The fallout is still mounting over the November 17 BuzzFeed piece alleging that an executive of Uber said that his company should do opposition research on recalcitrant journalists and release their personal information to the public. But now the scrutiny is being turned against BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith for mischaracterizing the executive’s words.
Smartphone app transportation company Uber has been under fire since the BuzzFeed story was published. Critics have excoriated Uber exec Emil Michael for targeting journalists for destruction, and Michael was even charged with sexism for targeting a particular female reporter.
But all this criticism was based on Ben Smith’s characterization of what Uber exec Michael said. Now, a second journalist who was at that same dinner has published her version of what transpired and she says that BuzzFeed’s Smith has mischaracterized the whole incident–and maybe purposefully so.
At Huffington Post, Nicole Campbell wrote that she was also at the Michael dinner and felt it was a pleasant affair until Ben Smith started asking his questions.
Campbell hinted that BuzzFeed Ben was antagonistic to Emil Michael with his very first words. But she also noted that the Michael’s part of the conversation was far more hypothetical in nature than how Smith characterized it in his November 17 piece.
The HuffPo writer says that Michael did not say flat out that Uber should do opposition research on journalists and release it and that what he said was far more nuanced than that.
In fact, Campbell said that she felt that Michael was only being “flippant” about the opposition research idea. She also said that the mention of Sarah Lacy contained no sexist attack at all.
“I heard a mention of a Sarah Lacy,” Campbell wrote, “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.”
But there was no sexism, Campbell insisted.
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.
Campbell did note that she is a friend of Emil Michael, but that aside, she is furious that Smith and BuzzFeed “sensationalized” the whole incident.
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.
Campbell ended her piece on an unequivocally critical note.
“Sarah, take it from me that what Ben reported is not true.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.