Here's a great lesson for J-school students and professors on how to please exactly nobody, nowhere, nohow. And while doing it, stain a reputation along the way. And maybe lose good journalists. And generally make all the wrong moves.
You may have heard that Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, has entered the presidential sweepstakes. On the Democratic side. (This week he's a Democrat, apparently.) You may have also heard that, among his other properties, he founded Bloomberg News. It's a fine organization. In the past, before he announced, we even ran Bloomberg Opinion pieces on this page.
Michael Bloomberg came to Arkansas a couple of weeks ago to get his name on the ballot for the presidential primary. We hope he had some good barbecue while he was here.
But then. . . . all the wrong moves.
The editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, John Micklethwait, issued a memo to the staff this week, saying in part: "We will continue our tradition of not investigating Mike (and his family and foundation) and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries. We cannot treat Mike's Democratic competitors differently."
Well, some of his competitors are still fair game. The news outfit will continue to investigate the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Mr. Micklethwait continued: "We have already assigned a reporter to follow his campaign (just as we did when Mike was in City Hall). And in the stories we write on the presidential contest, we will make clear that our owner is now a candidate."
So a reporter is allowed to follow the campaign. Just not dig dirt on it or investigate any potential wrongdoing. Isn't that what's called PR?
To quote media commentator Howard Kurtz: "If you wanted to come up with a policy that would seem to favor Bloomberg and his re-adopted party--he ran for mayor as a Republican--while disadvantaging the man whose job he wants, it would be hard to beat this."
It gets worse. As far as Bloomberg Opinion, it's been sidelined for the election.
Mr. Kurtz reports that the top two editors at Bloomberg Opinion are taking leaves. To join the Bloomberg campaign, no less. And the rest of the editorial board has been suspended and "the section will refuse to publish any outside op-ed on the 2020 campaign."
The message here might be considered muddled. First, Bloomberg Opinion is completely unbiased and awash in Olympian objectivity, so much so that it won't comment on the presidential race at all. Second, its top editors are going to go on the campaign's payroll.
Muddled? It's baffling.
While we like the idea of disbanding an editorial board (all newspapers should), there should be no problem with a news operation covering the news, investigating the principals, and commenting on them, as long as news and opinion are separate operations. The Washington Post covers Jeff Bezos and would certainly follow leads on Amazon stories. ABC News covers Disney. Both have investigative reporters and the lesser breed of journalist, the commentator.
Besides, what is gained by Bloomberg's new policy? Fair-minded bona fides? Reputational gravitas? The editors at Bloomberg have made it clear they're still going to dig around in the dirt under President Trump. It's just the Democrats who are off-limits. And after Michael Bloomberg's presidential campaign is over--say, March or April--will his campaign staff go back to work covering politics for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Opinion? Oy, vey.
Did we mention this whole idea pleases nobody? The reporters' union at Bloomberg Industries published a letter Monday night denouncing the ban on (Democratic) investigations. Any effort to muzzle journalists doesn't go well with, well, journalists. You could say it goes against their very being. Or as the union put it:
"We are extremely alarmed by management's decision to silence the journalists we represent at Bloomberg Industry Group, as well as the unrepresented journalists at Bloomberg News. We call on Bloomberg corporate management to rescind its policy and allow journalists throughout the Bloomberg family to do their jobs."
Go get 'em, guys.
This policy of covering, but not really covering, candidates, but only some of them, or maybe only one of them, and not as much as needed, and maybe working for, but not really, the boss, until he pulls out and endorses somebody else, if he does ... . It all sounds like something that an intern came up with during an all-night bull session in the dorm. Pros can do better.
Bloomberg's news (and new) policy may turn out to be good politics. But it's bad journalism.
Editorial on 11/27/2019
Print Headline: Bloomberg news