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Uber CEO calls Saudi murder of Khashoggi “a mistake,” scrambles to backtrack (axios.com)
103 points by smacktoward 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

A prototype self-driving car runs over a person due to negligence on the part of the test operator who was supposed to prevent it and failures on the part of the team who created the vehicle.

It was not negligence or failures that sent killers to an embassy before Mr. Kashoggi was scheduled to arrive, strangled him, cut him up into pieces, sent out a body double as a distraction, disposed of the evidence, and lied about everything.

Wow, that lets everyone at Uber off the hook for the self driving car incident. The safety operator certainly isn’t blameless, but I’d argue that her eventual complacency should have been predicted and mitigated against by Uber.

If they're both "mistakes" then I guess what he's trying to say is that they deliberately programmed the car to run people over and it wasn't mere negligence?

You dont know, maybe the Saudi Royal Prince had a couple of drinks with his head of security, maybe said a few things under the influence. The head of security also had a few drinks, made a few drunk dials. You know how it is to be a Royal Prince, shit happens.

It reeks of "no real person involved." Just an inconvenient abstraction to them.

The NRPI expression is something I first heard about on the HBO show Succession. Does that phrase have a history of use before that show? If I google it, I only come up with hits for the tv show.

I hadn’t heard NRPI until Succession but I’ve heard NHI for “No Human Involved” in the context of crimes committed against sex workers. The only thing that comes up on Wikipedia is the name of a CSI episode though so I’m not sure if it’s a term that’s actually used by police. I would hope not.

I only know it from the show. But the term captured something about our society so well that it instantly felt familiar.

The mistake in both cases was getting caught.

Wow, just to restate this conversation in a different way: the ceo of a major company would rather remind the world of the time their car _killed_ someone then condemn a murder by one of his investors.

Good on the journalist for asking tough questions and not letting him weasel out.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

I feel that quote describes a lot of the current issues in Silicon Valley.

This definitely reminds me of the scene where Gavin gets pelted with a water ballon and storms into his office yelling “There was a time where guys like me could have guys like that killed! But, times have changed.” And then turning to his lawyers, “unless...”

In Silicon Valley someone would probably say "It is problematic to get a contributor to internalize something when his compensation depends on him considering it a corner-case."

That is like Trump's "You think our country's so innocent?" cubed.

At least this is in the article too:

After the interview aired, the Uber head tried to disassociate himself from it, saying he had misspoken. “I said something in the moment that I do not believe,” Khosrowshahi said in a statement Monday. “When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”

> “I said something in the moment that I do not believe”

Sure he didn't. This is like a political version of Schrödinger's Douchebag.


Not to gotcha this, but "I'm someone whose statements should not be taken to heart" is not a message I'd want to convey in an apology.

Then again, corporate communication is often a game of being as cynical as you can get away without getting arrested or having your business shut down, so maybe there's some meta-honesty here.

There's also Angelou's "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

Boy, he sure committed a verbal Khashoggi murder there.

And yet he continues to be a board member, so what good is this?

The initial shock from this statement is the downplaying of a deliberate decision to torture and murder a man as an 'accident'.

However, what I find more surprising is that he would associate the Uber incident with Khashoggi at all. Why would you want to tie together the thought of a brutal, politically motivated murder, to that of your self-driving car running someone over?

I think he thinks that Kashoggi's murder was something like a situation that had gotten out of hand, or that it was decided by some low rank official. Otherwise, as you say, it wouldn't make sense to compare it to an actual accident (however caused by reckless behaviour).

To be honest this won't assure anyone. This is not a very politically savvy move, to quite understate it.

EDIT: to expound further, the CEO has to have caught wind that the company is facing an amount of criticism for the killing of the pedestrian. To use it to justify another, popularly condemned act requires a good lack of political sense.

Not surprised ... Softbank funded companies seems to have a thing for appointing wackadoodle CEO's.

