Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi described the brutal murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a forgivable mistake by the Saudi government in an interview with Axios on HBO, then quickly backtracked in subsequent comments.
“I think that government said that they made a mistake,” Khosrowshahi said when pressed on whether Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, should continue to sit on Uber’s board. With a 5.3 percent stake in the company owned, the Saudi PIF is Uber’s fifth largest shareholder. “I think that people make mistakes,” Khosrowshahi added. “It doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven. I think they’ve taken it seriously.”
Khosrowshahi went on to compare the “mistake” made by the Saudi government, in which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is believed to have ordered Khashoggi’s murder, to the “mistake” Uber made last year when one of the company’s self-driving cars killed a pedestrian in Arizona. A key difference in those mistakes, as Axios’s Dan Primack pointed out in the interview, is that one of those was intentional and the other wasn’t.
The Uber CEO appears to have quickly realized his own mistake. According to Axios, he called Primack an hour after the interview “to express regret for the language he used.” And the day after he sent a statement that said:
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.
The cleanup continued Monday, with Khosrowshahi tweeting:
But the apologies have not been enough to stop a quick backlash. At one point on Monday #BoycottUber began trending on Twitter. Among those calling for a boycott is Karen Attiah, who was Khashoggi’s editor at the Washington Post. She tweeted that the exiled Saudi writer was a frequent Uber rider himself and that everyone “who uses Uber should consider the implications” of Khosrowshahi’s words.