real things with real legal consequences, not to mention the potential for job loss and loss of reputation that comes with being publicly discredited. Lara Logan’s reputation took a serious hit last year following a discredited story. Kutcher ends by saying he’s “on the wrong side ultimately” but that he “wishes journalists were held to the same standards as public figures”. Dumbass—THEY ARE.