Bloomberg News Violates Its Own Presidential Campaign Coverage Rules

The outlet founded by Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg had promised not to investigate the former New York City mayor or his rivals.

A Bloomberg News investigation into the fact that the campaigns of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) buy things from Amazon, and how those purchases are allegedly at odds with the candidates’ crusades against the corporate giant, violates a company editorial policy adopted after the news outlet’s founder, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, entered the presidential race in November.

Since Bloomberg remains owner of Bloomberg News, the company’s editor-in-chief John Micklethwait improvised an editorial policy designed to escape accusations of bias in favor of its founder and owner.

Writing to Bloomberg News staff, Micklethwait said in a late November memo that the news site would continue to cover the 2020 presidential campaign “in much the same way as we have done so far.”

But, Micklethwait clarified, the outlet will also maintain its “tradition” of not investigating Bloomberg, his family or his foundation, and that, in the interest of fairness, it would “extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries.”

On Monday, however, Bloomberg News published just such an investigation of Bloomberg’s rivals: “Sanders, Warren Campaigns Spend the Most On Amazon While Trashing It.”

Mike Bloomberg opens a campaign office in Philadelphia on Dec. 21, 2019. The billionaire has sometimes struggled to separate his business interests from his White House bid.
Mike Bloomberg opens a campaign office in Philadelphia on Dec. 21, 2019. The billionaire has sometimes struggled to separate his business interests from his White House bid.
Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto/Getty Images

As far as investigations go, the story was relatively simple. Bloomberg News looked through Federal Election Commission data to find how much the campaigns of eight Democratic presidential candidates and President Donald Trump have spent on purchases from the online retailer, Amazon. It singled out Sanders and Warren in the headline and the beginning of the article because their proposed reforms and rhetoric against Amazon are especially sharp, and because they have spent more on Amazon than any other presidential campaigns.

The article also associated the two progressive candidates with Trump, whose reelection campaign has also spent heavily on Amazon. Bloomberg News noted that Trump has griped publicly about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, which has reported critically on Trump.

Bloomberg News states that it did not include Bloomberg in the Amazon tally because the former mayor’s late entry into the race means he has not yet had to disclose his campaign’s itemized spending.

Regardless, the story is, by its nature, an investigation of the kind that Micklethwait, the editor-in-chief, had promised the outlet would not conduct.

A spokesperson for Bloomberg News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

HuffPost also reached out to the Bloomberg campaign to inquire about whether, if elected president, the former mayor plans to place Bloomberg News or Bloomberg LP, Bloomberg News’ parent company, in a blind trust or otherwise sever ties to his business empire. The campaign did not immediately respond.

Of course, the news value of the story would be questionable even if it didn’t violate a Bloomberg News editorial policy.

The article is part of a genre of reporting, though it is typically one found at explicitly conservative outlets, rather than the business-minded mainstream pages of Bloomberg News. These stories revel in the opportunity to note that progressives regularly participate in the same consumer economy they hope to reform. In fact, the New York Post has already reported on Warren admitting to shopping at Amazon, despite her criticisms of the company. The conservative newspaper has also made hay out of New York congresswoman and climate action proponent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s use of cars for transportation. And some two years ago, the right-leaning Daily Wire revealed that Sanders wears an expensive winter coat, a discovery it framed as a bombshell and successfully goaded mainstream outlets into covering.

Bloomberg’s massive investment in a television advertising blitz has yielded results in national polling. With nearly 5% support nationwide, the entrepreneur and philanthropist has, in a short time, eclipsed more seasoned Democratic lawmakers who have been in the race for many more months.

But in addition to the Bloomberg News flub, Bloomberg has already faced criticism associated with owning a global corporate empire while running for president, as well as using his vast wealth to fund his late-in-the-game bid. Until earlier this month, Bloomberg terminals ― proprietary financial data resources that are the main source of Bloomberg’s fortune — contained a shortcut to Bloomberg’s campaign website. After the Financial Times reported on the feature, the company discontinued it. But the revelation of this practice raised fears that, beyond leveraging his monumental fortune to mount a competitive White House bid, Bloomberg would use his business empire to benefit his candidacy in other, less noticeable ways.

And on Tuesday, The Intercept broke the news that Bloomberg’s campaign had employed a contractor that employed incarcerated people to make phone calls for the campaign. The campaign learned about the use of prison labor from the reporter’s inquiry and dismissed the contractor.

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