Everyone giving this guy so much shit like they've never accidentally tortured someone to death and cut them up into little pieces. SMH.

To all of you moralizing how could the Uber CEO say the wrong word about the horrific Kashoggi murder... look in the mirror for a second.

I find it weird that when it comes to Saudi Arabia the vast majority of Americans seem to only care about Kashoggi and when to comes to Libya Americans seem to care only about four Benghazi Embassy workers. It occupies 99% of the outrage space.

So much outrage and ink spilled, Benghazi Benghazi 24 hours a day for years, by Republicans because it made the “untouchable” Hillary Clinton lose a lot of political support.

Meanwhile, the Saudi coalition bombs Yemen relentlessly, creating arguably the worst humanitarian disaster of modern times, and we continue to sell them weapons.

Meanwhile Libya is a failed state, an embarassment to the International community, millions of people live in dangerous country overrun by gangs, because we invaded and removed the government and created a political vaccum.

But we care ONLY about four embassy workers and one person who isn’t even a US citizen.

When a major stadium in Beirut was attacked by ISIS same day as the Paris attacks, countries around the world flew French flags but Lebanon was a footnote.

We certainly do seem to think of Arabs as “others” even if many of them are white like in Lebanon.


Boko Haram is terrorizing Nigeria, but we don’t talk much about it. People are fleeing a drought in Honduras. Right in our back yard, the Zetas and Sinaloa cartel have been beheading people and running entire cities for decades, but not getting nearly the coverage of ISIS. Instead many people just focus on how there is an “invasion” of refugees at the border and we need to declare a national emergency.

We need to start thinking of all humans as equally worthy of our compassion.

Well, people generally care more about death of an old neighbor compared to death of 1000 children half around the globe. Call it tribalism, call it stupid and shortsighted (I would use both), but we are who we are...

Now how to change this is a gazillion $$ question. It seems that major media are actually working against this and prefer stirring up nonsense rather than educating crowds. Because it sells much better, and that's because we are who we are...

>"I find it weird that when it comes to Saudi Arabia the vast majority of Americans seem to only care about Kashoggi and when to comes to Libya Americans seem to care only about four Benghazi Embassy workers. It occupies 99% of the outrage space."

The majority of the Americans I know care about human rights, gender equality, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and democracy. The macabre and brazen murder of Kashoggi intersects with more than a couple of those concerns. The people responsible intersect with all of those concerns. There is not shortage or reason's to be outraged.

Your inclusion of Bhengazi here is truly absurd.

Nothing absurd about it. Benghazi is an even more egregious example of the phenomenon I mentioned.

The phenomenon is the amount of outrage at what happens to four Americans while at the same time hardly any coverage of the MILLIONS of non-Americans who have to live and face atrocities in the failed state of Libya we helped destroy. That’s the phenomenon, Kashoggi is just another example.

I don't know who this "we" is you're talking about. Many of us are outraged over Saudi atrocities going all the way back to 9/11.

I understand the shock people feel at seeing Dara's dissembling answer, but the vast vast majority of Silicon Valley has done nothing to lessen its ties to Saudi money, and almost none of the major tech figures who feted Mohammed bin Salman on his US publicity tour -- Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Sundar Pichai, Jack Dorsey, Peter Thiel, or Reid Hoffman -- have said a word in protest of the Khashoggi assassination. Hopefully the furor around this video will encourage some intrepid journalist to ask them!

I feel like I should stop working in tech and pursue a more profitable career as a common sense advisor to CEOs and Professional Athletes.

you might be surprised to find out their advisors are telling them to do this wacky stuff, to get press. (source: old friend works in Hollywood PR, its insane!)

But I am not sure this statement can be forgiven.

Let's all act shocked!

1- Uber is funded in part by Saudis.

2- They don't consider jaywalkers in their autonomous driving software showing that human life is ... not important.

I think I read somewhere that the concept of jaywalking was invented by the automobile industry. Go back to 1850 and the idea that you can't just walk across the street would be seen as inane.

