Archive for the ‘Media’ Category
It’s taken a long time for the mainstream media to wake up to what’s happening in the world of traditional wetshaving. But the continuing (and apparently even accelerating) growth has finally caught their eye.
And if they’re tracking people, they’re looking for dirt. Emil Michael wasn’t just making idle conversation, he was (in effect) warning the journalist by telling him what Uber “could” do (i.e., has done). Ellen Cushing reports in San Francisco Magazine:
While I was reporting my recent cover story on Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick, several current and former Uber employees warned me that company higher-ups might access my rider logs. Because I couldn’t independently verify these claims without sacrificing my sources’ anonymity, I didn’t include them in the final piece.
However, in light of Buzzfeed’s latest revelations about Uber executives discussing hiring opposition researchers to dig into the personal life of a reporter, Sarah Lacy, who had repeatedly criticized the company, these threats against my own privacy appear to be less of a paranoid possibility than I’d originally thought.
It’s worth noting here that as far as I know, the company hasn’t looked into my logs. After talking to Uber staffers, it’s quite clear that the company stokes paranoia in its employees about talking to the press, so there’s a solid possibility that my sources’ fears were just the result of overzealous (and unfounded) precaution. But when I contacted a former employee last night about the news, this person told me that “it’s not very hard to access the travel log information they’re talking about. I have no idea who is ‘auditing’ this log or access information. At least when I was there, any employee could access rider rating information, as I was able to do it. How much deeper you could go with regular access, I’m not sure, as I didn’t try.” A second former employee told me something similar, saying “I never heard anything about execs digging into reporters’ travel logs, though it would be easy for them to do so.”
While I was conducting reporting, however, a current employee told me that he or she had access to my (and presumably other peoples’) rider logs. (Again, I can’t confirm whether or not this is true.) This summer, the venture capitalist turned author Peter Sims revealed in a post on Medium that the company had broadcast his real-time user data to a party in Chicago in 2012. And Smith’s post relayed an unrelated incident in which an Uber NYC staffer accessed Buzzfeed reporter Johana Bhuiyan’s personal data in the course of making a point about the company to her. . .
One thing I notice is often omitted from the news reports of Emil Michael’s plan: the idea was to dig up dirt to damage the journalist AND HER FAMILY. They were going to go after family members. I think that is worth noting.
Our social constructs—organizations, work groups, interpersonal relationships, committees, municipal government—are really rather fragile, it seems to me. A few bad actors can affect the dynamic in a ways that things become unbalanced and spin out of control—the corrupt sheriff who corrupts the judge and prosecutor and soon the town’s culture starts to resemble a feudal arrangement of powerful exploiting powerless in many ways. Or even the smoothly functioning committee that falls apart because of frictions caused by one borderline personality on it.
Look at what Fox News has done to the news industry, for example. This excellent column by Sophia McClennen in Salon is well worth reading:
Jon Stewart has been on the interview circuit to promote his new film, “Rosewater,” but many of his comments have turned to partisan politics and the pundits who encourage them. Interviewers have not been able to resist the urge to talk about Stewart’s thoughts on the midterm elections, on immigration, and on the legacy of Obama. But what has been really interesting to watch is Stewart’s comments on Fox News and on commentators like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Stewart explained that most of Fox News is about fear. Fox News viewers, he explained, operate in a world where they have a high sense of being persecuted, and this is why, for instance, we will soon see pieces on the “War on Christmas” with commentators standing next to 60-foot-tall Christmas trees. But not all Fox News commentators are equal in Stewart’s eyes. He considers O’Reilly to be more like a “Kennedy Democrat” who comes by his views honestly. Not so with Hannity, whom Stewart describes as “probably the most loathsome dude over there.” He describes Hannity as espousing “pure cynicism”: “Everything is presented in as devious a manner as it could possibly be presented.”
It’s worth remembering that from the moment that Fox News was founded in 1996 the goal was to offer a partisan view of the news. David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt in “The Fox Effect” explain in detail how Roger Ailes turned the cable channel into a propaganda machine. And once the channel launched, all other cable news responded. Few recall that Ann Coulter used to work for MSNBC before Fox was founded. It’s hard to imagine it in the blue versus red world we live in now.
