The « Uber Files »: when a mediatic crisis flops
On July 10th, Le Monde and France Inter published their investigation led with the help of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on the methods used by Uber to spread their Vehicle for hire business outside the United States. These revelations could have threatened the President Macron. However, the crisis ended up falling flat.
According to the consortium, during his mandate as Minister of Economy (from 2014 to 2016), Emmanuel Macron allegedly had repeated contact with representatives of the American group, in order to discreetly encourage a positive evolution of the regime for Uber, defined by the Thévenoud law shortly beforehand.
A successful crisis communication
The President is being blamed for having been “more than a support, almost an ally” of the San Franciscan company. He is alleged to have met with lobbyists and Uber executives, with whom he would have had repeated text exchanges. This collaboration would have led to “pressures” exerted by Macron’s cabinet on the General Direction of Fraud repression and Economic Competition and Consumption (DGCCRF), all the while Uber was subjected to numerous inspections and investigations. It would also have led Luc Belot (Parti Socialiste member of the Assemblée Nationale) to table amendments directly written by the company that were personally backed by the future President.
In the span of a few hours, the entire political and mediatic sphere ran riot. The former Minister’s loyalty was questioned: from his loyalty to the government he belonged in to his loyalty towards France and its economic interests. Facing such an onslaught, Emmanuel Macron choose a strategy which will prove itself to be particularly efficient: clear crisis communication. He took responsibility for his actions, in order to settle the debate and make it lose its controversial aspect. The controversy died down as soon as it came up. Let’s go back on this successful crisis communication strategy.
A swift reaction in a first step
Right after being released by the media, the Uber Files triggered a true mediatic and political overbid. The President’s detractors and various pundits were outdoing themselves on the microphones or on Twitter, from small jabs to full blown attacks. For example, Aurélien Taché, member of Parliament from Europe Ecologie Les Verts (EELV), but formerly member of La République en Marche (LREM), the presidential party, denounced a “state scandal where Emmanuel Macon criminal liability could be invoked”.
Mathilde Panot, president of the La France Insoumise (LFI) group in the Assemblée Nationale described Macron as a “lobbyist for an American multinational which wants to durably damage the labor rights”, as well as a man that has “orchestrated pillage of the country”. Her comment is similar to Jordan Bardella’s from the Rassemblement National (RN): “Emmanuel Macron’s trajectory has a coherence, a red thread: putting the interests of the private sector, mostly foreign, before national interest.” And these comments are just a couple examples.
After the attacks on the form and substance of the alleged lobbying of the former Minister appeared a more severe threat, mostly coming from the left: members of Parliament from the Nouvelle Union Populaire et Sociale (NUPES) indicated their will for the Parliament to create an investigative taskforce.
Right on July 10th, the Elysée shared its first press release to the Agence France Presse (AFP), explaining that the current president “naturally had to discuss with the many companies involved in the profound shift in service work that happened during the past years, a shift that had to be facilitated by getting rid of the numerous administrative or legal roadblocks”. This statement, heavily shared by the media, formed the building blocks of Emmanuel Macron’s rigorously and efficiently handled crisis communication.
Extinguishing the controversy in a second step
On July 12th, the president replied personally to the accusations firmly and sternly. He totally assumed responsibility, stating that he had “fully done his job” by meeting up with Uber executives and facilitating their development in France. “If they created jobs in France, then I’m proud of it”, he declared during one of his demonstrations.
Two days after the Uber Files exploded, he avoided getting into nitpicking the details of the alleged accusations of Le Monde, and proudly stated that he contributed in attracting a foreign company in France, and that he “fought so the youth from troubled backgrounds could have access to jobs”. Then, he used the traditional television interview of the French national holiday (July 14th) to explain his version of the story, answering the questions of France2 and TF1. While interrogated on the fact that he might have favored the interests of the American group, he positioned himself as the greatest detractor of the economic rent of taxi companies and the greatest savior of equal opportunity. “Will I tell you that I regret? Never!”
This is how the President extinguished the scandal. The amount of articles in the media and social media activity centered on the Uber Files quickly decreased, and the subject ended up fading away. Why? Two reasons: the structure and the conjuncture.
The structure: if the revelations had come out in 2016 or 2017 where the “battle of vehicles for hire” was raging, they might have had radically different repercussions. But by 2022, the topic had gotten relatively peaceful. Moreover, the facts support the decisions of the former Minister. In its globality, the development of vehicles for hire has generated market growth, and has not impacted the activity of taxis. A new clientele has appeared, the youth, which was not using these means of transportations before. Competition has led taxis to react and improve their quality of service, often underwhelming. The most realistic of taxi drivers do not hesitate to say that Uber has been a true chance for them.
But the circumstances have also helped the president and its communication to be truly efficient. He had barely finished his July 14th interview that the Southwestern forest fires and the extreme heat had invaded the media. Moreover, the debate surrounding the new Covid law and purchasing power law had hogged the remaining headspace of journalists, pundits and citizens.
Moral of the story: in order to successfully master communication, one needs a good strategy with coherent and careful application, perseverance… and favorable circumstances.