It should be common knowledge by now that if a celebrity runs their mouth on Twitter, a barrage of criticism will be rained upon them, courtesy of — well, people who have access to the Internet. This time around, the perpetrator is none other than Ashton Kutcher, defending an Uber executive's suggestion to investigate "shady" journalists.
"What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalists?" wondered Kutcher on Twitter. Well, a lot of things, actually, but let's start at the beginning. On Monday, BuzzFeed News revealed that the senior vice president of Uber, Emil Michael, floated the suggestion of hiring a team to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and more precisely, to circulate details of the personal life of PandoDaily founder and editor, Sarah Lacy. Why? Because Lacy wrote in an editorial that she deleted her Uber app after news surfaced that the company was working with a French escort service.
Michael, clearly hurt by one woman's opinion and the scope of her influence, relayed his grand ideas at a dinner he thought was off the record. According to BuzzFeed, he suggested spending "a million dollars" to hire four researchers and four journalists to help Uber combat the negative press by looking into the personal lives and families of journalists as ammo against media criticism.
Following his remarks — for which he quickly apologized — Michael was roundly and deservedly criticized. Then on Wednesday, Kutcher, an Uber investor himself, came to his rescue. He unleashed a series of tweets backing Michael's suggestion, arguing that journalists are public figures, thus the same amount of scrutiny should apply to their personal lives.
Kutcher then attempted to distance himself from the company, noting that they were his personal opinions and then wistfully wishing for a world where journalists were held to the same standards as public figures — e.g., himself, a high-profile celebrity.
Well, here I am now, questioning Kutcher, the source of this enlightened rant — what exactly do you find "shady" about Lacy? Is it her completely valid and professional criticism of Uber, and Silicon Valley in general? Kutcher is correct that rumors tend to spread faster than the truth, and obviously sources of information should always be questioned and challenged — because that's how society progresses — but the personal lives of said sources are not fair game. Lacy's criticism stems from her strong opinion on Uber's practices — opinions that she voiced in her professional capacity as PandoDaily's editor.
No doubt Kutcher is speaking from his experience as an actor, whose personal life is heavily picked apart and castigated. But that comes with the territory of being a truly voluntary public figure — it's not the same as a journalist.
Let's make this clear — there are good and bad journalists, but ultimately our role in society is to keep the higher powers in check. That is our profession, and if you have a problem with a journalist, their ability to do their job would be a better and more valid subject for analysis than their personal lives.
Uber, a mighty for-profit company reportedly valued at $18 billion, has been criticized for its aggressive, take-no-prisoners culture — not what its CEO does after-hours, in his own home, behind closed doors. Uber is then completely at liberty to respond to Lacy's — and other critics' — professional opinions, not draw attention to their personal lives. That, Mr. Kutcher, is what a level playing field looks like.
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