As regular Pando readers will know, I recently removed myself from the Silicon Valley swamp.
And, you know what? It feels great. As if a thousand tonne sack of shit has been lifted from my shoulders.
Of course, like everyone else in the world, I’ve still found plenty to be depressed and horrified about. Even without a Twitter or Facebook feed, I’ve been unable (/unwilling) to hide from the horror of the Trump administration, or of the terror attacks in my former home city. Sloshing about in the tech world is a masochistic preference -- but paying close attention to the rise of modern American fascism is a civic duty.
The problem comes when the two worlds collide. When the kind of unspeakable, inhuman monsters who have invaded Washington DC reveal themselves in Silicon Valley. Or vice versa.
What takes precedence: My determination to quit the tech swamp, or my civic duty to pay attention to political figures behaving monstrously right here in the Valley?
Exhibit A: (Pando investor) Peter Thiel. A recovering Silicon Valley writer might choose to ignore Thiel’s Silicon Valley doings -- his role and that of his disciples (see: boorish decency-vacuums like Keith Rabois and Sam Altman) in cheerleading the culture of overwork, underhumanity and just plain factual wrongness that has come to dominate the public discourse in Silicon Valley.
But how can that same civic-minded addict ignore, in good conscience, Thiel’s role in funding and enabling Donald Trump? How can I pretend to care about Russia’s interference in global democracy without paying due attention to the role Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook played, and continued to play, in that same interference? Mark Zuckerberg who, lest we forget, counts as his greatest mentor (and longest serving board member) one Peter Andreas Thiel?
My answer, until now, has been to observe but not to report. As a news consumer, I can’t avoid reading about Silicon Valley awfulness when it jams against political awfulness. But as a writer, I certainly can. As I wrote in my Quitting the Swamp piece, there are plenty of highly capable reporters (including right here on Pando) still pounding the Valley/politics beat. They got this, as the kids say.
And then this morning happened.
This morning Re/Code reported that Uber executive Eric Alexander obtained the medical records of a woman who reported being raped by an Uber driver in India. He then passed them to his bosses, Travis Kalanick and Emil Michael who then distributed them to others. The aim of obtaining and distributing those records? Per Re/Code…
“[T]he executives were considering the scenario, based on their reading of the medical report, that the woman’s story was not true”
They obtained a rape victim’s medical records to disprove her story and protect Uber.
The incident reportedly occurred back in 2014, and came to light during the recent Perkins Coie investigation into Uber. But astonishingly (or not) Alexander wasn’t fired until Re/Code contacted Uber for comment on the story this week. Emil Michael (of course) remains in his post, as does Travis Kalanick.
Ignoring stories of Valley awfulness is one thing. Ignoring this story is quite another. And not least because, once again, we find at the blackened heart of this latest scandal a political player, turned Valley insider, by the name of Emil Michael.
Emil Michael, the former special assistant to the Secretary of Defense (later the head of the CIA). Emil Michael, the guy who helped bring that same head of the CIA into Uber as the head of “Uber Military”. Emil Michael, the guy who continues to act as a consultant to the Pentagon.
Emil Michael, in other words, who embodies everything cosy and terrifying about the relationship between the Valley and Washington DC.
Emil Michael. The guy who, as Buzzfeed reported back in 2014, threatened to spend a million dollars “go after” Sarah’s family because of Pando’s Uber coverage, boasting “nobody would know it was us.” Emil Michael, who later allegedly tried to smear Sarah again by encouraging surrogates to write blog posts describing her as an attention seeker, and Buzzfeed’s editor as a liar. Emil Michael, the guy who was in the group of Uber executives who infamously visited a Korean brothel and then aggressively pressured Travis Kalanick’s ex-girlfriend to help cover up the incident.
Emil Michael, in other words, who represents everything sociopathic, inhuman, sexist, bullying, unrepentant and protected about Silicon Valley's tech bro class.
THAT Emil Michael, we now learn, used a rape victim’s medical records in order to discredit her account and protect his boss-pal Travis Kalanick.
Now. I don’t care how removed you are trying to stay from the Valley ecosystem. I don’t care if you’re an Uber investor, terrified at losing your payday. I don’t care if you’re Arianna Huffington, the fiduciary “cool girl” of Silicon Valley whose entire role at Uber is to justify and excuse the unforgivable behavior of male executives. I don’t care if you’re an Uber employee or a journalist or anyone else who doesn’t want Emil Michael’s sights turned on them.
Everyone - EVERYONE - in the tech industry who claims to be outraged at the ugly, criminal, misogynistic, 1st amendment-crushing sociopath in the White House should be equally alarmed that someone like Emil Michael continues to stalk the halls of Uber. That he, despite being embroiled in or responsible for, some of Uber’s ugliest most inhuman scandals, continues to be protected by the same club of powerful, rich male bros who hired him in the first place.
To say that Emil Michael should be fired -- today -- is trite. Like saying Steve Bannon should be booted out of the White House. Well, duh.
What this latest scandal shows us is that nothing - NOTHING - has changed at Uber, and nothing will until both Michael and Kalanick are shown the door. Especially after this latest story - THE MEDICAL RECORDS OF A RAPE VICTIM - every day that passes before investors and board members rally together and force that outcome is equal to another 1,000 years they will each spend burning in eternal damnation. Maybe 2,000 years in the case of Bill Gurley, the Uber board member who reportedly introduced Michael to Uber in the first place and continues to enable him through cowardly silence.
While we count those days, it’s beholden on every reporter in Silicon Valley (even the recovering ones) to take their cue from their colleagues in DC and say loud and clear: This isn’t normal, this isn’t acceptable, this has to stop. The monsters have to go.