Damage Control
November 6, 2019

11-year-old Airbnb is finally growing up.

During a conference on Wednesday, CEO Brian Chesky announced the company's plans to verify all 7 million of its listings to give customers "peace of mind," The New York Times reports.

The long-awaited updates were galvanized by last week's mass shooting — at a so-called "party-house" in Orinda, California, rented through Airbnb — that left 5 people dead, CNBC notes. The party was advertised on Instagram as "Airbnb Mansion Party," and mostly attracted college students, while the victims were all under 30, including a 19-year-old girl, ABC News reports.

In a company-wide email, Chesky said "trust is the real energy that drives Airbnb" and pledged to "do everything possible," including launching a new 24/7 Neighbor Hotline, and manually screening suspicious "high-risk reservations." And according to Reuters, the company banned unauthorized "party-houses" altogether earlier this week.

On the other hand, the Airbnb CEO also tweeted the short-term rental giant's new plans to ensure that all its listings are advertised accurately, and fully refund customers if listings were inaccurate, after a recent Vice News investigation uncovered a "nationwide web of deception."

Despite the sweeping safety measures, Chesky did still mention that "two million people a night stay in Airbnbs," and so "it's hard to prevent every bad thing happening," the Times notes. Ramisa Rob

August 9, 2019

SoulCycle is offering free classes that will benefit "social justice causes" after coming under fire for its owner's support of President Trump, The Daily Beast reports.

The fitness company's CEO, Melanie Whelan, in an email on Friday said it had been a "difficult" week following days of controversy over reports that its billionaire owner Stephen Ross would hold a Trump fundraiser. Whelan goes on to write that instructors are now being invited to teach a free class supporting a cause that is "true in their heart."

"We've spent 13 years building a community based on diversity, inclusion, acceptance and love," Whelan writes. "We know who we are, we know what we believe, and we deliver on those values every day. This is about our values. So today, we are responding in the best way we know how — with diversity, inclusion, acceptance, and love."

Whelan adds that this will be a way that "our community can start to heal."

Reports that the owner of SoulCycle, as well as the fitness company Equinox, planned to fundraise for Trump drew outrage and calls for boycotts this week, with Ross releasing a statement saying that he is an "outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability."

Ross, Axios reported on Friday, has been "freaked out" by the backlash to his fundraiser and considered calling it off. But Trump insists he has nothing to worry about, saying on Friday that "the controversy makes Steve Ross hotter. He'll figure that out in about a week." Brendan Morrow

May 22, 2019

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is desperately trying to explain that stunning "Oreo" gaffe.

Carson while testifying before Congress on Tuesday was asked by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) about REOs, a real-estate term, but responded, "An Oreo?" Porter proceeded to explain to Carson what an REO is as he appeared to not know what the last letter stood for.

Carson in two interviews on Wednesday discussed this viral moment, first on Fox Business, where he claimed he "was having difficulty hearing" Porter. "Of course, I'm very familiar with foreclosed properties and with REOs, have read extensively about them," he said.

In fact, Carson suggested he knows much more about the topic than the Democratic lawmaker because "I suspect when Katie Porter was an expert in this area, things were very different," saying he invited her to speak with his staff so "she would then be able to understand what's going on."

That doesn't explain why Carson struggled to recall what the 'O' in 'REO' stands for, though. To address that point, Carson said in another interview with The Hill, "We throw around acronyms all the time, particularly in government. And you don't really even think about, 'what do the letters mean?' But you know what the thing is. Of course you know what an REO is."

Carson after the gaffe on Tuesday tried to make light of the mistake by posting a photo of himself with a box of Oreos and sending some to Porter's office. She didn't find that very funny, though, telling MSNBC that Carson should not be in his position and that "we're all losing by not having competent, strong, effective, intelligent leadership at HUD." Brendan Morrow

January 18, 2019

President Trump's team is finally denying that he directed his former attorney to lie to Congress — about 14 hours after the allegation was first reported.

The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said in a statement Friday, "Any suggestion — from any source — that the president counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false." Giuliani goes on to call Cohen a "criminal and a liar" and suggests he can not be trusted.

Giuliani had previously released a statement questioning Cohen's credibility, but this is the first time he has directly denied the allegations in the BuzzFeed News article and said they're false regardless of who is making them. Two White House officials had discussed the story on Fox Friday morning, first White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley and then White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, but neither of them would actually call the story false.

