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Former New York City mayor and now-Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is worth a lot of money. His estimated worth exceeds $50 billion. Bloomberg started a financial information service decades ago that's now a global enterprise with a huge newsroom. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, Bloomberg's candidacy is about to tie the Bloomberg newsroom into knots.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: You can't accuse Mike Bloomberg of hiding his thoughts on the subject.
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MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We've always had a policy of, we don't cover ourselves.
FOLKENFLIK: Last December, he gave an extended interview to Radio Iowa's Kay Henderson in which Bloomberg talked about what would happen to Bloomberg News if he were to jump into the fray.
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BLOOMBERG: I happen to believe in my heart of hearts - you can't be independent, and nobody's going to believe that you're independent. And quite honestly, I don't want all the reporters I'm paying to write a bad story about me. I don't want them to be independent.
FOLKENFLIK: From the outset, Bloomberg's newsroom did not cover Bloomberg, his family, his company or his foundation. During the 12 years that he led New York, the news organization all but ignored the mayor of the financial capital of the world.
Bloomberg has been exploring this issue for years with Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait, who declined NPR's request for an interview. Micklethwait sent round a memo last night. He said 2020 wouldn't be easy, that Bloomberg News would cover who's up and down, the implications of the candidates' policy proposals and what's playing out on the campaign trail. Micklethwait also said the newsroom would not investigate candidate Mike Bloomberg or his foundation and therefore would also not investigate his competitors.
WILLIAM GRUESKIN: I mean, what does a Bloomberg journalist do if she or he gets a hot tip about Bernie Sanders or Amy Klobuchar or Cory Booker?
FOLKENFLIK: William Grueskin is a former executive editor at Bloomberg News and a veteran of decades at the Wall Street Journal and the Miami Herald.
GRUESKIN: Do they pass it on to another news organization? Do they just bury it?
FOLKENFLIK: Grueskin is now a professor at Columbia's graduate school of journalism. He says the whole approach is problematic.
GRUESKIN: It isn't clear what Micklethwait means when he says that they're not going to investigate the other candidates. Elizabeth Warren's health care plan deserves scrutiny, and Bloomberg readers would want to know about it. And so are they going to hold off on that?
FOLKENFLIK: I spoke to a half-dozen current and former Bloomberg journalists. Most, with few exceptions, said Bloomberg reporters should be allowed to report independently, with full disclosure of Bloomberg's ownership and without his interference. After all, Bloomberg's news reporting is prized for its accuracy and authoritativeness. It has about 2,700 journalists and analysts, more than the combined newsroom staffs of the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
Former Bloomberg journalists told me they were dismayed at the idea of confining reporters to covering just the surface of the 2020 race. Yet the reverse does have its drawbacks as well.
David Nasaw is a historian at the City University of New York and a biographer of media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Nasaw notes Hearst owned a ton of newspapers across the country that promoted Hearst's successful runs for Congress and his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1904.
DAVID NASAW: When Hearst ran for office as a politician, his candidacy was built on his crusading passions, which his readers had gotten an earful of day after day after day.
FOLKENFLIK: Bloomberg's own passions for public health initiatives and gun control have been reflected in his unsigned editorials on Bloomberg News' opinion site. Those editorials have been suspended for the duration of his candidacy. And Bloomberg's two top opinion editors, David Shipley and Tim O'Brien, are joining his campaign.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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