BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith describes a three-year-old meeting that Uber held — which saw several influencers including actor Ed Norton among attendees — as the beginning of the ride-hailing company’s long slow meltdown. Later today, the company is expected to announce that its CEO Travis Kalanick would be temporarily stepping away, and his closest lieutenant is all set to hand his resignation. On Sunday, the company held a board meeting, which according to several journalists, lasted for nearly seven hours. The meeting capped a difficult stretch for the ride-hailing company, which is trying to weather an investigation into its workplace culture, a lawsuit by Google parent Alphabet over the alleged theft of self-driving car trade secrets, a federal probe into its business practices, and the recent departures of top executives. Back to Ben: At the dinner (which took place three years ago), Emil Michael, the right hand of CEO Travis Kalanick, heatedly complained to me about the press. The company, he told me, could hire a team of opposition researchers to fight fire with fire and attack the media — specifically to smear a female journalist who has criticized the company. I suggested to him that this plan wouldn’t really work because the story would immediately become a story about Uber behaving like maniacs. “Nobody would know it was us,” Michael responded. “But you just told me!,” I replied. […] Instead of making any meaningful changes, Uber simply pressed on for years. It found both continued growth and accumulating scandals. Many of its crises, like those remarks to me, were tinged with misogyny, whether sexual harassment of its engineers or pulling a rape victim’s medical files. After one of those engineers, Susan Fowler, stepped forward with a blog post detailing systemic sexual harassment and discrimination — a post that was followed up by a series of devastating stories by The New York Times, Recode, and others — the company invited former Attorney General Eric Holder to lead an internal investigation. Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Michael is set to resign, and Reuters reported Kalanick will take a leave of absence ahead of what’s expected to be a deeply damning Holder report. (Kalanick is also coping with a family tragedy.) They will leave having built the most valuable private company in the world. But it is a company whose cultural darkness is inseparable from its place as the icon of the tech boom. Uber — and the boom — have been defined both by massive new conveniences and by a corporate culture that is aggressive, paranoid, and dismissive of, in particular, complaints from women; a culture of enemies lists and cavalier approaches to the law. Emil Michael told Uber employees Monday that he has left the company.
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