Shooting the Messenger

No one likes bad press.  Sooner or later, pretty much everyone who has been pilloried in the press has blamed the press for the situation, rather than taking a hard look at whether his or her actions warranted such coverage.  And it often must seem much easier to “go on the offensive” by attacking the press coverage than it would be to change bad behavior that has come to light.  In other words, why not just shoot the messenger?

A company that has faced a particularly bad string of articles recently has been Uber.  Much of that bad press has been in the on-line magazine Slate (just google “Uber Slate” to see how often Slate has run negative stories on Uber recently).

But how did Uber respond?  According to BuzzFeed, Uber’s SVP of Business Emil Michael suggested Monday night that Uber use its database of information on its customers to discover embarrassing information about journalists that write negative stories about Uber and publicly shame those journalists.  This from a company that keeps a large database about where its customers go and how long they stay there.

This suggestion was not floated at a late-night bulls*t session, but rather at a large event attended by luminaries including Ed Norton, Arianna Huffington, and other members of the media, suggesting that it was an intentional attempt to intimidate the media’s coverage of the company.

After a firestorm of reaction, Uber’s CEO was quick to apologize with the following tweet:  “Emil’s comments at the recent dinner party were terrible and do not represent the company.”  Mr. Michael does, however, continue to hold his highly-paid position in charge of all Uber business activities.

I have to admit that as I was reading the earlier press coverage of Uber, I had suspected that a few bad actors had somehow gotten through the screen of potential drivers and that some customers had failed to understand that Uber rides would be more expensive when cars were in periods of high demand.  In other words, I did not think that the company was systematically creating a system to maximize its own profits at the expense of its drivers and its customers.

Now, I question the motives of Uber executive management.

When drivers say that they are not paid what the company promised them, I presume that the company is cheating its drivers unless it can prove otherwise.

When customers say that they are charged surge pricing when they were promised normal pricing, I presume that the company is cheating its customers unless it can prove otherwise.

When the company says that it would never violate the privacy of its customers, I don’t believe them.

Companies have to earn the trust of the public.  And once that trust is violated, it is very, very difficult to regain.

So remember the mistakes of Uber the next time someone says “Don’t shoot the messenger.”


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