emil michael
Uber Vice President Emil Michael. Screenshot

Uber executive Emil Michael publicly said Friday evening that the company could spend "a million dollars" to form an investigative ring of researchers and journalists to look into the personal lives of reporters critical of the company. The remarks were made at a dinner at Manhattan's Waverly Inn, attended by the likes of Ed Norton and Arianna Huffington and hosted by Ian Osborne, an Uber consultant who formerly advised British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of news site BuzzFeed, was also in attendance and wrote up Michael's comments, as there was never any indication that the dinner was off-the-record.

Michael described being especially focused on Sarah Lacy, the editor of news site PandoDaily and a vocal Uber critic. Most recently she accused the company of sexism in light of a report that Uber would pair customers in Lyon, France, with attractive female drivers. Michael touched on the accusation, saying that women are more likely to be assaulted by standard taxi drivers than by Uber drivers, adding that Lacy should be held "personally responsible" for any woman who was sexually assaulted for not taking an Uber car.

To be clear, Uber hasn't initiated this task force and doesn't plan to. "We have not, do not, and will not investigate journalists. Those remarks have no basis in the reality of our approach," said a spokesperson for the company.

Michael, a senior vice president with the company, also sought to walk back his comments. "The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner – borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for – do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach," he said in a statement. "They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them."

Noted investor Ken Lerer was hardly swayed by the statement.

Michael's statement has done little to help the company's public image. Vox calls it an "a__hole problem;" as Uber becomes increasingly mainstream and more established, it's less entitled to the status of "scrappy startup."

"Moves like hiring former top Obama advisor David Plouffe show that the company is hardly on the outside looking in," writes Matthew Yglesias. "It has a valuation of $18 billion, and clear aspirations to move beyond the ride business to a broader array of 'urban logistics' operations."

The bizarre comments about passengers and the press are hardly abnormal for Uber. The drivers have beefs, too. The company's negative behavior is an "established and totally unnecessary pattern," said Buzzcar CEO Robin Chase, whose company brings together drivers and car owners to create a car-sharing marketplace.

"Because of Uber leasing, these drivers still carry $400 per month lease on their new cars," said Chase, referring to a controversial practice in which Uber encourages some drivers to take subprime leases on their vehicles.

In light of Michael's comments, it appears that Uber has three key relationships to repair, those with its drivers, its passengers and the press covering the company. If Uber were to actually form a task force to research those reporting on the company, this reporter would like to save the company the trouble of prying through his personal life. Here's what it would find:

  • He calls his mom nearly every day at lunch time, which is probably too often.
  • He hasn't had a romantic relationship in over two years and often holds one-sided conversations with his cat.
  • He doesn't eat nearly enough vegetables with dinner.