Bloomberg News, one of the English-language media’s largest (with some 2,700 journalists) and most well-capitalized (its owner is quite literally a $58 billion man) news outlets, announced last month its intention to essentially sit out the 2020 presidential election.
In late November, owner Michael R. Bloomberg, a former New York mayor, announced that he was running for the Democratic nomination for president, and the company’s editor, John Micklethwait, subsequently wrote in a memo to staff that Bloomberg News would not only refrain from investigating its owner, but also all of his Democratic opponents.
President Trump, by contrast, would continue to be investigated as usual, at least for the time being. In other words, Bloomberg News would only cover the incumbent, and not his many Democratic opponents. That sounds more like an opposition-research operation than a news organization.
The Trump campaign did the predictable thing this week and announced it would no longer offer press credentials to Bloomberg News reporters for rallies and campaign events. The decision was largely symbolic: This journalist has attended many political events without credentials. (Obtaining “credentials” usually means you end up penned in with a bunch of other reporters, rather than mingling with the public.) But it was still utterly fair, given Bloomberg News’ own stated policies.
Mr. Trump has often been likened to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Both are brash, charismatic billionaires with tabloid lifestyles and rather unnatural-looking skin. But in reality, it is Mr. Bloomberg who is a much closer analog to Mr. Berlusconi. And that’s troubling.
For all of Mr. Trump’s pre-presidential fame, his business is a small, family-owned concern, concentrating largely on residential buildings, hotels and golf courses. It may be profitable, but it is not powerful.
Mr. Bloomberg’s business, by contrast, is deeply influential in American society. His network of Bloomberg terminals – still the lifeblood of his wildly profitable business, representing some 85 percent of revenue – is an essential part of the plumbing of Wall Street. It houses reams of financial data as well as private communications.
Mr. Bloomberg’s information and news content, meanwhile, is disseminated through a vast network including not only those terminals, but also Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg Radio, Bloomberg Businessweek, Bloomberg Markets, Bloomberg.com and various mobile platforms.
Italy’s Mr. Berlusconi, meanwhile, owned Mediaset, a vast entertainment company producing not only sports and dramatic programming, but also news. The Italian leader wielded Mediaset to his advantage. Long-time Mediaset viewers “were more likely to vote for Berlusconi’s party in 1994, when he first ran for office. The effect persists for five elections and is driven by heavy TV viewers, namely the very young and the elderly,” a 2019 study published in the American Economic Review noted.
Even when serving as prime minister, Mr. Berlusconi maintained ownership of Mediaset – and he directed some 90 percent of government advertising to the company that he in fact owned.
Mr. Bloomberg, meanwhile, has faced calls to divest his news organization now that he is a presidential candidate, but he has steadfastly refused to do so. He didn’t when he served as New York City mayor for three terms, suggesting he would continue to own Bloomberg News even should he be elected president — a downright Berlusconian outcome.
“No previous … candidate has owned a journalistic organization of this size,” editor Mr. Micklethwait noted in his memo to staff. Well, maybe not in the United States.
• Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.
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