On the third night of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the stage to tout his non-partisanship and call for a “sane, competent person” for president. It was a celebration of conservative centrism, and so was the establishment media’s reaction—to a politician who is also one of the nation’s most powerful media moguls.
For media, there were two big takeaways to Bloomberg’s presence at the DNC: He’s a better New York billionaire than Trump, and he’s an independent. It was those two principles, and not his mayoral record, that a number of journalists and pundits propped up as evidence of his success.
The Washington Post (7/27/16) declared Bloomberg among the “winners” in their roundup of “winners and losers” from the evening. Although he got a “rough reception” at the outset after naming his policy differences with Hillary Clinton, wrote Chris Cillizza, “Bloomberg found his mojo when he turned his rhetorical fire on Trump. And, man oh man, did he go after his fellow New York billionaire.” Cillizza cited Bloomberg’s digs at how Trump runs his business, adding: “It was a searing and effective critique coming from Bloomberg—an unquestioned titan of business.”
Fellow Washington Post writer Jonathan Capehart (7/27/16), a member of the editorial board, described Bloomberg as “political pragmatism personified”:
He was a Democrat who switched party affiliation to Republican to run for mayor in 2001. He then became an independent in 2007 when he contemplated a run for the White House. The announcement of his party switch then captured what got him into politics 15 years ago and what motivated his convention speech Wednesday night. “Any successful elected executive knows that real results are more important than partisan battles,” he said then, “and that good ideas should take precedence over rigid adherence to any particular political ideology.”
What “real results” from Bloomberg’s time as mayor Capehart is referencing aren’t specified, but it’s clear that he believes that Bloomberg has the moral high ground. Capehart called Trump—“the man and his candidacy”—a “a violation of Bloomberg’s life and political philosophy.” Bloomberg, he wrote, “slammed his fellow billionaire for his business practices that hurt real people.”
The missing factcheck here is how Bloomberg’s own policies “hurt real people.” One of his proudest—Stop and Frisk—was overturned by a federal judge, who wrote that, under Bloomberg’s NYPD, “targeting the ‘right people’ means stopping people in part because of their race.” His policies on homelessness—namely, eliminating permanent housing assistance programs— led to an 83 percent increase in the city’s homeless families. During his tenure, Bloomberg proposed budget cuts to the fire department, elderly services, libraries, public schools and recycling programs, and cut childcare and after-school programs for five years in a row.
New Yorkers know this, though not thanks to Bloomberg’s own media empire; reporters at Bloomberg News are under a longstanding directive to avoid coverage of their boss, which translated into a virtual ban on investigative reporting of the mayor of New York for 12 years.
But none of that is enough to change the shorthand that Bloomberg is “largely a social liberal but a fiscal conservative” (Washington Post, 7/27/16). Bloomberg’s wealth affords him a reputation as a “generous philanthropist” and a “supporter of the arts” (New York Times, 7/28/16). And, most perplexing of all, it makes him the billionaire to root for.
“Let me throw in a kudo for Michael Bloomberg. He wasn’t poetic, but I did love his real-billionaire contempt for Trump,” wrote Gail Collins in the Times (7/29/16).
The DNC spent much of last week appealing to the center-right, regardless of the policy implications, and its embrace of Bloomberg was the perfect embodiment of that strategy. That so many media elites threw their lot behind Michael Bloomberg—a man whose primary accomplishments as mayor were austerity and racist policing—shows just how little policy matters in so much of this conversation.
“Michael Bloomberg blew me away,” said MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (Hardball, 7/29/16). “He’s not exactly lyrical. He said, as a New Yorker, I know what a con looks like.”