With their boss now a declared presidential candidate, the anchors and on-air reporters who populate Michael Bloomberg’s cable television channel will have a tight rope to walk.
On Sunday, Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait laid out how the company will chronicle a 2020 race that now includes their boss: “On news, we will write about virtually all aspects of this presidential contest in much the same way as we have done so far. We will describe who is winning and who is losing. We will look at policies and their consequences. We will carry polls, we will interview candidates and we will track their campaigns, including Mike’s. We have already assigned a reporter to follow his campaign (just as we did when Mike was in City Hall). And in the stories we write on the presidential contest, we will make clear that our owner is now a candidate.”
A company source told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday that Bloomberg Television (and Bloomberg Radio) will follow the same guidance, issuing a standard disclaimer when presenting any story that mentions Candidate Bloomberg or an issue he is closely involved with, a fairly broad mandate.
Network staffers have also been told that, when in doubt about whether the disclaimer is needed, they should use it, the company source said.
As of press time on Monday, the disclaimer has already been issued several times on television and radio, with viewers and listeners told that “Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.”
In two specific examples on Monday, the disclaimer was issued at the very end of news items about Bloomberg’s campaign.
Bloomberg TV reporter Viviana Hurtado on Monday morning told viewers: “And former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to take an untested path in the presidential race. Mr. Bloomberg has formally entered the run for the Democratic nomination. He’ll skip the early tests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Instead, he’ll focus on California and other states voting on Super Tuesday in March.” She then issued the disclaimer.
Later on Monday, Bloomberg TV correspondent Mark Crumpton used almost identical language in a “First Word” update on the news of the day.
On questions of whether the disclaimer should be used, Bloomberg chief content officer Marty Schenker will be the decision-maker. Micklethwait announced in his memo that Schenker will “take special responsibility for overseeing our news coverage of Mike and his rivals (and the questions that may occur about this election all the way round the world).”
There is little precedent for Bloomberg LP’s current predicament, and the company’s media platforms will undoubtedly have a lot of tough decisions to make, particularly if Bloomberg becomes the Democratic nominee.
“Honestly, these poor, poor people,” former Bloomberg BusinessWeek editor Megan Murphy said of the restrictions put on Bloomberg journalists. “Reporters and editors at @business are some of the hardest working in the industry. It is not an easy place. They deserve a hell of a lot better treatment than this. But I know they will continue to bust their asses to do great work, because *that’s* journalism.”
Clark Hoyt, who retired in 2015 as an editor and independent ombudsman at Bloomberg News, told THR that network journalists — and viewers — will lose out from the company’s decision to avoid investigative campaign reporting.
“Mike Bloomberg’s decision to run for president has put the fine news organization that bears his name in a near-impossible situation,” he said in an email. “As long as it answers up through the chain of command to the owner, there is a conflict that will undoubtedly have an impact on credibility. The ground rules that were announced Sunday appear to reduce Bloomberg journalists covering the presidential campaign to stenographers. They can’t investigate their boss or any of the other candidates he is running against. Their readers and viewers will have to turn elsewhere for aggressive, enterprising coverage. Not a good situation to be in.”
Bloomberg’s presidential declaration also had consequences for MSNBC. With Bloomberg Opinion executive editor Timothy O’Brien joining Bloomberg’s campaign, he will no longer be able to serve as an on-air contributor for NBC News and MSNBC, a network spokesperson confirmed Sunday to THR.