Uh. That's terrifying either way the comparison goes.

The headline should reflect that he has since acknowledged that this was a stupid thing to say and that he claims he does not believe it. It is telling to see the lengths to which one will go to please the Saudis. First you say something in public to show fealty to the authoritarian then you categorically retract the statement and apologize. Most people will never hear the retraction because most people won’t read the article but those who do business with him will do so, allowing him to save face while losing some little-valued public dignity. The news media plays into this perfectly because they will twist the story to be as clickable as possible; he is not referred to by name but rather by position and his retraction is not in the headline because maximum outrage begets maximum clicks.

Didn't SA just invest in Travis' new startup?

Guy is just a typical CEO who says what he needs to inorder to please his current audience. It would have been better to make no comment as he really was stuck between a rock and a hard place if you only consider it from the perspective of his role.

It's it really about the comment. Sometimes the reality is so stark that merely asking the question is the whole point, and the answer doesn't matter at all.

Like the House of Saud can't prevent dissidents from being murdered by Saudi thugs, the House of Uber can't prevent pedestrians from being run over by Uber cars. They would prefer other outcomes but if somebody's in the way, mistakes are going to happen. Take note and step out of the way, little human.

The Saudi regime is legally executing people for "witchcraft" and other choice infractions. The extralegal murders only happen when the legal options are exhausted. I'm not sure where the parallel to Uber is there. Maybe the comparison was a mistaken one from the start?

Saudi Arabia invested heavily in uber.

Just FYI.

Yeah, It's mentioned in the article

>Khosrowshahi’s call for forgiveness of the Saudis, Uber’s fifth largest investor, included a callous comparison to the company’s missteps in the self-driving technology space where, in March 2018, one of its vehicles accidentally struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.

>Khosrowshahi’s call for forgiveness of the Saudis

The Saudis planned and carried out the brutal murder of minor dissident on foreign soil. Forgiveness? This is embarrassing. Where are the SV overlords, calling this out?

As a non-native speaker, I'm confused and irritated that the word "compare" is used in the meaning "equate". In math, I can compare any scalar value to any other scalar value; what I can't do is equate them. Is it indeed used incorrectly in this context, or am I missing something?

In this case “compare” is used in a less formal way, basically “these things are in the same category”.

If the speaker had said “those things can’t be compared” that would mean one was so much worse than the other that they weren’t even in the same category.

It’s the same sense of the word you might use in the saying “you can’t compare apples and oranges.” The conditions that make an apple good are not the same as the conditions that make an orange good.

It is the correct usage and it is not used to mean “equate” in this case.

compare - ”estimate, measure, or note the similarity or dissimilarity between”

To use the word “equate” may go a step too far because he did not actually say that the two are equal, he said that they were both mistakes. Saying that he “compared” rather than “equated” invites less criticism of their reporting.

Sorry you were downvoted for asking for language clarification. An anti-Saudi story will attract those with general anti-foreigner sentiment who like to police the comments to make sure we’re all red-blooded, freedom-loving flag-wavers. This one will also attract anti-capitalists, so it could be quite a rollercoaster.

Sorry for the idioms.

There’s something hilarious about every saudi/us story.

A son of a wealthy saudi family recruited a bunch of saudis to attack the the US, and suceeded(!) yet there’s been no backlash on saudi arabia..

But hold on, Iran is financing Hezbollah in Lebanon, obviously US resources should focus on this!

This seems like a really bad comparison. You could take it as Dara Khosrowshahi saying that über's self driving car program was created with the intention of killing people.

Oh yeah, Saudi's brutally tortured and murdered Khashoggi, Uber's self-driving car ran over a woman, and I forgot to take out the trash this week on trash day. All mistakes, all equal. Are we going to hold this over their heads forever, it was /just a mistake/.... /s

"I didn't read the CIA report" well neither did I but from the coverage alone I would never call this a "mistake". Also they own 1/5th of your company, do some fucking research, if anything you should be more informed about this than the average American.

