Members Only | November 11, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Bloomberg’s Trial Balloon Shows Why the Political Press Is Out of Touch

His base is other media executives. That's it.

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In practical terms, there really isn’t much point in discussing the impact Michael Bloomberg would have on the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination. As Alternet’s Josh Holland said, the former New York mayor has been on the edge of running for president for years. Let’s save that energy for if and when he jumps in.

But I think it’s worth discussing why the Washington press corps has been talking about Bloomberg and his potential affect on the Democratic field. Put another way: it’s worth discussing how American elites view him relative to how normal people view him. Not surprisingly, the elites are seeing something normal people are not.

Bloomberg represents a mythical creature that’s wholly the product of the press corps’ imagination.

What are they seeing? A “centrist,” I suppose. Bloomberg is a Democrat who used to be a Republican. The founder of Bloomberg LP is a billionaire who’s fighting gun violence and wants government to take action on climate change. He’s cozy with Wall Street and shared its interests but he has a reputation for solutions-oriented politics. Given that, Bloomberg “could cause a seismic disruption,” according to the Times.

Should Mr. Bloomberg proceed with a campaign, it could cause a seismic disruption in the Democratic race. With his immense personal wealth, centrist views and close ties to the political establishment, he would present an instantaneous threat to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has been struggling to raise money and is already defending his ideologically moderate base on multiple fronts.

This news broke Thursday. On Friday, the Times reported the results of a new poll finding that Democratic voters in key states want a “moderate” who is willing to “work with Republicans.” The poll emerged just as the debate over Bloomberg was getting heated, giving some people ample reason for saying, “See, I told you so!”

OK what’s going on? First, the press corps dislikes a stale narrative. Stale narratives are boring. Boredom is so painful that reporters will seek out ways of livening up the story. This is not necessarily a bad thing. What’s bad is reporters being dishonest about this tendency, meaning they deny it. Fact is, it’s November. The Democratic story has been stagnant for months. There are weeks to go before Iowa. The press corps has been jonesing for something new. Enter Bloomberg in the nick of time.

Second, Bloomberg represents a kind of mythical creature that’s wholly the product of the press corps’ imagination. This chimera just happens to see the world in exactly the same way as media executives do. (In Bloomberg’s case, this makes sense. He’s a media executive.) They don’t like “socialism” but they don’t like the Republican foray into fascism either. While the former prevents them from being as greedy as they want to be, the latter is bad for business. The great talent of the Times’ David Brooks is telling these people they are right about everything while not appearing to be entirely in the tank for them. Now imagine if Brooks got to pick a Democratic nominee. You got it.

A “centrist” who sees the world in the same way as media executives do won’t derail the gravy train.

Third, and related to the second, a “centrist” candidate who sees the world in the same way as media executives do is someone who won’t derail the gravy train. To be sure, Trump has been good for CBS, as its former executive said, but for the most part, media companies would prefer that politics return to “normal.” “Normal” is one party being just as bad or good as the other, and nothing really matters. This anti-moral worldview looks for a never-ending supply of partisan conflict that can be packaged and repackaged, sold and resold, to an audience festering with outrage. With Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, executives might risk being forced to adapt to a changed political landscape. But with someone like Bloomberg, they wouldn’t have to.

As I said, the press corps is seeing something in Bloomberg that normal people are not. How do I know? Consider the claim, totally unfounded, that Bloomberg poses “an instantaneous threat” to Joe Biden. I can’t believe that sentence was published. It overlooks why Biden remains a top three contender. As the former vice president to the first black president, he offers a conservative bet for African-American Democrats solely focused on victory. African-American Democrats are, moreover, the strongest base of power in the Democratic Party, which is another way of saying that whatever African-American Democrats tend to want African-American Democrats tend to get.

Do they want Bloomberg more than Biden? Please.

As if on cue, Axios reports this morning that Bloomberg was probably testing the waters—again. His own internal polling shows “big, perhaps insurmountable hurdles, particularly if Joe Biden stays in.” Actual voters are interested in Biden and the other candidates already in the rise (some more than others). They are uninterested in a candidate whose real base of power is media executives out of touch with reality.

—John Stoehr


This is a civics program I co-host every month at New Haven’s Institute Library. The next one is on Nov. 12 (Tuesday). Special guests include Frank Harris, columnist for the Hartford Courant and a professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University; and Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor for The Forward in New York.

We’re going to talk about a lot of things but especially religion, race and politics.

Please come if you can. I’d love to see you there! —JS


What: Politics in Plain English
When: Nov. 12 (Tuesday) at 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Institute Library, 847 Chapel Street, New Haven.
How much: FREE! FREE! FREE!
Info: For more, click here.

For a laugh

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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