If you thought talk about Ozy Media was over, steel yourself. The digital media firm caught up in the convoluted wake of a fraudulent phone call and other controversies is making headlines again. A former Ozy editor now says he suspects the person on the other end of that fake phone call wasn't COO Samir Rao, as has been claimed, but perhaps CEO Carlos Watson. Watson himself said Rao was the person impersonating a YouTube executive during a February meeting with potential investors from Goldman Sachs, who were mulling pumping $40 million into Ozy.
After it was discovered the call had been faked, Watson told Goldman Sachs and New York Times reporter Ben Smith that Rao had been the impersonator, claiming Rao was suffering from a mental health crisis. Eugene Robinson, a writer and editor who worked for Ozy for nearly a decade, tells the Wrap he's not so sure about that, noting that it seems iffy that Watson wouldn't have somehow been part of a conference call involving a potential investment worth tens of millions of dollars.
"Maybe three or four [people connected to Ozy] have made mention of this, and outside of Ozy, pretty serious people, one or two have come to me and they said they believe that's the only way it would have worked," Robinson tells the outlet, noting that Watson and Rao typically took investment calls together in Ozy's conference room in Mountain View, Calif. "The idea that he didn't know what was going on ... beggars belief." While Watson and Rao haven't responded to the Wrap's requests for comment, the Times' Smith notes he did ask Watson directly if it was him on the call, and "he denied it."
Smith adds that Ozy's former board chair, Marc Lasry, has also said it was Rao on the call. The Wrap notes Rao hasn't said anything about all this and has deleted his social media accounts. Meanwhile, Robinson, who says he was fired from Ozy two times, penned a Thursday op-ed for the Times on what it was like to work for the company. He documented an initially demanding yet exciting environment that soon deteriorated into a "poisonous" one with high turnover and a "shrieking Mr. Watson." Robinson's overall take: "I was not exactly surprised by Ozy's collapse, just amazed that it took so long." (Read his piece in its entirely here.)