I'm getting rather sick of this bury-your-head-in-the-sand tatic more and more people are taking when it comes to reprehensible things. "I didn't read the CIA report", "I don't read his tweets", "I didn't read the muller report", "I didn't read the whistleblower report" - IT'S YOUR GOD DAMN JOB, I don't know why we continue to allow ignorance of current events directly related to people's jobs to be a valid excuse.

Would you please not rant like this in HN comments? Venting indignation doesn't make this place better, and whatever substantive comment you have to make can be made in a way that adds information, not noise. When the froth rises all the way to allcaps, that's particularly a sign of the wrong thresholds being passed.


Also, please don't post the same comment twice: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21505062. Duplication is a sure way to add noise not signal. (Also, when there are duplicate submissions, we'll probably merge them, in which case your comment will appear twice in the same thread or we have to make special effort to exempt it from merging, and also move any replies that it got so that the replying users aren't punished for your duplication.)

Feedback taken, I apologize and will refrain from ranting in the future. I was unaware of the merging of stories being a normal thing on HN as I regularly see multiple stories posted about the same topic (not same link). I posted on one story then went the the home page, saw it posted under a different link and copied my comment over as it appeared to be where more discussion was happening.

Thanks for replying so nicely!

Yes, we definitely don't merge all of them but we do get many:



Does it bother you that the VC industry appears heavy involved in laundering money from high level criminals and thugs?

It would me.

That's a different question.

You answered it enough for me though.

I'd be curious to hear what information you derived from my answer; you might be surprised how wrong it is.

The main thing going on is that we've learned—the hard way—over the years to keep the moderation channel out-of-band where possible. To do otherwise has a crossing-the-streams effect that blows up into a off-topic and low-quality discussion. Since we're trying to value quality over quantity in all things, we try to avoid that. It doesn't follow that we feel unbothered by money laundering, criminals, or thugs.

I agree with you but in my opinion this could be seen as another symptom of societies with proliferating unaccountable leaders (in the so-called free world). We may think of some as harmless showmans that are all bark and no bite but they are dangerous precisely because they set precedents with what they say, how they behave and especially because of the lack of consequences thereof. We can only hope that it's about to change...

How do you know he wouldn’t have been hacked to pieces if he wouldn’t have supported the Saudis?

Not trying to troll or anything, but why does opinion of a business exec on what the Saudis did matter one way or the other?

It gives quite an insight into the ethics of big business, or lack thereof.

Its becoming blatently apparent that high tech is heavily tied to saudi interests which are (not so) secretely supporting radical sunni interests in the middle east starting with the arab spring and our state departments conflicted interest and collaboration with tech at that time. I would not be surprised if we found evidence that social media companies were involved in creating bots to fan those flames leading to the death of thousands.

I don't think "radical" or "Sunni" are the key features here. "Genocidal" and "oppressive" are.

I recognize the social need to project the avoidance of religious discrimination, but if the "genoicidal" and "oppresive" behaviors can be directly tied to radical religious motivations then the label is apt.

So what are you gonna do about it?

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke

Contrast this with the NBA or Blizzard Activition.

My guess is what the Uber CEO said will be buried pretty quickly.

Unless he's saying a self-driving car death is as heinous as a political assassination...

Well, at least he’s now likely to get an OED entry under the examples for “Freudian slip.”

Does Lyft support and minimize the torture and murder of journalists who go to embassies to get marriage documents then chop up their bodies put the body parts in a suitcase and bury them in their backyard? All the while the fiance is waiting outside for her future husband to return?

I think this statement is reprehensible, still is this post an HN material?

The challenge for an only-upvote system is articles like this, which perhaps aren’t flag-worthy, but will induce enough users to rage-vote to hit the front page.

