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Uber-Good Timing for San Francisco Magazine

"Watch what you talk about. Uber has actually bugged this room. Which is awkward, because you've all probably taken Ubers here."

Nellie Bowles

At San Francisco magazine’s annual Power Issue party Tuesday night, editor Jon Steinberg said that he had debated a spectrum of cover headlines for a bruising profile of Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick.

They ran the gamut from “Uber Alles” (a German nationalistic song popular among the Nazis) to “Do Be Evil” (a play on Google’s “don’t be evil” motto) to “Uber Bad,” he said.

They went with Uber Bad. Restrained, given the choices.

The magazine, a 59-year-old local rag currently owned by a conglomerate called Modern Luxury, has been on a hot streak lately, balancing its usual fare of local arts stories, recipes and society dispatches with increasingly on-point exposés of the tech world. The third annual Power Issue party was held in a private room upstairs at Waterbar, an upper-crust hangout known for its oysters. In attendance was an eclectic mix of old-city wealth and power (from former mayor Frank Jordan to philanthropist Nancy Bechtel). Conspicuously not in attendance was Travis Kalanick.

“We invited him!” Steinberg said.

Days after the magazine had posted writer Ellen Cushing’s story about Kalanick, a report emerged that Uber was planning opposition research on another female reporter. Cushing, also, had been warned that Uber may track her because of her work. The company’s apparent campaign against reporters became international news.

As executive editor Gary Kamiya put it, “We’re just doing our job, and the city is going crazy — exploding like a Roman candle. It’s low-hanging fruit, man. It’s low-hanging fruit.”

Steinberg stood up to welcome the guests with a joke. “Watch what you talk about. Uber has actually bugged this room. Which is awkward, because you’ve all probably taken Ubers here,” he said. “This is our third Power Issue party, and each year the guests get more powerful.”

Nellie Bowles

Between the people on the guest list and the numerous party crashers, the shrimp and oysters disappeared from the buffet almost immediately. An overflow crowd stood outside on a deck overlooking the Bay Bridge until it started to rain. The bartender said he had run out of red wine, clutching the empty last bottle as more people streamed into the small brick and glass-paneled private room.

“People are really, really fascinated by [Uber],” said Cushing, who said she had just finished a story on “biohacking and tech bros’ relationships with their bodies.”

As I was leaving, someone noticed that the party napkins had been sponsored by Porsche: “This city has so much money, we crumple things up that have Porsche on them,” he said.

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