Uber investor Ashton Kutcher sees no issue in the transport company attacking journalists and in fact appears to be encouraging the behavior.

Ashton Kutcher Uber

“What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalists?” he asked in a tweet. “We are all public figures now.”

Uber executive Emil Michael wanted the company to spend $1 million

The genesis of Kutcher’s comments came as the controversy first surfaced two days ago. This is when BuzzFeed reporter Ben Smith, quoting Uber executive Emil Michael at a dinner party earlier in the month, saying he wanted Uber to spend $1 million to hire a team of “opposition researchers” to dig up dirt on journalistic critics to presumably intimidate them into backing off their reporting.

The raw intimidation of the press drew swift condemnation in media and technical circles as “thuggish” behavior that seemed to fit a pattern of perceived ethical lapses at the $17 billion start-up, which has been accused by rivals accusing it of trying to sabotage their business by scheduling and canceling thousands of rides. Yesterday BuzzFeed reported that one of its reporters were being tracked by Uber in the wake of its reporting of the original incident, a violation of the company’s own privacy policy.

Kutcher and the shady journalists

Kutcher’s word choice of “shady” comes into sharp focus, as the journalist in question appeared to do nothing “shady” other than question what has been widely reported as an aggressive, cut throat business model. The journalist, Sarah Lacy, may have been aggressive in her reporting, writing that Uber had an “asshole culture,” there is no evidence of what might be considered “shady,” such as misstatement of facts or intentionally misleading articles to benefit a competitor.

While their was no direct evidence presented that anything Lacy wrote presented half truths, Kutcher non the less continued his rant.

“So as long as journalist are interested and willing to print half truths as facts… Yes we should question the source.”

Of course there is nothing wrong with questioning a source or even challenging journalists – in fact more of it should be done. But such challenges should be done based on facts and actual misrepresentations. In evaluating Lacy’s work, it was aggressive and opinionated, but well reasoned and didn’t appear to mislead.

Journalists retaliate on Twitter

After defending Uber on Twitter, journalists roundly attacked Kutcher.

“What about a shady actor?” tech columnist Kara Swisher tweeted.  “Hats off to @BuzzFeedBen for not sitting there like a dope and allowing that creep from @Uber to get away w putting hit jobs on reporters,” Tweeted Fox Business Network’s Senior Correspondent Charlie Gasparino.

“And at some point, an asshole culture just goes too far,” wrote Lacy in her original article about Uber that generated such commotion.  The same goes for misguided tweets from boring mainstream celebrities.

Kutcher would later retract his statements, sort of. “U r all right and I’m on the wrong side of this ultimately. I just wish journalists were held to the same standards as public figures,” he tweeted.