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Vanity Fair - November 11, 2019

On Sunday, Axios on HBO aired an interview held with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, which touched on everything from the company’s (lack of) profitability, its driver pay rate, its failure to support a driver’s union, and a potential Elizabeth Warren presidency. Naturally, reporter Dan Primack also brought up the topic of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, given that Saudi Arabia is the company’s fifth largest shareholder, and the head of the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund sits on Uber’s board. Primack noted that, according to the CIA, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanordered Khashoggi’s killing. Should a person who works for a government that had a role in the murder of a U.S. resident be on the board of a U.S. company, Primack wondered? Khosrowshahi’s answer may surprise you!

“I think that government said that they made a mistake,” Khosrowshahi replied. Clearly astonished that this was the road the CEO of a public company was going to go down, Primack interjected, “They made a mistake [and] a person is dead.” Yet incredibly, Khosrowshahi was intent on digging himself yet deeper!

“It’s a serious mistake,” he said. “We’ve made mistakes too, right? With self-driving, and we stopped driving and we’re recovering from that mistake. I think that people make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven. I think they have taken it seriously.”

Here, Primack attempted to explain why an analogy between someone being killed by a faulty self-driving car and someone being dismembered via bone saw maybe wasn’t entirely apt. “The CIA didn’t suggest that they made a mistake and that it was an oversight, like with self-driving that was basically a bad censor, correct? The CIA suggested the Crown Prince had a role in ordering the assassination. It’s a different thing. You guys didn’t intentionally run somebody over.”

For reasons unknown, Khosrowshahi did not grab ahold of that lifeline. “I didn’t read that part of the CIA report,” he said. “You’re obviously deeper in it. But I think from a Saudi perspective, they’re just like any other shareholder. Now we’re a public company, anyone can invest in our company if they choose to do so. They’re a big investor just like you could be a big investor.” At this point, we assume that whichever comms person accompanied Khosrowshahi to the interview was actively scanning for new gigs on LinkedIn just off camera.

It’s not clear if Khosrowshahi walked off set believing he had nailed the whole thing, or if it needed to be explained to him how badly it had gone down, but one hour after the interview, he emailed Primack and Axios cofounder Mike Allen in a desperate attempt to reverse himself, writing: “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.”