Media

Founder's presidential bid puts Bloomberg News in spotlight

Michael Bloomberg's potential presidential bid could raise serious questions for the news organization that bears his name.

While it's more famous for its coverage of the economy and global markets - as well as its pricey Bloomberg terminals - Bloomberg News has a robust news operation that covers the White House, presidential campaign and Congress.

Bloomberg's entry into the crowded Democratic primary would leave the reporters and editors covering their company's namesake as he battles more than a dozen others for the party's presidential nomination.

It wouldn't be the first time Bloomberg reporters have had to navigate reporting on their founder. Bloomberg stepped down from Bloomberg LP in 2001 after his election as New York City mayor.

Over three terms as mayor, Bloomberg News covered his administration from City Hall. It included a note at the top of each of its pieces on Bloomberg that he owned the company. A similar disclaimer would be applied during a Bloomberg presidential campaign, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. 

Still, a White House bid would be a much larger challenge, since Bloomberg would be running to become commander-in-chief of the entire country. A news service that closely follows the statements of the president and major candidates for their remarks on the economy, the Federal Reserve and markets would be paying close attention to the words of their founder.

Bloomberg News says it will share its coverage plans if and when Bloomberg officially announces his candidacy.

"Mike Bloomberg has not yet announced that he's running. If and when he does, we will share our coverage plans with the newsroom," a Bloomberg official said in a statement issued Monday.

An internal memo sent to Bloomberg employees on Friday that was featured in the Sheekey Daily Read newsletter said the company would continue to "grow and innovate" if Bloomberg steps away again.

"As you have likely heard, Mike has decided to explore a campaign for president of the United States," the memo from Bloomberg's management committee said.

"No final decisions have been made, but of course this is nothing new to the company. When Mike ran for City Hall, we kept the business moving forward, and when Mike became Mayor, the company continued to grow and innovate," the memo sent to Bloomberg's 20,000 employees reads. "If Mike steps away again, we have an expanded Management Committee well equipped to continue running the day-to-day operations of the company."

Bloomberg is already covering the former mayor's initial steps toward entering the race. Bloomberg, 77, has filed the paperwork to get his name on the ballot in Alabama and Arkansas. He appears to believe, after initially deciding against a White House run, that the current Democratic candidates are not strong enough to defeat President Trump.

Two recent stories on his possible entry to the race were written by Washington Bureau Chief Craig Gordon. On one of the stories, Gordon shared a byline with campaign finance reporter Bill Alison. 

DePauw University professor of communication Jeff McCall said he didn't think it would be difficult for Bloomberg to cover Bloomberg as long as they were transparent.

"I don't see any problem with Bloomberg News covering a candidacy of Michael Bloomberg running for president, as long as they establish and transparently state the standards and practices of the coverage at the outset," McCall told The Hill.

McCall said Bloomberg has "little to do now" with the day-to-day news agenda at Bloomberg, but added that this "needs to be explained to a public that could be skeptical."

"It would also make sense in the name of editorial distancing to have him get off the advisory board and remove himself from any connection to the organization," he said.

One former Bloomberg News employee, however, said it is "completely unrealistic" for the news organization to cover the potential candidate fairly. 

"I think they are woefully unprepared for this. I think that they think this will be just like it was at City Hall where they're just going to say, 'Oh, there's a firewall and we're going to disclose it and we're going to be super careful, but that's bulls***," the former employee said.

"To cover a presidential election fairly, you're going to have to cover Bloomberg like everyone else," the former employee continued. "That means taking oppo [opposition research]. And that means digging into his past ... it's just silly to believe there will be an acceptable and fair way for them to cover his campaign." 

In 2018, Bloomberg said in an interview with an Iowa radio station that he would consider divesting himself completely with the company if he ran for president. 

"The company would either go into a blind trust or I would sell it," Bloomberg told Radio Iowa on Dec. 5. "But I think at my age, if selling it is possible, I would do that. 

"At some point, you're going to die anyway, so you want to do it before then," he added. 

Bloomberg News pointed to its statement in response to a question about whether a divestment remained on the table.

In the interview, Bloomberg said his company has had the policy it would not cover itself because people would not believe it was independent.

"We've always had a policy that we don't cover ourselves. I happen to believe, in my heart of hearts, you can't be independent and nobody's going to believe that you're independent," Bloomberg told Radio Iowa host O. Kay Henderson. 

"And quite honestly, I don't want the reporters I'm paying to write a bad story about me," he added jokingly. "I don't want them to be independent. So you're going to have to do something."

 

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