I’d downvote it if I could, but I wouldn’t flag it outright even though it’s the kind of “gotcha” story which has no content of its own, and doesn’t tend to elicit particularly interesting commentary.

If HN is going to cover business articles then yes.

HN covers intellectually interesting articles: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Rage posts lead to rage threads. Those get many reflexive upvotes but tend not to be intellectually interesting. This thread is a case in point.

I thought it was intellectually interesting in that I wasn’t at all expecting Khosrowshahi to say that. Then it seriously got me to rethink how deep KSA’s talons are in Silicon Valley. I came up in the Sun Microsystems and Google generation of early profitability and fierce independence. This anti-unicorn era of unprofitability and obsequious dependence is disappointing. But if you are beholden to your funder then you are beholden to their politics. It really was the SV business angle I found interesting.

That's as strong a case as anyone could make and I appreciate it. Perhaps if you or someone had posted a full comment like that early in the thread, it could have taken an intellectually interesting direction—they are sensitive to initial conditions.

What all large companies does SA have a huge stake in?

Twitter, Uber...

There's no such thing as bad publicity.

-- the French aristocrats before the Revolution.

I'm not saying we're gonna see heads rolling anytime soon, just that people tend to forget until they don't.

I wish people would boycott Uber until he apologizes for putting money ahead of actual human life.

career suicide for this guy. Good look with that IPO now dude.

Here I go making mistakes again, murdering people left and right, i'm so clumsy, mondays right? - Saudis probably

From now on a particularly bad example of false equivalence will be known as a 'khosrowshahi'.

Neither of these were mistakes. The one was a premeditated murder, the other gross negligence.

Is it a false equivalence though? Both show an utter disregard for human life, unde the guise of "guy in charge says get the job done, and is indifferent to whether someone innocent gets killed". I'm sure MBS would have been happy if Jamaal Khashoggi would have survive but stopped criticizing the Saudi govt or whatever. But if the business and the people in it happen to kill someone, that's OK too.

From Uber CEO's perspective, this is about the amoral organization optimizing for profit, not about the specific people who did the torturing. Would it be mere negligence if the tortures were AI drones instead of people?

There were so many other things he could have said and not created this maelstrom – "Of course Mr. Khashoggi's murder was reprehensible and inexcusable, but we're told by the Crown Prince that it was a rogue operation, and we trust that's the case. If a member of our board were involved in this sort of heinous act, I would be asking for his or her resignation."

But he didn't, and squirmed with a few "well, you're obviously deeper in this than I am" indications that he wasn't well-prepared on this issue.

It's tough for a CEO to go from talking to the press about the tech behind their tech company to talking about everything else in the world – that's what the CEOs of conglomerates and oil companies spend decades of their career being groomed into. In this case, he's learning on the job, the hard way.

> but we're told by the Crown Prince that it was a rogue operation, and we trust that's the case

We also believe in:

- the tooth fairy

- SantaClaus

And many other such examples besides. All that wriggling in order not to find a reason to resign and show some conscience. Either that or be blunt about it, what he really should have said was:

"Yes, Khashoggi was murdered. My investors unfortunately are lying murderous scum but I still have a company to run."

Do you really think that's what he should have said? Because that sounds like a vastly dumber thing to say, even if it's "honest".

The "rogue operation" story is "good enough". It's plausible. That doesn't mean it's true of course. It doesn't have to be. Nobody has to actually believe it. It's just good enough so that everyone involved can save the minimum amount of face required to move on.

The reason that the murder can be considered "a mistake" is that the fallout was far greater than estimated. Consider that the Saudis are killing political opponents all the time with very few issues.

It's probably the grandeur of the plot that made the difference here. If Khashoggi had just been shot in the streets by "unknown assailants" (Putin style), it wouldn't have been that big a deal.


> You've got to be kidding.

It is plausible in the sense of "plausible deniability". Imagine MBS saying something like "That Khashoggi guy, I wish somebody hacked him to pieces!".

