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Uber and the media debate

Journalism press
Microgen | Getty Images

There are many disturbing things about the recent Uber story – where, during a dinner party, one of its senior executives suggested investigating the personal lives of journalists as a way of retaliating against bad coverage.

Much of it is obvious: attempts at media manipulation are good for no one and there's a frat boy psychology of Silicon Valley that is pretty appalling. Our friends at Re/code have a nice summation of these issues here.


But there's something else disturbing here: the media's attitude about itself, that the mere suggestion of looking at a journalist's background is a sin.

"Why should the media be exempt from their own standards of investigation and reporting?," asked one commenter, 'Cincinnatus', on the Re/Code story. "If a journalist has an identifiable conflict of interest or bias, isn't that relevant to evaluation the quality of their reporting? The nature of the investigation and the use of the information collected will either hurt or advance the investigating company's case. Disclosure meant to shine a light on media bias would be well received. Attempts to blackmail or intimidate would be badly received and possibly criminal."

Indeed, journalists are people too and have their fair share of bias. Good journalists recognize it and work to mitigate it, to be fair regardless of their point of view. A little examination of a journalist's background and connections might not be an altogether bad thing. For instance, if a reporter is a member of local political group, you might not want them covering the election.

Of course, these things can go too far, as 'Cincinnatus' pointed out, and cross the line from "keeping someone honest" to out and out "muscling." And this Uber executive seemed bent in that latter direction and at one particular journalist. (Uber CEO Travis Kalanick later apologizedfor the executive's remarks).

Still, it was an informal dinner between Uber folks and media movers and shakers. Sounds like there was some drinking and relaxed talking going on. Maybe even some venting. Has anyone ever said something stupid in such situations. Hands?

It also sounds like it was intended as an off-the-record event, although the Buzzfeed journalist who broke the story says that was never explicitly stated. If it was meant to be that way and the Uber PR folks didn't expressly say it, at least a several of times beforehand and a couple of times during, well, shame on them.