Reporters at Bloomberg News have long objected to an editorial policy that precludes coverage of its parent company, Bloomberg L.P., or its billionaire founder and owner, Michael Bloomberg.
Those concerns resurfaced on Sunday when Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait announced that in light of Bloomberg’s formal entrance into the 2020 presidential race, the news outlet would refrain from investigating him or his rivals in the Democratic primary.
“We cannot treat Mike’s Democratic competitors differently from him,” Micklethwait wrote. “If other credible journalistic institutions publish investigative work on Mike or the other Democratic candidates, we will either publish those articles in full, or summarize them for our readers — and we will not hide them.”
In the meantime, reporters will continue to investigate the Trump administration as “the government of the day,” Micklethwait wrote. If Bloomberg were to secure the Democratic nomination, he added, the editorial leadership would “reassess” how best to cover him.
Criticism of the new guidance was swift and extensive.
This is not journalism.
— Megan Murphy (@meganmurp) November 24, 2019
Megan Murphy, former editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, tweeted: “This is not journalism.” Margaret Sullivan, a media columnist at The Washington Post, said the guidance raised “vexing ethical questions.” And Columbia Journalism Review’s Jon Allsop said the policy was “a regrettable step for a news outlet to take,” adding that “it reduces our collective journalistic capacity at a moment when we sorely need it.”
Meanwhile, Jim Rutenberg, a media columnist at The New York Times offered a simple alternative: “let journalists do journalism.”
Conservatives also slammed the decision and claimed it was further proof of media bias, since the guidance allowed reporters to continue investigating the Trump administration. GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted, “You can’t make the bias up!”
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) November 25, 2019
The policy against investigating Bloomberg or covering his “wealth and personal life” dates back many years. In September 2014, when Bloomberg resumed control of his eponymous financial services company, Bloomberg L.P., after serving three terms as the mayor of New York City, the news division decided against reporting on the matter.
In January 2016, when Bloomberg was again mulling over a presidential bid, Bloomberg News abstained from covering the incident, which was widely reported by the rest of the news media.
And earlier this month, Politico reported that current and former employees had expressed unease about a potential Bloomberg run for office. Internal trepidation peaked in December 2018, when in the middle of an interview with Radio Iowa, Bloomberg contemplated selling the company, or further yet, ending political coverage altogether.
“Quite honestly, I don’t want all the reporters I’m paying to write a bad story about me,” Bloomberg said at the time.
One Bloomberg News staffer told BuzzFeed News that many employees were “confused” and unsure of what to expect over the next two years. Another employee described the internal environment as “semi- but not acutely anxious.”
Back in early November, University of Missouri Journalism Professor Kathy Kiely told Politico that by “doing this Hamlet-on-the-Hudson routine — he might get in, he might not get in,” Bloomberg was torturing the reporters at his company.
“He’s hired terrific reporters, he has great editors, and then he goes and handcuffs them,” said Kiely, who quit Bloomberg News in 2016 over not being able to cover Bloomberg at the height of speculation that his entrance in the race was imminent.
On Sunday, Kiely said the new rules “relegate [Bloomberg’s] political writers to stenography journalism.”
As some have pointed out, Bloomberg News stands out from most other outlets in insulating its owner from rigorous coverage. Under Jeff Bezos’ ownership, for example, The Washington Post has maintained its editorial standards and has not refrained from covering even the most delicate of issues involving him.
Even when Bezos was the subject of an alleged extortion scheme by the National Enquirer in February, The Post covered the story like any other story. At the time, Executive Editor Marty Baron told The New York Times that covering Bezos had not been an issue.
“Jeff has never gotten involved in our reporting or our final stories,” Baron said. “People surmise that it must be difficult to cover Jeff and Amazon. But we’ve gone five and a half years with his ownership, and he hasn’t once intervened in any way.”