Soon after Michael Bloomberg officially entered the race for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination, the editor-in-chief at Bloomberg News fired off a memo to staff saying that the media outlet would not conduct any investigations into Bloomberg or any of his Democrat rivals.
But Bloomberg News will continue to investigate President Donald Trump and his administration, said the editor, John Micklethwait.
In a Nov. 25 report for The Washington Times, Valerie Richardson noted that “Not since William Randolph Hearst’s unsuccessful bid for the 1904 Democratic presidential nomination has a major media mogul made a run for the presidency.”
Former Bloomberg BusinessWeek editor Megan Murphy tweeted “[t]his is not journalism,” adding that she received a “near-identical ‘memo’” in 2016 and made it clear she would “quit the second it ever saw the light of day.”
Bloomberg’s media empire employs about 2,700 journalists and analysts over its print, radio, magazine and television platforms, according to the Bloomberg LP website.
Patricia Gallagher Newberry, president of the Society for Professional Journalists, said Bloomberg’s candidacy placed Bloomberg News in a “difficult position,” but that the decision to stop investigating all Democratic candidates wasn’t the right answer.
“My opinion here is they haven’t hit exactly on the right recipe yet,” she said. “So yes, we’re going to cover Michael Bloomberg vis a vis the other 20 people in the race, but we’re not going to do any investigations. So what does that mean? How do they define investigations? Does that mean we’re not going to pull anyone’s FEC reports and look at who spent what on ads?”
Kevin Z. Smith, executive director of the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism at Ohio State University, said: “This is so outlandish it has to be recognized as a historical collapse of ethical standards. This isn’t just worthy of a future textbook case study, it needs immediate condemnation by the profession.”
David Martosko, U.S. political editor of The [U.K.] Daily Mail, described the policy as “completely unsustainable.” He predicted that Trump would use the specter of a news empire owned by a political rival to his advantage.
“I predict Trump rallies will include this: ‘Is there a Bloomberg reporter back there in the fake news section? They fly on Air Force One every day and chase me around but Little Mike won’t let them investigate ANY Democrats. It’s crooked as hell,’ ” Martosko tweeted.
Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, described Bloomberg News’s plan as not only unethical but also possibly illegal.
“Bloomberg ‘News’ declares it will not investigate Bloomberg or his fellow Democrats, but WILL investigate Trump. If that isn’t a massively illegal in-kind campaign contribution, what is?” tweeted Bozell.
Bozell called on “any real journalist still working at Bloomberg” to resign — and then noted that several Bloomberg editorial board members have already left, not out of principle, but to work on candidate Bloomberg’s primary campaign.
Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the Media Research Center, said the journalism industry has long struggled with the specter of a political figure like Bloomberg, who also has served as mayor of New York City, also owning one of the world’s largest media companies.
In an online post, Bloomberg Opinion said the department would suspend writing unsigned editorials as long as Bloomberg, who controls 89 percent of Bloomberg LP, which owns the media company, is a candidate.
“Members of the editorial board will write and edit in other capacities within Bloomberg Opinion,” said the post. “Because our columnists have always spoken for themselves, they will continue as before — though columnists will still refrain from endorsing candidates, a policy we have had in place since we started in 2011. Finally, we will not publish op-ed articles that relate to or are affiliated with any candidate or any presidential campaign, including Mike’s.”
The only sure way to avoid such a conflict of interest — and the hit to Bloomberg News’ reputation — would be to sell the company, which Graham said would never happen.
“He’s never going to do that,” Graham said. “That’s like asking Trump to sell his hotels.”