Uber CEO Travis Kalanick just responded to privacy and ethics concerns about Emil Michael, after the top executive publicly suggested paying $1 million to smear journalists who have criticized the multi-billion corporation. Kalanick's medium of choice was Twitter and his method was a "tweetstorm," a series of thoughts that give the illusion of substance and circumspection because they are presented in a numerical order.
It's not quite fair to characterize Kalanick's tweets (embedded below) as a mea culpa because he only apologizes to Sarah Lacy. The PandoDaily founder was the sole target named by Michael, a senior vice president of business development who currently advises the Department of Defense and previously did a short stint at the Pentagon.
According to Buzzfeed, however, Michael discussed investing that $1 million to hire four opposition researchers and four reporters to discredit other journalists (for failing to play the access game with a $25 billion enterprise that proudly plans to dominate the world). No matter, because saying sorry is meaningless against the specter of Michael's plan. During a clubby "charm offensive" dinner, he served up the following threat like an aperitif: "they'd look into 'your personal lives, your families,' and give the media a taste of its own medicine."
Kalanick tried to diffuse Michael's Nixonian revenge strategy with a "very Clintonian" series of statements that hover up above the real issues. He sounds more like a politician than the bad bro personae he's been happy to cultivate, so it's likely that Kalanick was advised by Obama strategist David Plouffe, now Uber's senior vice president of policy and strategy. Perhaps Ian Osborne—the shadowy fixer for transcontinental power brokers, who hosted the dinner and works as a "consultant" for Uber—even weighed in.
Since Silicon Valley loves a tweetstorm, here are the questions that Uber needs to answer in numbered form:
1/Was Kalanick aware of this strategy to smear critical reporters?
2/Does a $250 million investment from Google Ventures make it easier for Uber to access a reporter's Google account, including Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps, gChat, etc.?
3/Does the specificity of Michael's suggestion—including cost, hiring plan, and targets—mean that this plan had been seriously considered?
4/What policies and restrictions does Uber have in place about accessing a user's Uber account without permission, as Uber's general manager in New York City did recently to a Buzzfeed reporter or as Uber once performed as a party trick?
5/How does Uber investigate and deal with employees who have broken privacy policies?
6/Will Michael face any consequences for his comments?
7/Whose idea was this in the first place?
8/Which reporters were on Uber's hit list?
9/How did Michael decide which articles warranted "oppo research"?
10/And last, why wasn't I invited to this dinner?
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[Top image via Getty; screenshots via Twitter/TravisK]