Recently a dipshit editor named Ben Smith over at Buzzfeed ambushed Uber executive Emil Michael by taking out of context something Michael said at a private dinner and publishing it under a misleading headline.
It was such a clever ambush that Emil Michael couldn’t hope to explain himself without inflaming things further. So he wisely issued a half-assed non-apology-sort-of-apology to make it all go away.
But he’s stained. That stuff lives forever on the Internet. It was a total hit job and Buzzfeed pulled it off. As Buzzfeed’s own article explains, they have a grudge with Uber over some privacy issues. I assume this was either payback or a … coincidence?
If only there was some independent observer of this outrage who once cared what the public thought of him but no longer does. Perhaps that person could say some of the things that I imagine Emil Michael wants to say but can’t. And what if that independent observer woke up in a bad mood? How fun might that be?
Well, it’s your lucky day.
Let’s start with Buzzfeed’s totally manipulative and misleading headline:
Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists
Holy shit! Uber must be evil! They are trying to suppress freedom of the media!
Except… that isn’t what happened, according to Buzzfeed’s own reporting in the article with the misleading headline.
Michael didn’t “suggest” doing anything. Nor did he – then or now – even want to dig up dirt on journalists. Assuming Buzzfeed’s reporting of the details is accurate, all he did was make a dinner party intellectual comparison between the evil of the media that was unfairly attacking them (which I assume is true) and their own civilized response to the attacks.
Michael’s point, as Buzzfeed reports it, was that horrible people in the media mislead readers and there is nothing a victim can do about it within the realm of reasonable business practices. The Buzzfeed business model is totally legal. But, as Michael explained, probably over a cocktail, the only legal solution to this problem would be to use freedom of the press to push back on the bad actors by giving them a taste of their own medicine.
But it was just private cocktail talk. It wasn’t a plan. It definitely wasn’t a “suggestion.” It was just an interesting way to make a point. The point, as I understand it from Buzzfeed’s own reporting, is that Uber DOES play fair in a fight in which the opponents (bad actors in the press) do not. I find that interesting. It is also literally the opposite of what the headline of the story “suggests” happened.
And Michael made his point in a room full of writers/media people. Obviously it wasn’t a plan.
It’s not as if Michael was talking about manipulating the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Those publications might get some facts wrong now and then, but they don’t have a business model that involves intentionally taking things out of context to manufacture news. No one suggested trying to strong-arm the legitimate media. Michael was talking about the bottom-feeder types that literally manufacture news, hurt innocent people, damage the reputation of companies, and hide behind the Constitution and freedom of speech. You can’t compare the bad actors in the press with the legitimate press. And in my opinion it makes interesting dinner conversation to speculate how one can stop the bad actors without breaking any laws.
And then Buzzfeed proved Michael’s point by taking his words out of context and showing that Michael could do nothing about it but apologize for … Buzzfeed’s misleading description of what he said.
That’s called “news.”
[Update: A commenter points out that this ugly situation is even uglier than I thought. An executive at Buzzfeed is in investor in Uber’s competition. See this take on it.]
Disclaimer and biases: I don’t own any Uber stock. I had lunch with the founder once.