Civil Liberties

Pando Appalled That Uber Hires High-Powered Politicos, Media Allegedly Ignoring It

Criticizing a company under constant political assault for its political hires is to mistake the defense for the crime.


Tech world news and commentary site Pando today has a headline far more portentous and seemingly meaningful than its actual content delivers: "No one is telling you the real story behind Uber's latest layoffs."

Those latest layoffs are in their policy and communications arena, and are, Pando says, a result of the new woman in charge of that department, Rachel Whetstone, wanting to remake the department in her image and not that of her predecessor David Plouffe. They are appalled that this story is not being more deeply reported, though Pando itself provides no reported sourcing, even anonymous or suggestive, for their speculation about what the firing means. (Doesn't mean it's not true, natch, as remaking departments is a not-unusual thing for new bosses to do.)

But writer Paul Carr insists that this

telegraphs clearly how Uber intends to get more, not less, aggressive and shady in its dealings with both lawmakers and the media. If you were worried about Uber's power under Plouffe, you should be shitting yourself at what they'll be capable of under Whetstone.

Uber's "power," one supposes, to try to stay in business in the face of political and crony attempts to destroy them, though the story doesn't go into details about what it means by this apparently malign "power."

Carr goes on to note how journalistically irresponsible it is not to have stressed the background of one of Whetstone's prominent new hires, Jill Hazelbaker:

for the one-and-a-half years she spent running comms for John McCain's presidential campaign, having previously worked as press director on Michael Bloomberg's re-election campaign. Not for the fact that Hazelbaker is a towering posterchild for how major tech companies are hiring professional political strategists to manage their policy and communications teams.  

Nothing to see here, says the New York Times. Ignore the flashing red warning indicator that Uber is handing over control of its most important and influential department to career political operators.

The rest of the story goes on to act like, at Uber and beyond, Silicon Valley companies showing more seriousness about the politics of their business in hiring of political operatives is an unknown, unexpected, little considered and apparently worrisome secret that only they are hepping you to.

Now, Reason has been reporting for years now on the near-constant assault on Uber's (and its competitors') very ability to exist at the hand of mostly local, and sometimes state, governments and politically well-connected taxi cartels. We certainly haven't been alone; The New York Times itself as well as all sorts of legacy media covering cities had done the same, and continue to do the same on a near weekly or daily basis.

See Reason's Uber archives for literally dozens of such stories and videos.

I wrote very specifically, hooked off a Los Angeles Times story, back in July that a natural and obvious result is Uber learning that, as I wrote, "to be is to lobby" and spending tons of money and manpower on political machinations.

Inside-staffing issues that merely illuminate the incredibly obvious point that well, these companies have to worry more about politics and reflect it in their hires, aren't nearly as important as Pando pretends. 

That the result of what government tries to do to Uber will be Uber spending more effort and money and manpower lobbying and doing politics is not some mysterious secret, but bone-obvious to anyone, even if specific reporting doesn't go into the inside-baseball aspects of the specific names of internal hires in a behind-the-scenes way. Pando acts as if that's the real hidden story being "ignored."

As Pando concludes:

are political players stealthily seizing control of the New Power being amassed on the West Coast?

We'll keep asking those questions, and digging for answers. It'd be great if we weren't the only ones.

I think a more accurate and important question is, "Are politicians constantly trying to prevent West Coast companies from operating freely and making employees and customers better off, and are they having to waste time and money defending themselves?" Answer: yes.

Personnel questions can be interesting, and shouldn't be ignored entirely. But the specifics of which particular political operative gets these jobs is not the interesting story. Those specifics will continue to change as they already have. Focusing on that and  not on what political battles Uber faces would be the real obfuscating mistake.

What's important is that Uber is in a continuing and ongoing fight for its political life. That story could certainly always be better and more granularly told.

But to act as if the real, and somehow suggestively secretive and sinister, story is My God, Uber is fighting back against political efforts to crush it! By hiring political operatives! And even Republican ones! is to mistake the defense for the crime.