Three years after Fox News used the slogan “fair and balanced” to promote a channel that had no intention of being either, . . .
The media in the US is moving toward the position Pravda had in the Soviet Union: A partisan mouthpiece
Note that I say “partisan” rather than “government.” Some of the media do speak for the government (whoever’s in power), but other media speak for a particular party (Fox News, for example). True journalism, driven by facts, is becoming uncommon, partly because the primary mission is no longer reporting the truth (comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable), but turning a profit. Once the focus moves to money, less attention is paid to what was once the main purpose. The previous post is one good example of how frequently reporting just follows the government line, and Democracy Now! has another under the title “Antiwar Voices Absent from Corporate TV News Ahead of U.S. Attacks on Iraq & Syria.” Their blurb:
A new analysis of corporate TV news has found there was almost no debate about whether the United States should go to war in Iraq and Syria. The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that of the more than 200 guests who appeared on network shows to discuss the issue, just six voiced opposition to military action. The report, titled “Debating How — Not Whether — to Launch a New War,” examines a two-week period in September when U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria dominated the airwaves. The report also finds that on the high-profile Sunday talk shows, out of 89 guests, there was just one antiwar voice — Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation. We speak to Peter Hart, activism director at FAIR.
Video and transcript at the link.
The government exercises considerable control over the media, even beyond the sort of direct intervention that kept the NY Times from publishing what they had learned about a massive and highly illegal warrantless wiretapping program inaugurated by the Bush Administration (and, of course, expanded by the Obama Administration). The Obama Administration stated point blank that anyone killed by a drone strike would be considered a “militant” unless and until proved otherwise. Since the strikes are often in remote and hostile areas, such proof is generally unavailable—but our lapdog media follows along, doing whatever is asked.
Glenn Greenwald reports on the practice in The Intercept:
It has been more than two years since The New York Times revealed that “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties” of his drone strikes which “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants . . . . unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” The paper noted that “this counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths,” and even quoted CIA officials as deeply “troubled” by this decision: “One called it ‘guilt by association’ that has led to ‘deceptive’ estimates of civilian casualties. ‘It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants. They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.’”
But what bothered even some intelligence officials with the agency carrying out the strikes seemed of no concern whatsoever to most major media outlets. As I documented days after the Times article, most large western media outlets continued to describe completely unknown victims of U.S. drone attacks as “militants” – even though they (a) had no idea who those victims were or what they had done and (b) were well-aware by that point that the term had been “re-defined” by the Obama administration intoAlice in Wonderland-level nonsense.
Like the U.S. drone program itself, this deceitful media practice continues unabated. “Drone strike kills at least four suspected militants in northwest Pakistan,” a Reuters headline asserted last week. The headline chosen by ABC News, publishing an AP report, was even more definitive: “US Drone in Northwest Pakistan Kills 6 Militants.” In July, The Wall Street Journal‘sheadline claimed: “U.S. Drone Strike Kills Five Militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan.” Sometimes they will turn over their headlines to “officials,” asthis AP report from July did: “Officials: US drone kills 7 militants in Pakistan.”
Since its 2012 report, the Times itself has tended to avoid the “militant” language in its headlines, but often lends credence to dubious official claims, as when it said this about a horrific U.S. drone strike last December on a Yemeni wedding party, killing the bride: “Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda, according to tribal leaders in the area, but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed.” Other U.S. media accounts of that strike were just as bad, if not worse. The controversies over the definition of “militant” are almost never mentioned in any of these reports.
A new article in The New Yorker by Steve Coll underscores how deceptive this journalistic practice is. Among other things, he notes that
the U.S. government itself – let alone the media outlets calling them “militants” – often has no idea who the people are who are killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. That’s because, in 2008, George Bush and his CIA chief, Gen. Michael Hayden, implemented “signature strikes,” whereby “the new rules allowed drone operators to fire at armed military-aged males engaged in or associated with suspicious activity even if their identities were unknown.” The Intercept previously reported that targeting decisions can even be made by nothing more than metadata analysis and SIM card use.
