When Karen wrote about the Democratic primary blackout at Bloomberg News Agency, everyone on both sides of the ideological divide seemed to be in shock. Bloomberg News is not a small outfit. They employ an army of nearly 3,000 journalists, basically all of whom had suddenly been neutered. Some folks in the world of “media covering media” were speculating that they might rethink that decision after all of the backlash washed over them, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Is this just a temporary glitch in the system, or could it spell more permanent and lasting damage for that news outlet? There was one fairly hot take out there seeking to answer that question and it came from Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone. Lord only knows that Taibbi isn’t exactly my go-to source for political commentary and the idea of him talking about media bias is kind of laughable, but in this instance, he definitely seems to have a point. And that point is that Bloomberg News Agency is basically a dead man walking at this point and it may take the rest of the political news industry down with it.
Bloomberg News suffered a major disruption over the weekend. The episode predicts the future of the news business, and the death of the news business…
If Mike Bloomberg had any respect for the news business he would encourage his editorial staff to kick him in the balls at every opportunity. Either that, or he would sell his media business. Or not run for president.
Characteristically, he picked the one path that is most contemptible and destructive, retaining ownership of one of the world’s biggest news outlets just to defang it for the duration of his (incidentally moronic) presidential run. It’s an awesomely selfish act that shows his contempt for the whole idea of journalism.
What Taibbi goes on to describe is the next step in what we might think of as the compartmentalization of political news coverage. He speaks of a growing situation where “Republican media” covers Democratic corruption and “Democratic media” covers Republican corruption. This is an unsustainable model.
The reasons for this are obvious. Consumers of news tend to have their own favorite outlets to read or view on a regular basis. Few people who don’t work in the business of covering politics for a living tend to browse multiple newspapers and cable news networks offering different takes. If all you watch is Fox News and all you read is the New York Post, you’re going see conservative themes on prominent display and the spin cycle leans to the right. If you only take in MSNBC and the New York Times or the Washington Post, the opposite is true.
And it’s not just how each story is covered. It’s which stories are covered heavily and which are either ignored or given only passing mention. This phenomenon is described by Taibbi as a case of editors and reporters pre-selecting stories that come from the “right” perspective. (That’s “right” as in right vs wrong, not right vs left.) The current Ukraine saga is a perfect example. If you’re taking in conservative news outlets, you probably know all about Hunter Biden’s lucrative position with Burisma Holdings. But if you’re following only liberal outlets, you either never hear about it or see it casually written off as a “debunked Republican conspiracy theory.”
But even with all that said, I’m not sure that Matt has interpreted this correctly in terms of Bloomberg’s decision harkening the coming death of journalism in general. The only reason I say this is that we’ve already witnessed this pre-selection process settling in at almost all major newspapers and cable news networks. It’s not as if Bloomberg News invented the idea. They’re just the first ones to come out and openly make it official policy. It’s been going on almost everywhere for quite a while now. And while the quality of political news coverage probably suffered as a result, it hasn’t driven a stake through the heart of the industry.
In that sense, the business of delivering political news isn’t all that dissimilar to being a heroin dealer in that epic television series, The Wire. There’s a significant audience out there that is virtually addicted to your product. And if you start cutting it excessively with baby laxative they’re going to be upset with you. But they’ll keep coming back and buying it anyway because you’re the only game in town.