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Uber CEO compares pedestrian death to murder of Saudi journalist, saying all should be forgiven

Uber PRs missing the days of Travis Kalanick

Opinion Two years ago, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was brought in to help the company recover from a long series of ethical and moral lapses. But based on an interview this week, it seems the company’s culture may be rubbing off on him more than he is impacting it.

Pressed on the issue of the Saudi Arabian government’s investment in the company and specifically Uber board member Yasir al-Rumayyan, who represents Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Khosrowshahi was notably uncomfortable. But that discomfort soon turned into something far worse.

The journalist in question, Dan Primack of Axios, pushed on the fact that the Saudi government had murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its embassy in Istanbul - an act that has been called a “deliberate, premeditated execution” by the UN - and asked if it is appropriate that a representative from that government be on the board of an American company.

Khosrowshahi not only fluffed the response but did something far, far worse: he downplayed the murder of an innocent man, calling it a “mistake”, then compared it directly to his own company’s “mistake” when it ran down and killed a pedestrian in a self-driving car. He then argued that everyone should be forgiven, and defended the Saudi government’s investment in Uber - all while being given multiple opportunities to backtrack. You can see the car-crash interview (pun intended) below.

Youtube Video

It’s easy to see the response as a temporary lapse in judgment under pressure - and indeed that’s what Khosrowshahi has argued in a subsequent response the day after the interview. He tweeted: "I said something in the moment that I do not believe. When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused."

Money talks

But the fact that Uber CEO’s first instinct was to defend against the murder of a journalist in order to avoid upsetting an investor, and then repeatedly failed to recognize the seriousness of the situation - calling it first a “mistake” and then a “serious mistake” - is an extraordinary indication of the continued lack of morals or ethics at the ride-hailing company.

Presumably in Khosrowshahi’s mind, his attempted pivot to the company’s own responsibility for the death of pedestrian Elaine Herzberg was a way of getting onto firmer ground while also indicating that Uber was taking the situation seriously. But then, in the same sentence, he made it plain that he thinks Uber should be forgiven for its failure to consider the existence of jaywalkers in its software which resulted in Herzberg’s death.

By directly comparing the two, he ended up implying that the Saudi government should be forgiven for its “mistake” of planning the murder and dismemberment of a vocal critic of the country’s leadership.

In short, it was an unbelievably bad response and one that makes you think about an oft quoted study by Australia’s Bond University and a researcher from the University of San Diego that found 21 per cent of senior professionals in the US had a “clinically significant” level of psychopathic traits. Which is roughly the same percentage as professional criminals.

Quick test

Is Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi a psychopath? Well, let’s take a look at the main traits that the most respected psychopath test - the revised Psychopathic Personality Inventory - looks for:

  • Machiavellian egocentricity - best described as a lack of empathy and sense of detachment from others
  • Social Potency: The ability to charm and influence others
  • Coldheartedness: A distinct lack of emotion, guilt, or regard for others' feelings
  • Carefree nonplanfulness: Difficulty in planning ahead and considering the consequences of one's actions
  • Fearlessness: An eagerness for risk-seeking behaviors, as well as a lack of the fear that normally goes with them
  • Blame externalization: Inability to take responsibility for one's actions, instead blaming others or rationalizing one's behavior
  • Impulsive nonconformity: A disregard for social norms and culturally acceptable behaviors
  • Stress immunity: A lack of typical marked reactions to traumatic or otherwise stress-inducing events

So how does responding to a question about the gruesome murder of a journalist by calling it a mistake and then equating that mistake to another mistake in which your company killed someone because you have failed to consider an obvious component of driving on roads in your self-driving car program, and then insisting that you be forgiven, come in that listing?

Well, let’s be honest, not well. Still, Khosrowshahi apologized on Twitter so there’s that.

Uber’s share price went up 0.4 per cent today. ®


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