Although Giuliani has been criticizing Cohen in the aftermath of this bombshell report, Cohen himself wasn't actually a source for the story; BuzzFeed notes that he declined to comment. Instead, the news outlet cites two law enforcement officials, who said that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has spoken to multiple witnesses and has evidence that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress and had it before Cohen even began to cooperate with him. Anthony Cormier, one of the reporters behind the story, said Friday that the suggestion that Cohen fed them the information is "f---ing bulls--t." Brendan Morrow

January 11, 2019

Green Book is struggling to recover its Oscar momentum after both its director and writer were hit with controversies days after their win at the Golden Globes.

Nick Vallelonga, the film's co-screenwriter and son of the character Viggo Mortensen plays, has issued an apology for a 2015 tweet that resurfaced Wednesday. After Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, falsely claimed he saw "thousands" of Muslims cheering on 9/11, Vallelonga tweeted in support, writing, "100% correct. Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down. I saw it, as you did, possibly on local news."

Vallelonga says he is "incredibly sorry to everyone associated with Green Book," particularly the "brilliant and kind Mahershala Ali, and all members of the Muslim faith, for the hurt I have caused" with this tweet, The Hollywood Reporter reports.

Green Book tells the story of a racist, Vallelonga's father, forming a friendship with a black man, Don Shirley, so Vallelonga also apologizes to "my late father who changed so much from Dr. Shirley's friendship and I promise this lesson is not lost on me." He concludes by promising to "do better."

This wasn't the only public relations disaster Green Book faced this week, as a news story from 1998 also resurfaced in The Cut about how director Peter Farrelly used to flash his genitals on set as a prank. He apologized for behavior he said he thought was "funny" but now makes him "cringe." Green Book was previously embroiled in controversies when Mortensen used the N-word at an event promoting the movie, which he subsequently apologized for, and when Shirley's family objected to the story's accuracy.

Green Book has been vying for an Oscar, and Vallelonga's tweet just happened to resurface during the week in which members of the Academy vote on nominations. Those nominations will be announced on Jan. 22. Brendan Morrow

April 16, 2018

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson announced Monday that the company will add training for managers on "unconscious bias," following the arrest of two black men at a store in Philadelphia.

Last Thursday, an employee called the police, saying the men were trespassing. The men reportedly asked to use the restroom, and when they were told they couldn't because they hadn't purchased anything, they refused to leave. Video of the incident shows police speaking to the men and finally handcuffing them as customers said the men didn't do anything wrong. A man, identified as real estate developer Andrew Yaffe, then walked up and said the men were waiting for him, but officers responded that the men were not complying and were under arrest for trespassing.

"Why would they be asked to leave?" Yaffe asked. "Does anybody else think this is ridiculous? It's absolute discrimination." The men were released after the district attorney's office said there was not enough evidence showing a crime had been committed. Johnson called the entire incident "reprehensible," and said he wants to meet with the men soon to personally apologize. "I'd like to have a dialogue with them and the opportunity to listen to them with compassion and empathy through the experience they went through," he added. Catherine Garcia

March 21, 2018

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told CNN on Wednesday he's "really sorry" about a data breach that affected an estimated 50 million Facebook users, acknowledging that the company has "a basic responsibility" to protect people's information, "and if we can't do that then we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve people."

The company is under scrutiny following the revelation that a data scientist created a personality quiz that was taken by millions of Facebook users, and their personal information and that of their friends was then secretly passed along to the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg told CNN's Laurie Segall that "anyone whose data may have been affected" will be notified by Facebook, and the platform plans on building a tool that lets users see if their information has been compromised and if they are using any apps that are "doing sketchy things."

Zuckerberg said he's "not sure we shouldn't be regulated," as there are "things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see." He's also "sure someone's trying" to use Facebook to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections, a "Version 2 of whatever the Russian effort was in 2016," and "there are going to be some new tactics that we need to make sure that we observe and get in front of." Zuckerberg would be "happy" to testify before Congress "if it's the right thing to do," he said, and when Segall asked if, knowing what he does now, he thinks "Facebook impacted the results of the 2016 election," he gave a vague response. "Oh that's — that is hard," Zuckerberg said. "You know, I think that it is — it's really hard for me to have a full assessment of that." Catherine Garcia

January 24, 2018

Top Trump administration officials made their first comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, reassuring global leaders and business executives that President Trump's "America First" agenda doesn't mean the U.S. is unwilling to work with other countries, The Washington Post reported.

"America First is not America alone," said Gary Cohn, head of Trump's National Economic Council. While members of Trump's Cabinet fight the perception that he is against free trade and globalization, they are also touting the new Republican tax cuts as evidence that Trump is making the economy stronger. Anti-capitalist demonstrators staged protests against Trump in several Swiss cities, including Davos, where he is to deliver a keynote address on Friday. Harold Maass

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