Your Backlash Against Sarah Lacy Is Misplaced
Resent the attention she’s getting? Uber singled HER out.
Ah, backlash. You are delightfully predictable in the annals of Silicon Valley controversies, especially when one of the players is a woman. Oh, don’t clutch your pearls and pretend to be shocked. I’m not. I’ve been wondering when the anti-Sarah Lacy shoe would drop.
Not because I think it should — as far as I’m concerned she’s pretty damned entitled to go on the offensive after Uber exec Emil Michael detailed some pretty fleshed-out plans to dig up dirt on nettlesome journalists. Specifically, one nettlesome journalist: Sarah Lacy.
Lacy’s news site Pando Daily has come out swinging against Uber with every PR minefield they’ve stepped into (the hot-chick drivers in France, the lax driver background checks, “Boober”). As a result, Emil Michael wasn’t a fan. It could have been left there, but Michael had the poor judgment to hold forth about his plans for getting back at journalists to a journalist, Ben Smith. That story blew up — throwing Sarah Lacy into the spotlight as the one journalist named, and threatened. (“Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.”)
Lacy, as the targeted journalist named in Ben Smith’s piece, was naturally asked for her reaction. Have you met Sarah Lacy? She is no shrinking violet. She speaks her mind. Uber handed her a megaphone, and she used it.
And lo, the backlash. I’m writing this in specific response to Lane Wood’s “Here Ego Again” which takes Lacy on for not being the right kind of victim. Why is she so outspoken? Why is she retweeting positive tweets about herself? Why does she seem to be…enjoying this?
Ding ding ding! That’s the warning bell that goes off in my brain any time someone questions an outspoken woman’s behavior on anything other than the merits. That is ALL Wood’s piece is about. Which is a problem.
It’s MY problem. Because I’m a scrappy woman, too. If this were me I’d do pretty much exactly what Lacy is doing — come out swinging. And when I read a takedown of her that wonders why she’s doing anything else other than lying daintily on a fainting couch, it feels personal. So, here’s my backlash to the backlash — ‘cause I’m feeling a little scrappy, too:
- “She’s saying she’s terrified… but at the same time she seems to be enjoying this newfound attention.” This is Imperfect Victim Shaming 101. So she’s only credible if she’s trembling in fear? Is the only permissible response one of weakness? How about if she’s pissed? Or righteously psyched to be taking some bullies on? Her Twitter handle is @sarahcuda, for God’s sake. Not only that, general public sentiment seems not only with her, but with the very coverage that Emil Michael was reacting to. Uber’s remarks may have freaked her out, but they didn’t water her down. That’s a credit to her, if anything.
- “Seeing her on Bloomberg smiling while talking about her kids being in danger makes me feel like I’m watching an episode of The Mentalist.” I just watched that Bloomberg segment. It’s here. In it, Lacy is clearly impassioned and outraged, details the security changes she’s made for herself and her family based on feeling targeted by the specter of a big-budget oppo research outfit that, according to Ben Smith’s piece, specifically mentioned getting to her through her family. But remember your place, Lacy! You’re on this show as a victim, so you’d best act like it. Being caught in a genuine facial reaction over the course of a 19-minute clip won’t do at all.
- “I can’t know her intentions, but the reality is, this story helps her personal profile and it boosts readership for her company, Pando Daily.” Yes! Yes it does. Should she…apologize for that? Last I checked she wasn’t the one blabbing about a million-dollar oppo research outfit. Taking on big targets means attracting attention — and vice-versa. Goliaths, choose your Davids wisely.
- “Sarah’s a media master. She’s winning, even as she plays the part of a victim. And that duality bugs me - much more than investor disclosures.” Hear that, victims? YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO WIN. You are just supposed to cower. Anything else makes you a hypocrite. So if you’re actually, you know, smart and knowledgeable and stuff, just keep that to yourself. Wouldn’t want to bug anyone.
- “This story is a part of Sarah’s longstanding mission to paint Uber as misogynistic and abusive to women.” Er, as opposed to pointing out ways in which Uber has shown itself to be problematic with respect to women. That so-called “mission” is rooted in reported facts. (If you need a break from Lacy, Megan Carpentier does a great job of outlining them here.)
- “Maybe I missed something, but as offensive as Emil’s statements might have been, my understanding is that no one ever threatened to physically harm Sarah or her kids.” You don’t get to decide how someone should react to a personal threat made explicitly against them and their family. If you think she’s overreacting, that’s on you. Try being an outspoken women in the public eye sometime. Or you could just ask one — Brianna Wu, Anita Sarkeesian, Kathy Sierra… Yeah. That’s what you missed.
- “Another account from a woman at the event seems to confirm no threats were made.” Wrong. She reported having sat “one seat over” from Emil Michael during the dinner and having overheard some of the conversation. Ben Smith, who was IN the conversation, DID report threats (the oppo team would “look into ‘your personal lives, your families,’ and give the media a taste of its own medicine…Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy”). Neither Emil Michael nor Uber disputed Smith’s report.
- “She claimed that she was going to get off of Twitter to spend time with her family, then promptly continued to engage with Arianna Huffington and retweeted positive tweets about herself for the next several hours.” Once again Lacy’s credibility comes under fire for “claiming” an emotional response seemingly belied by her self-promoting actions. Wood screengrabs two of Lacy’s tweets with an hour and a half elapsed between them. Why didn’t she spend more time with her family? Wood seems skeptical about her “claims.” (He does not, however, seem skeptical about retweeting his own positive tweets. Which is fine! Have at it. Just apply a consistent standard.)
- “Attention is addictive…. Journalists can fall prey to the same hubris they accuse their subjects of having. Especially when they’re in the center of the story.” Ah, the attention-seeking and self-promoting Lacy is believing her own hype — which makes her no better than Uber, or something. This makes no sense considering that everything Lacy has ever written about Uber has been in response to something specific the company has done. (This is a good time to note that Wood spends one paragraph criticizing Uber and the rest of the piece devoted to the many transgressions of Lacy.)
- “Tech journalism should play a major and important role in keeping fast-growing companies and their execs honest. But who keeps the storytellers honest when their readership rewards drama?” Billion-dollar companies with $1 million oppo research budgets? And lo, we are back to where we started.
The who-polices-the-policers trope is well-worn — it is basically the raison d’être for media criticism — but as my old law school pal Lord Denning would say, it’s meant as a shield, not a sword. “Keeping them honest” requires a thorough and fair investigation on the merits. Here that clearly fails.
Just as Lane Wood takes a moment at the end of his post to note that he knows some people at Uber, I will note that I know Lane Wood! For a number of years, always warmly. I’ve also known Lacy for years, and know from experience that she pulls no punches (and she knows from experience that I will scrap right back. It was pretty fucking harrowing at the time but hey, no regrets). I don’t have an agenda here other than to call out damaging tropes about women when they push back, own their power, and refuse to let victimhood define them.
As for Uber, it’s clearly a brilliant and much-needed concept that has the power to revolutionize the transportation industry, and probably more. But the criticisms leveled at it are legit. Support the company, sure, but do not dismiss the very real concerns from customers about safety, process, and culture. It all matters. Goliaths, choose your Davids wisely.
Rachel Sklar is a writer and entrepreneur who claims to have founded Change The Ratio in 2010.