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Sometimes It Really Is the Cover-Up

Brian Solomon, writing for Forbes about Uber’s South Korean “karaoke/escort bar” scandal:

If true, that incident would be bad enough, but it appears to have emerged solely due to Uber’s attempts to cover it up. According to Holzwarth, Emil Michael called her three weeks ago as the news about Uber’s workplace culture became a full-fledged scandal. Michael allegedly asked her not to speak to the press and to pretend the visit was simply to a regular karaoke bar. From The Information:

When Mr. Michael called, he told her that “things have been really rough out here,” referring to Uber’s issues. He then said, “Remember that night in Korea?” There are reporters, he said, who will try to “break the story and I just want to go over things with you. We just went to a karaoke bar and that’s all that happened, right?”

It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” is a cliché, but in this case it’s true. I didn’t emphasize that in my first post about this incident. Here’s what I think:

Personally, I think these establishments are morally repulsive.

I understand that Asian culture is different from U.S. culture, and I understand that part of Asian culture — certainly in South Korea — is “doing business” in such establishments. But The Information’s story doesn’t say the Uber execs were “doing business” with Koreans. They were a bunch of Americans out amongst themselves, so the cultural norms of South Korea aren’t relevant.

And, most importantly, the real issue here is Emil Michael asking Gabi Holzwarth to lie about the incident. That’s outrageous. It should be considered a firing offense even if you personally think these “karaoke/escort” joints are A-OK. In addition to being the wrong thing to do, morally, it was also incredibly stupid, because Holzwarth told The Information that the reason she came forward with the story is because she was so outraged (rightfully so) by Michael’s request that she lie about the incident:

“I’m not going to lie for them,” she said in an interview with The Information this week. In the interview, she described Mr. Kalanick as “part of a class of privileged men who have been taught they can do whatever they want, and now they can.”

She said she wouldn’t have considered speaking publicly had Mr. Michael not attempted to “silence” her.

I can see the argument for keeping a personally reprehensible executive who is doing amazing work. I’m not saying I agree with it. I don’t, actually. I’m just saying I can see the logic. I can’t see the logic in keeping a personally reprehensible executive who would do something as stupid — not just wrong but stupid — as calling a former colleague and telling her to lie to the media if asked.