Bloomberg News needs to speak up

Nobody owns the truth


Courtesy of the Mike Bloomberg Facebook Page

By Lily Robinson, Collegian columnist

A few years ago, Bloomberg News found itself in a somewhat unique situation: its owner, Michael Bloomberg was considering running for president. The moment that Bloomberg News’ editors became aware of this, they were handed an unparalleled opportunity to uphold the integrity of their trade.

Bad news: they didn’t take it.

The ordeal goes back to 2018 when Bloomberg began throwing around the idea of a run for the 2020 Democratic nomination. That year, Bloomberg was interviewed by Radio Iowa host O. Kay Henderson. In the interview, Henderson asked about what the run might mean for the fate of Bloomberg News. This led to the sentence that would follow Bloomberg for the next few years:

“I don’t want the reporters I’m paying to write a bad story about me.”

This was undoubtedly a regrettable moment for Bloomberg. It did not make him look good. If played right, though, it could have made his company look very good. The moment that Bloomberg News editors knew the man that signed their paychecks would be running for president, they should have spoken up.

Transparency is fundamental to journalism and Bloomberg News readers deserved to have the situation laid out for them in simple, yet comprehensive, terms. Bloomberg News needed to disclose that there was a conflict of interest at the top of their food chain, reassure readers that it would be addressed with transparency and accountability and pledge to cover Bloomberg in the same way they would every other candidate.

Then, they needed to go out and do it. Other media outlets would provide the publicity as they watched, ready for their rival organization to trip up. When they didn’t, society could breathe out, knowing that the fate of journalism was looking up and that news was not just a game of money and power and some media outlets still strive to be the watch dogs they were created to be.

If Bloomberg News had done that, it would have been a powerful moment for the bond between the public and the media. The ever-pressing question of whether the billionaire ownership model of journalism is safe would not have been answered — it never will be — but it would have been a check on the affirmative side. It would have been a peace offering to the reader.

What actually happened was a rather humiliating and drawn out reestablishment of the Bloomberg News hierarchy.

When Bloomberg officially announced his presidential candidacy in November of 2019, Bloomberg News laid out some guidelines. As reported by CNBC, Bloomberg News reporters would abstain from investigating either Bloomberg or his fellow Democratic candidates. Bloomberg News dedicated a single reporter, Mark Niquette, to follow Bloomberg’s campaign.

Those in the Bloomberg newsroom who complained about these policies were reminded of their place when Bloomberg told CBS that his reporters’ paychecks come with “some restrictions and responsibilities.”

This is what the public saw: a system where reporters and editors have their hands bound by the rich and powerful. A major news outlet admitting that they could not be impartial instead of stepping up to the challenge.

Would it have been risky for editors and reporters at Bloomberg News to oppose their top man? Yes, but journalism is risky and the system is set up to protect those who make these kinds of sacrifices.

An example of what could have been for Bloomberg News is the case of Chuck Plunkett. Plunkett was editor of the opinion section for The Denver Post which is owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

In 2018, Plunkett and his editorial team published an opinion piece that they described as “a plea to Alden…to rethink its business strategy across all its newspaper holdings.” The piece addressed recent layoffs that had cut the newsroom staff by more than half. It boldly suggested that “if Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell the Post to owners who will,” and linked to a collection of articles critical of Alden and its treatment of the Post.

That piece was published on April 6, 2018. About a month later, Plunkett wrote another similar editorial. This time, the higher ups put a foot down, and refused to publish the editorial.

Plunkett resigned from the Post citing that Alden was asking him to be quiet and that, “for me to just sit quietly by would be hypocritical.”

What Plunkett did was not the best decision for his immediate personal interest, but it was monumental for journalism. His story exploded and drew attention to the most dangerous flaws in our media ecosystem. It also reminded the public that journalists work for them and that they will sacrifice their own stability to protect the truth. It was an act of bravery and it made a difference.

Where is that bravery in the ranks of Bloomberg News? Where are the angry editorials? Where are the walkouts and resignations? Where are the promises to scrutinize Bloomberg and his fellow Democratic candidates more intensely than ever?

Bloomberg News, where is the journalism?

Lily Robinson is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]