RSG009: Was This The Worst Week Of PR Ever For Uber?

By November 20, 2014July 7th, 20194 Comments


7 min read

    7 min read

    In the world of rideshare, this was probably one of the biggest weeks ever.  So big in fact, that RSG contributor Jack Ross and I decided to not only bring you a recap of all the latest news but we’re also testing out a new podcast format.  So in addition to this week’s round-up, you can also hear us discuss the top stories of the week via podcast!  I think we picked a good week to try this new format out too with all of the crazy Uber stories.  So, please leave a comment or send me an e-mail and let us know what you think!


    Remember how Kim Kardasian’s Paper Mag story promised her and her booty-beyond-belief would “break the internet”?


    Well, this week seems the internet finally broke — though, lo and behold, Uber is responsible. (And currently, they are the ones looking like asses, or doing damage control to fix that perception, anyways).

    Yes, a big welcome back to The Roundup — and perhaps the biggest news week in rideshare history.

    In my 18 months following this space, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the media uproar, outrage and everything in between that the last 7 days has brought us. With that, questions are everywhere, mainly: 1) what does the future hold; and 2) will Uber survive this media shitstorm? I’ll do my best to answer (spoiler alert: Travis Kalanick and Co. are probably going to survive) with a brief rundown of the week that was for Uber (what happened, the fallout, what’s next up). Away we go…


    Basically, Buzzfeed’s newsdesk killed it this week, and it could be said, is solely responsible for the proverbial internet breakage. Early Monday, they dropped the first of two stories that sent the national media into an anti-Uber frenzy. Their headlines were as follows:

    1) Uber Executive Suggest Digging Up Dirt on Journalists

    The man: Uber’s SVP of Business, Emil Michael (side note: you know it’s not a good sign, if, when one Googles themselves, a sidebar image shows up with your bad press, as happens for Michael). The setting: Manhattan’s Waverly Hotel and a forum of NY socialites including Ed Norton and Ariana Huffington. The idea: Uber dropping a cool $1 million to be spent on digging up dirt on jonos (aka journalists, like Pando Daily’s Sarah Lacy, who is on the record hating hard on Uber with solid evidence behind her) and kickin’ ass.


    Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Uber’s power trip took on biblical, Yeezus-like proportions with the findings of their…

    2) “God View”: Uber Investigates Its Top New York Executive For Privacy Violations

    “I was tracking you.” -Josh Mohrer, Uber NYC General Manager, to his unassuming BuzzFeed reporter prey. The summation of the article, from Mohrer’s glorious feed? A bro-ed out photo of the NYC office, with what could become a mantra for Uber HQ in the very near future: #HatersGonnaHate


    And in a 24-hour instant, Uber found itself in a Tropical Storm of Shit.

    Then, Lacy (in the crosshairs of Uber for some time, and the target of Emil Michel’s remarks), put out her response and an extremely important perspective on the implications, personally and professionally, while also putting on big-blast everyone of Uber’s investors (many of whom are listed).

    Did Uber apologize? Of course. TechCrunch detailed the 13-tweet missive from Kalanick. (And Michel emailed another “heartfelt” and “sincere” apology to Lacy (included at the very end of the Pando Daily piece, after Michel called Lacy, and she refused to take his phone call if it were off the record).



    First, outlets figured the time was ripe to run stories summarizing the annual carnage at Uber, with the 7 Reasons You May Want to Delete Uber from Market Watch, and the Daily Beast’s Definitive List of The Top 10 Worst Uber Stories (reads kind of like a 90’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, with Big Travis and the guy with the hook) just the tip of the iceberg.

    Next, the biggest media players got into the game with the proverbial “Michael Must Be Fired!!!” indignation, like…

    CNN’s Opinion Piece Opined A Need to Fire the “Creep”. Business Insider cover an NY tech, with the consensus saying Michael AND Travis Kalanick should both be fired. Vox details Uber’s Asshole Problem. The LA Times doubling down by saying ALL tech companies should be horrified by the comments. With a second LAT story about the whole ordeal playing on Kalanick’s old “Boober” comment. PCMag with more calls to move to Lyft and “leave Emil Michael and his sleazy compadres on the side of the road“. Ditto this outraged Bostinno writer. And just to add a dung-cherry on top of their shit-Sundae, BoingBoing detailed how a New York Uber pax with cancer was told she “deserved cancer” and was “an animal” by her driver.

    It wasn’t all bad though: one Politico writer decided to defend at least, the idea that such a lynch mob was unfair, pointing to the irony of journalists — protectors of free speech and the first amendment — would be so quick to call for someone’s head over an off the cuff, potentially happy-hour induced comment.

    Ultimately, though, even good news — like Uber’s Spotify partnership — got trashed by news that drivers were not gonna be thrilled about turning over their music Captaincy to their passengers, said Vice and BusinessInsider.


    John Hodgman (the first I’ve heard from him since 2012 Apple commercial days, but alright, why not) eloquently detailed why he was deleting Uber.

    More importantly, Minnesota’s reformed SNL funny-man and current Senator Al Franken (who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law) penned a letter to Travis on Wednesday outlining 10 questions to clarify, about both potential practices of digging up dirt on journalists and inquiring for more info about the “God View” tool.

    Heck, even Ashton Kutcher got in the fray himself on twitter, going all That 70’s Show Kelso with it, and somehow thinking it wise to defend Uber and call out journalists (while admitting he was in the minority and even wrong for doing so).


    Good question, though kind of unclear at present. Michael stays, for now, anyways.

    On the privacy front, NBC News reported they hired a “Privacy Czar” and promised a thorough audit, though who knows what that will actually lead to.


    Ultimately, time will tell. Obviously, Uber cannot and will not (probably?) continue to function as a frat turned tech giant. Bad press eventually catches up with you (maybe? Google and Facebook sure seem to have survived privacy concerns); and bad business too (the Myspace comparisons gaining steam are stupid, though, in my opinion). And no doubt, Team Travis has a long, long, long ways to go to actually clean up their culture, and even more, prove they care about community at all.

    But if money is any indictator, the answer to the question above is: no, no, no. None of this matters. For proof, just check out the Business Insider piece that says Uber is actually raising $2 billion in cash (you know, to cripple any and all competitors) and has a valuation closer to $50 billion than the $18 billion that has been floating around of late. Sure, that flies in the face of some (like FiveThirtyEight’s piece this summer that pegs — I believe, pretty inaccurately — Uber’s val to be on the lesser $5 billion range). But $2 billion in cash is nothing to sneeze at. And, as Wu Tang eloquently detailed simply some years ago: Cash Rules Everything Around Me. And Uber just might be too big to fail (good news or bad news, depending on your perspective as a driver).

    And on that note, I’m out. And leave you with this aforementioned piece of meme gold. One love.

    55394616-Jack @ The Rideshare Guy

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    Jack Ross

    Jack Ross

    Jack Ross is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He started driving for Lyft in September 2013 and also drives for Uber and Sidecar.