The journalist Daniel Klaidman has noted that within the CIA, they “sometimes call it crowd killing. . . . If you don’t have positive ID on the people you’re targeting with these drone strikes.” The tactic of drone-killing first responders and rescuers who come to the scene of drone attacks or even mourners at funerals of drone victims – used by the Obama administration and designated “terror groups” alike - are classic examples. Nobody has any real idea who the dead are, but they are nonetheless routinely called “militants” by the American government and media. As international law professor Kevin Jon Heller documented in 2012, . . .
Uber has an interesting business model: use only independent contractors so as to avoid the costs of having employees—thus externalizing costs such as health insurance. For Uber, health insurance costs are picked up by their “independent contractors” and the taxpayer (through the Obamacare subsidies). And Uber is certainly trying to say that any damage done by drivers is not Uber’s fault, so if your driver attacks you, sue the driver, not Uber.
And Uber is offering car loans to its drivers in an interesting variant of the company-store way of trapping employees through debt: the loans are for cars that will have a short lifespan due to how they’re driven, and in the meantime Uber is working to cut driver’s wages, thus binding the chain tighter.
And now Uber has the brilliant idea of engaging investigators to look into the private lives of journalists who report negative information about Uber with the idea of smearing the journalists, getting them fired, ruining their reputations.
Doesn’t anyone see what’s wrong with that picture? Here are some of the articles—read for yourself what a truly sleazy company with no notions of morality will do:
Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists – Ben Smith in BuzzFeedNews, who broke the story. From his article:
Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.
Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.
At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.
Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.
Michael at no point suggested that Uber has actually hired opposition researchers, or that it plans to. He cast it as something that would make sense, that the company would be justified in doing.
Later in the article:
The spokeswoman, Nairi Hourdajian, said the company does not do “oppo research” of any sort on journalists, and has never considered doing it. She also said Uber does not consider Lacy’s personal life fair game, or believe that she is responsible for women being sexually assaulted.
Hourdajian also said that Uber has clear policies against executives looking at journalists’ travel logs, a rich source of personal information in Uber’s posession.
“Any such activity would be clear violations of our privacy and data access policies,” Hourdajian said in an email. “Access to and use of data is permitted only for legitimate business purposes. These policies apply to all employees. We regularly monitor and audit that access.”
In fact, the general manager of Uber NYC accessed the profile of a BuzzFeed News reporter, Johana Bhuiyan, to make points in the course of a discussion of Uber policies. At no point in the email exchanges did she give him permission to do so.
At the Waverly Inn dinner, it was suggested that a plan like the one Michael floated could become a problem for Uber.
Michael responded: “Nobody would know it was us.”
The moment I learned just how far Uber will go to silence journalists and attack women – by Sarah Lacy in PandoDaily. She is the person named as the target of the Uber smear campaign. (She also points out that the Uber CEO has said that he now gets so much ass that he calls the company “Boober.” Classy guy, eh?)
Uber exec suggests muzzling reporters over negative coverage – Brian Fung in the Washington Post
The Smartest Bro in the Room – Ellen Cushing in San Francisco Magazine. A more general picture of the company.
The executive who voiced the idea for the campaign has apologized, but quite obviously only because he was exposed for pushing the idea. It’s quite clear that he has had no serious change of heart, and I would bet that the initiative proceeds, but more quietly.
These guys are sociopaths.
UPDATE: Another good article, this one by Matt Yglesias: “Uber has an asshole problem.”
Jack Shafer has a well-argued column at Reuters on the dangers of allowing law-enforcement officials to pose as journalists, but the bug to some extent is a feature: the security apparatus has always had a jaundiced view of the free press, which tends to print things the security apparatus (the second government, in Glennon’s terms) wants not to be printed: not only secrets, but also reports of wrong-doing, incompetence, and embarrassing pratfalls. The security apparatus is of the opinion that all stories should be cleared with the government before being published, and a free press not only will not do that, it continues to report screw-ups by the security apparatus.
So if a law-enforcement official can undermine faith in the press (and make journalists’ jobs harder) by pretending to be a reporter, that’s good, in their eyes. Much easier than waging the long and costly legal persecution of reporters, as the Obama Administration is doing.