I had the pleasure of sitting one seat over from Emil Michael at the now-infamous Uber dinner in New York last week. Emil was originally seated next to me and moved over to greet Ben Smith as a guest.
During dinner, the CEO of Uber gave a short talk and invited questions. The conversation ranged from the expansion of employment opportunities for drivers Uber provides to Uber's approach to understanding local cities in which it operates. Ben's question came last. Ben asked whether or not the CEO of Uber supported Obamacare. I didn't know he was a reporter at the time but it was clear that he was trying to change the tenor of an otherwise enjoyable dinner. After the CEO finished his answer to that question and others, Emil asked Ben why he asked that question. I overheard Ben say that he was hoping that Travis would give him a libertarian answer. At that point, I wanted to grab Emil. I kind of knew what Ben was up to.
I overheard a bit more of their conversation. Emil was pushing Ben to answer why it was OK for journalists to publish false stories or attack a businessperson's personal life. Ben was quiet. It was a pretty normal conversation about hypotheticals. There was no malice or yelling or fighting. It was a chat between the two of them that I happened to overhear. The last comment that I heard was when Emil hypothesized about creating a coalition for responsible journalism. Ben said that would likely fail because companies have no expertise in journalism. Emil flippantly said he could hire professional journalists for $1 million to get the expertise to make sure that they could respond when negative articles come out.
I heard a mention of a Sarah Lacy and overheard Emil say that he felt terrible that by writing an article, Sarah had actually suggested that people choose less safe alternatives based on a charge of sexism that was really a personal attack on the CEO with no basis in fact. Emil then said that Sarah wouldn't like it if someone wrote false things about her or published an article that was factually wrong because we all have done things in our private lives we are not proud of.
There was no anti-feminist sentiment, no attacking families, no attacking children, no anger, no threats against anyone, no action plan. Nothing. It was clear to me that this was all a vague, civilized conversation. I am a woman and I am sensitive to any kind of talk like that.
I will admit that I am friends with Emil. We were both White House Fellows serving in different departments during the first year of the Obama administration where we both quit our jobs to take civil service positions to improve our country. I am upset that Ben sensationalized what happened at that dinner. His account was not fair and the coverage about this whole incident has been ridiculous. Tearing down someone's reputation may be fun, but it isn't right ... especially when the facts aren't on your side. What's worse, I believe that Ben's comments caused Sarah some understandable angst. Sarah, take it from me that what Ben reported is not true.