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Wednesday, November 19, 2014


by digby

For those of you who haven't been following the Uber flap, it has two parts. The first is the fact that the Uber exec told a bunch of important people and journalists that he thought it was a great idea to dig up dirt on journalists who criticize the company essentially to blackmail them. Lovely fellow, lovely company. (He's since apologized for the remark. Sort of.)

The second half of the flap is about the fact that journalists routinely attend these gatherings as what PR people call "influencers" and agree to drink their wine and eat their food and keep whatever is said off the record. Buzzfeed's Ben Smith was invited to the Uber Influencer get-together by journalist Michael Wolff who didn't tell him that it was on background and so Smith wrote about what he heard. Wolff thinks that was teddibly untoward although, strictly speaking, it was perfectly ethical if you want to get all technical about it:
In an effort to argue its case with more care and professionalism, Uber has recently organized some background meetings with journalists and what are called in the PR trade, "influentials." I was invited to one such dinner last week in a private room at the Waverly Inn in New York. In turn I asked Ben Smith, BuzzFeed's editor in chief, if he'd like to come as my guest.

I had understood that the Uber dinner, like other such media meet-and-greets — I've been to hundreds over the years — was off the record. I neglected, however, to specifically tell Smith this. And while I might have fairly assumed Smith knew the context, this was my oversight — though surely not Uber's. I might have thought too that, as my date, he would have asked if there was an understanding — suffice to say, he didn't ask, and likely, didn't want to know.
Yes he certainly didn't want to know that. Because he is a journalist. And journalists are supposed to write about what powerful people are saying behind closed doors when they hear them saying it. What's telling here isn't that Smith didn't seek permission to write about something that nobody told him was off the record --- something I would hope most reporters do every day. What's interesting is Wolff's comment here:

I had understood that the Uber dinner, like other such media meet-and-greets — I've been to hundreds over the years — was off the record. I neglected, however, to specifically tell Smith this. And while I might have fairly assumed Smith knew the context, this was my oversight...

What the hell?

I'm not a member of the New York or LA media cognoscenti by any means. But I have attended a few dinners and fundraisers attended by politicians, businessmen and media celebrities over the years. Never once have the hosts, and often the speakers and guests as well, failed to say explicitly that they were off the record if they were off the record. The idea that anyone would just assume such a thing where media are present is mind-boggling to me. The fact that Wolff and the others who were there have no problem with this says everything you need to know about the cozy insiderism that exists among all these elite players.

But even beyond that, this idea that all these rich people hire PR firms to get "influencers" in the media together to let their hair down and tell it like it is without the riff raff being in on it is pretty sickening. I would never attend such an event if someone told me it was off the record. I can buy my own meals, thank you. And I certainly wouldn't want to be stuck in the same room for hours with people like this for no good reason.