When Buzzfeed’s editor in chief, Ben Smith, sat next to Uber’s Senior VP of Business, Emil Michael at a swanky dinner last Friday, he likely had no idea the drama that was about to ensue. By now, most of you have read the news about Michael’s defining gaffe. Just to refresh:
According to Smith, 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.”
The reaction from the tech press, the startup community and those who work with them in public relations has been outrage, for the most part. The reaction from Uber? Meh. And so now, everyone wants to know, is the culture at Uber really that arrogant? Is Uber really immune to bad press?
What the media, the startup community, PR people and those freaking out about Michael’s comments need to do is take a step back and breathe – perhaps even Shake it Off. That’s easy to say from my perspective, right? I’m not the one potentially being investigated by Uber and facing the threat of having my personal life exposed for the world to see, right? Sure, but let’s get real for a moment.
Here are five reasons why this evil plot by Uber could never, would never work:
- SPJ’s Code of Ethics: perhaps Sarah Lacy, the reporter most under Uber’s microscope, should put a little more trust in her fellow reporters and the PR people who inhabit her world, in knowing that we all follow the same code of ethics. Sure, there are bad apples out there that will do anything for a buck, but the vast majority of journalists care deeply about those ethics.
- No one wants to throw dirt on his or her peers: no reporter with any backbone would ever take a single dollar from Uber to investigate a member of the media, and then publish a story about that investigation. Test this yourself on a micro basis by inviting a reporter to lunch, or coffee. They will adamantly refuse your offer to buy said coffee. Those that accept are not really journalists and have little credibility.
- No media outlets will publish these investigative stories: this relates to point number two. Plus, no organization wants to be the first to walk down this path, and then later have the gun pointed at them.
- PR people respect the code too: those PR people that ignore, promote and/or fulfill Uber’s evil plans internally at the company, or externally should now and forever be exposed as frauds. They should be stoned publicly, blackballed from reporting and/or publishing content, and forced to work in fast food for the rest of their lives, rather than spinning Hillary Clinton’s next run for President.
- Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel: Mark Twain’s famous words are as true today as when he uttered them. Uber’s arrogance is looking more like hubris when you take this quote into account. Fighting the press is folly and most companies know this. Uber seemed to miss the memo.
Over the past few days I’ve witnessed hundreds of friends and colleagues on Facebook claim they have deleted the Uber app from their smartphone. Let’s hope that trend continues and this trend of funding companies with broken cultures, like Uber’s, disappears.