Bloomberg reporting policy not pretty or perfect, but right

Bloomberg reporting policy not pretty or perfect, but right
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It isn’t pretty. It isn’t perfect. But Mike is right: The move by Bloomberg News to back off from investigations of its owner, presidential candidate Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergBiden, Sanders, Warren pull away from field in Super Tuesday states: poll Yang qualifies for New Hampshire debate stage Biden, Sanders emerging as top picks in 2020 Democratic field: national poll MORE, and his Democratic primary rivals is understandable, given how any probe would play out in public.

At the same time, Bloomberg News will continue to closely report on the Trump administration — at least for now — which is where the “not perfect” part of this decision comes in. More on that in a minute.

First, here’s what Bloomberg News will and won’t do: It will continue to cover the Democratic presidential primary campaign, despite critics who assert the news organization is waving a flag of surrender. In fact, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Poll: Biden leads in Iowa ahead of caucuses The Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint MORE (D-Mass.) just appeared on Bloomberg TV to accuse their boss of 'buying' the election. But it won’t work on investigative pieces about Bloomberg himself or the other Democratic candidates.

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It’s not that, as some suggest, Bloomberg doesn’t trust his own reporters. This action comes from a realistic grasp of what would happen if Bloomberg News dove into detective mode during the primary campaign. 

Whatever misconduct its reporters uncovered would only be part of the story. Reports would also focus on charges of “abuse of power” by a billionaire media mogul who has enlisted his army of journalists to bulldoze the competition. People who now insist Bloomberg News has caved in to its domineering owner by staying away from the fray would just as quickly claim those beleaguered journalists have been bullied into hunting for “kompromat” on rival candidates.

When the dust settled, everybody would lose: the challengers exposed by Bloomberg reporting, the Bloomberg News organization, and Bloomberg himself. That’s just the way things go, and the former mayor knows it.

The irony here, of course, is that Bloomberg — while trying to keep his company out of the headlines — has plunged it right into the news cycle. One big example: when CBS News’ Gayle KingGayle KingWarren fends off questions on Sanders: 'I'm not going there' Flake: Republicans don't speak out against Trump 'because they want to keep their jobs' Lifetime to release sequel to 'Surviving R. Kelly' MORE asked him about some grumblings inside his organization, he said his reporters need to understand that with their paychecks come “restrictions and responsibilities.” That was a bit too Charles Foster Kane — and probably burnished his image as a billionaire press baron.

Also complicating things: that decision to continue to work on investigations of the Trump administration.

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Bloomberg News specializes in business and financial coverage. It reports on the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the mortgage agencies and other economic entities with knowledge and context that few other organizations have. Halting that work would not serve the public interest, and would tarnish the organization’s reputation. At best, his investigative reporters will need to proceed with extra caution right now. But they are in exactly the kind of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation their boss was hoping to avoid.

Bloomberg News does say it will back off from administration investigations if the former mayor makes it to the general election against Trump.

Bloomberg should look back to his years as mayor as he figures out how to move forward. He refused then to put his company in a blind trust — just as Trump has refused with his businesses — but found other ways to distance himself from the news outlet. Those moves satisfied the city’s public ethics codes regarding conflicts of interest. He has to try to create something similar here and now, for both the primaries and the general election, if he gets that far.

That won’t please everybody — it didn’t in New York. But it will help.

Right now, yes, his actions concerning Bloomberg News have been neither pretty nor perfect — but they come from an understandable concern. And Democrats can at least relish this: Trump raced into the controversy, tweeting about “Mini Mike” and his “third rate” company. Proof, one of Bloomberg’s advisers said, that he was “getting under Trump’s skin.”

Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for “Dateline NBC,” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.