Thursday, November 20, 2014

Silicon Valley exec threatens the journalists who cover him. Where does the financing behind him come from? Round up the usual suspects.

Are the fat cats financing Silicon
Valley predators?
Who would finance corporate desperadoes who flout the law in a variety of localities – and then threaten to dig up dirt on journalists who report on their shenanigans?

Who would in effect say, by handing largesse to the same desperados, “Go ahead. Thumb your nose at the law. Stick a finger in the eye of the public. Just make sure you return the vig on the money we put up for you.”

No, I’m not talking about the Mafia. The Tony Soprano types are small potatoes in comparison to these guys. I’m talking about some of the financial folks whose names pop up whenever the outrageously rich demand personal tax breaks for investing other peoples’ money if they’re hedge funders, or try to beat publishing houses and authors into submission if they’re silicon savages.

Here’s a list of the money sources reportedly behind the threat-makers. It's taken from a Silicon Valley online journal called Pando Daily, a watcher and critic of today’s new breed of highwaymen. 

Menlo Ventures
Google Ventures
Kleiner Perkins
Summit Partners
TPG Growth
Jeff Bezos
Troy Carter
Goldman Sachs
Scott Banister
Alfred Lin
Lowercase Capital
First Round
Naval Ravikant
Jason Calacanis
Shervin Pishevar

But let’s take a step back and explain this. 

Recently, the editor of Pando, and other journalists, began reporting on how Uber, a Silicon Valley disruptor company financed by people on the list you've just read, is muscling its way into various municipal markets with the equivalent of unlicensed  taxis. There’s big money in those smartphone-linked cabs, folks. And Uber didn’t like the negative publicity that some of its shadier activities were generating.

So at the Waverly Inn in New York City, at a dinner at which the the guests included the actor Ed Norton, the publisher Ariana Huffington, and the journalist Michael Wolff, Uber’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, Emil Michael, performed the communications equivalent of what a gangster signals by drawing his index finger across his throat.

Specifically, according to the online journal Buzzfeed, he “suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company.”

I see two possibilities here. One is that Michael expected the word to get out and scare the living crap out of journalists, especially the intrepid reporter Sarah Lacy, editor of the website Pando Daily. This would have had the effect of – shall we say “discouraging?” –  further criticism of Uber. Michael later defended himself by saying he thought he was speaking “off the record.” To which my cranky reaction is, so what?

If a hit man, off the record, says he plans to terrorize the local police chief and and is looking to find machete with which  to commit the crime, his remarks have no right to privacy. I would submit that Michael’s threat to in effect terrorize reporters and critics into silence through implicit blackmail are equally unprotected.

This is all the more newsworthy not only because of the big financiers behind Uber, but because, according to Buzzfeed, Michael sits on a board that advises the Department of Defense. I leave it to you to imagine where his kind of mentality could lead a key department of our government. And why does the government, or the board, tolerate his proximity to the Pentagon?

Moreover, The CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, has refused to fire Michael. That’s no big surprise.  Kalanick himself is no sweetheart either. The Financial Times reported in May:
…in January, Uber apologised after its New York team was busted for repeatedly calling and cancelling rides from a rival car service. Kalanick would not discuss the incident on the record but Uber admitted at the time that this method for getting drivers’ details, hoping to poach them, was “likely too aggressive a sales tactic.”
Right. Or as Tony Soprano might have said, "I told you guys just to bust the guy's kneecaps. What's with all this getting  aggressive and strangling him with a piano wire?"

It all makes you wonder if our former democracy, which has already devolved into a corruptocracy, is now sinking even further, into a state of anarchy where only big money sources like those on the list, and big bad guys, can win. 

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