You can interpret that as an order, or you can interpret that as a more casual remark of frustration. If you're ordering a murder, you may well want that kind of ambiguity in the order.

Furthermore, sometimes an unwise underling implements the perceived will of the dear leader in a way that is counter to their interest, e.g the assassination of Pompey "on behalf" of Julius Caesar.

In a state like that it is about as plausible as a US general starting a war with Russia on their own. Anyway, I don't suspect we'll ever have a fair trial where these details will come out. Just more murders to cover up for the previous ones, possibly in the guise of executions by the judicial system or what goes for that in that country.

I don't think the power dynamics are that clear. The Saudi state is not at all under total control of MBS. Formally, his father is in power, there are other potential heirs to the throne. There is the possibility of intrigue.

In hindsight, it wouldn't make sense for MBS to order this killing, but it would make sense for a rival to blame the murder on him. That's hindsight of course. Equally plausible is the scenario where MBS is so self-absorbed, he orders the killing without regard to potential consequences.

An assassination team flew from one country to another, murdered a person in cold blood in an embassy and then exfiltrated the body in pieces. Such an operation does not get executed without orders from on high.

This isn't the traditional learning on the job. He won't be given any second chances. I expect he'll resign or be fired by tomorrow.

I'm sorry, what? Have you been paying attention? 24 hours from now almost no one will be talking about this.

And ESPECIALLY with Uber. They've had month-long disasters that were worse than this that didn't push out anyone too critical.


How did they fuck over those who joined after 2014?


Silicon Valley is in bed with the Saudis, no surprise here. Meanwhile, the shrieks coming from California about Trump are deafening.

Not only Silicon Valley. I struggle to see the relation to the Trump administration here, but in any case they are deeply in the Saudis' pockets as well, same as with any other administration that came before. To paint the SA regime and the US leadership to be somehow in opposition to one another doesn't really make sense. The cold hard fact is that they need each other and act accordingly.

>I struggle to see the relation to the Trump administration here

SV CEOs and "personalities" refuse to sit on panels or visit the White House because they hate Trump and his administration. But they'll take money from Saudi Arabia. It's very hard to understand.

Thank you for clearing that up, I think I misunderstood your original comment to mean that the Saudis and the US administration are opposites.

I think you're right that there is some hypocrisy involved when CEOs publicly denounce unpopular politics only to support deplorable practices as soon as money is involved.

I struggle to see the relation to the Trump administration here

The OP is calling out the double standard. Accusing Trump of sexism while taking money from those who literally practice an entire lifestyle based on oppression of women, death to gays, etc.

Uber, WeWork, others are all perfectly happy to accept money from these highly dubious source. Adam Neumann talks about saving the environment while living large on oil money...

No, the OP does not call out a double standard. The OP doesn't even mention any standard at all. The OP is just attempting bothsiderism.

  Silicon Valley is in bed with the Saudis, no surprise here. Meanwhile, the shrieks coming from California about Trump are deafening.

>The OP doesn't even mention any standard at all.

My standard is "don't take money from and ask for the forgiveness of murderers", while at the same time whining about Project Maven, or those providing services to ICE, or facial recognition...

It's appalling that this is even up for debate. Saudi money is blood money in the worst case, oil money in the best. Whatever keeps you in your Tesla though, right?

>The OP is just attempting bothsiderism

More made up words to prevent people from being called out on glaring hypocrisy.

Of course you don't see it; you never see it. But the rest of us do, believe it.

OK Habibi Travis.

Freudian slips have better be avoided. I would like to think he's not such a horrible person, though.

When someone shows you who they are, believe them.

How did the topic of Khashoggi even come up?

Pretty sure the reason he was killed was some internal Saudi stuff.

Pretty sure the atrocities in Myanmar, North Korea, and tsarist Russia we're also due to "internal stuff".

The CEO was asked about Uber's financial relationship to Saudi Arabia in light of Khashoggi's murder by agents of the state of Saudi Arabia.

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